Last Chance

Speaking of odd town names (we were just speaking of those, weren’t we?), what about Last Chance? Every place deserved a last chance, I supposed. The U.S. Geographic Names Information System listed more than three hundred of them. Many — no surprise — aligned with mining claims. Also they frequently referenced ditches, streams and gulches, probably running near those old mines. However that wasn’t always the case. A handful of populated places rose to the top of the list too. It took an unusual outlook on life, I figured, for someone to name a settlement Last Chance.

Last Chance, Colorado


Last Chance, CO (0)
Last Chance, CO. Photo by Michael Sauers on Flickr (cc).

Colorado’s Last Chance clung to life, just barely. It sat about 80 miles (130 kilometres) due east of Denver (map). Truly, a straight shot. Head straight north of Denver and hit Fort Collins, or straight south and hit Colorado Springs, or straight west and, well, hit a wall of mountains. Straight east should hit something more important than a hamlet on life support.

The original settlers of Last Chance probably felt the same way. Travelers driving through Colorado’s empty eastern plains to and from Denver took the straightest possible path during the early automotive period. Back then, Last Chance served as a literal last chance for motorists to refuel, grab a meal, or sleep in an actual bed anywhere between Denver and a vast nothingness. The town’s name became a marketing tool and a warning. Stop there or suffer the consequences.

The Ghost Town website summarized the rise and fall of Last Chance quite succinctly.

Last Chance was a town that grew up with the automobile and died when the interstate took the traffic south to I-70. It was a busy center for travelers in the 1940s and 1950s, and probably earlier than that.

Indeed, Interstate 70 heading east from Denver took a distinct southeastern curve about 30 miles (50 km) short of Last Chance before turning east again. Last Chance couldn’t survive that cruel routing.


Last Chance, Oklahoma


Last Chance Baptist Church
Last Chance Baptist Church
via Google Street View, July 2016

I couldn’t find any information about how the Last Chance in Oklahoma earned its name (map). The settlement seemed to simply vanish. It wouldn’t surprise me if the US Geological Survey dropped it from the database entirely someday. Only the Last Chance Baptist Church remained behind as a reminder. By the way, Last Chance might be the best church name ever. That choice positioned it perfectly as the final opportunity for redemption before banishment to the fiery pits of Hell. It gave sinners one last chance.

A post office didn’t exist in Last Chance as far as I could tell, if indeed one ever existed there. Addresses in Last Chance bore the postmark of nearby Okemah. Nothing much important happened in Last Chance although Okemah registered a minor brush with fame. Okemah had a famous native son, the legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie born there in 1912. An oil boom began around that time in the same general area, leading me to wonder if perhaps Last Chance got its name from the boom somehow?


Last Chance, Iowa



The Last Chance of Iowa fared about as well as its counterpart in Oklahoma. Here, the sole remaining sign of its existence was a cemetery. While I liked Last Chance as the name of a church I disliked it as a cemetery (map). A final resting place seemed to signify the end of any remaining chances. Last chance? More like no chance. At least I learned how it got its name, though. I found a website about cemeteries in Lucas County that offered a surprising amount of information. I was really impressed by the detail it presented about such an obscure location.

Last Chance is one of those Lucas County place names that, because of its oddity, generates stories. But the truth seems to be that its first storekeeper, William McDonald McHenry, named it offhandedly after it occurred to him that he was living in a place that didn’t yet have a name… he said, "Let’s call it Last Chance." And they called it so, more in a joke than in earnest…

Last Chance sat favorably along the Mormon Trail. Thousands of Mormon emigrants and many others walked the trail during the middle of the 19th Century. Some travelers moved their households without any pack animals, becoming a special category of Mormons called the Handcart Pioneers. Then the transcontinental railroad opened. Last Chance disappeared because of the railroads. The typical story prevailed. Railroads, long the lifeblood of small rural villages in the Heartland, all bypassed Last Chance. Decline later led to collapse.

I found additional Last Chance settlements in Idaho, California and North Carolina. However, even less information existed about any of them. It seemed that every Last Chance was down to its last chance if any of them ever had a chance at all.

Three of Them

Sequences of three came to mind, a trio of possibilities. Little did I know that so many places also focused on a similar theme. I found an abundance of opportunities. Of course, that equated to long lists for me to review as I started searching for something memorable. By "memorable" I meant to me personally. I gave up trying to figure out what might resonate with the larger Twelve Mile Circle audience a long time.

Three Coins



Three coins came in the form of Trois-Pistoles, Québec. I’d hoped that the French pistole might be a cognate of the English pistol. Unfortunately that seemed too good to be true. Something involving three pistols would almost automatically guarantee an interesting story. Instead the French pistole referred to a type of gold coin common in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. An early French settlers wanted a drink of water and dipped a goblet into the river. Unfortunately the goblet slipped from his grasp and fell overboard. This must have been a pretty nice goblet because he wasn’t very happy about it. He exclaimed in dismay that he’d lost the equivalent of three gold coins. This all happened sometime around 1620 according to the Commission de Toponymie Québec and the name stuck.

I mentioned this town briefly in an earlier article about Canada. Specifically I noted a beer made by the Unibroue brewery called Trois-Pistoles that referenced the town. This time around I found a video that offered an explanation. The beer honored a legend about the town’s Catholic church, Église de Notre-Dame-des-Neiges, or Our Lady of the Snows (map). Very briefly, church construction ran behind schedule so the builder enlisted the Devil’s horse to pull stones up from the river. A magic bridle slipped from the demonic horse and it escaped, leaving the church incomplete. It still lacks a single stone somewhere in its wall, for those who believe such stuff. Watch the video if you want to hear the full explanation in an entertaining French-Canadian accent.


Three Rivers


19830624 07 Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA
Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA. Photo by David Wilson on Flickr (cc)

A ridiculous number of places claimed Three Rivers although its use as a nickname for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania came to my mind quickest. Maybe a more common usage existed elsewhere. To me, Three Rivers was pretty synonymous with the city where the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers joined. I don’t know. Maybe I’ve become more sensitized to Pittsburgh because I’ve been there a couple of times fairly recently. I’d never been there before and then suddenly I rode on the Great Allegheny Passage and later stayed a little longer.

Its nickname became so common that a local sports stadium used to be called Three Rivers Stadium. Pittsburgh’s professional baseball and football teams played there for thirty years until the city knocked it down in 2001. Now Pittsburgh has a stadium with the name of a corporate sponsor just like every other place. A large park still bears the name though. Three Rivers Park includes a bunch of the immediate waterfront along the rivers near downtown, even incorporating Point State Park at its confluence (map).

I supposed I could have selected any of the actual places officially named Three Rivers. One of them existed in Michigan where the Rocky and Portage Rivers joined the St. Joseph River. I crossed the St. Joseph a little farther downstream on the old camelback bridge during my recent trip through the Midwest (map). Nonetheless, I still gave the honor to Pittsburgh.


Three Brothers or Sisters


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Three Sisters Islands. Photo by David on Flickr (cc)

Numerous examples of Three Brothers or Three Sisters came to light during my search. This highly common variation existed practically everywhere. Naturally I selected one familiar to me because I’m lazy. I see three little rocky islets every time I bike along the Potomac River heading upstream from Georgetown (map). They’re called the Three Sisters. I’ve known about them my whole life. I remember my father pointing them out to me even during my childhood. The usual legends existed; Indian maiden this, Catholic nun that, someone stranded, someone drowning, on and on.

The Three Sisters had a more modern history, though. The government wanted to put another bridge across the Potomac River in the 1950’s and 1960’s. It would have become the Three Sisters Bridge. Back then it seemed that the solution to every traffic need involved another superhighway. Many cities lost vibrant neighborhoods under ribbons of concrete. However, relatively few highway lanes ran through parts of the District of Columbia because people fought their construction and won. Washington largely escaped the fate of other US cities of the time where highways marred the landscape and separated their citizens. The Three Sisters managed to retain their charm.


Three More


Three Mile Island
Three Mile Island. Photo by Jennifer Boyer on Flickr (cc)

I figured I had a little extra time to mention a trio of others, although briefly.

  • Three Mile Island: A major nuclear accident took place outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1979 on Three Mile Island. It seemed like a big deal at the time although Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi eventually proved otherwise.
  • Three States: A little unincorporated village surrounded the Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas (ARLATX) tripoint. Logically the settlement took the name Three States. Only about 45 people lived there at the most recent census although I couldn’t think of any other community so focused on a similar geo-oddity. I might even get a chance to visit Three States someday.
  • Three Churches: West Virginia included the community of Three Churches named for, well, three nearby churches.

I could have continued although I didn’t want to mess up the theme. Although I guess I already did that when I added this fourth section down here for the miscellaneous stuff.

Highest Numbered Street

Newer cities created on grid patterns often used street naming systems based on numbers. The closest street to an important urban feature would become 1st Street. Numbers increased from there. Distinct patterns emerged in different cities, of course. Maybe numbered streets increased outward in two directions, north and south or east and west. Plenty of other variations existed too.

I wondered about the highest numbered street, though. Apparently a lot of other people on the Intertubes wanted to know the same thing according to what I found as I searched. Specifically though, I sought something within a single city in a generally contiguous manner. There shouldn’t be huge gaps. Otherwise I’d look at something like 1010th Street way outside of Eau Claire, Wisconsin and be done with it.

New York City


Queens County Farm Museum
Queens County Farm Museum. Photo by Nick Normal on Flickr (cc)

New York City seemed like a logical starting point. The city sprawled densely across five boroughs and used a numerical grid for much of it. The highest numbered street seemed to land in the Glen Oaks neighborhood of Queens. There, way out on the distant edge of the city near its border with Nassau County, appeared 271st Street. This quiet middle class neighborhood consisted primarily of a large garden apartment complex. On 271st St. however, just three blocks long, the houses all appeared to be detached single-family homes (map).

This neighborhood sat so far away from the action that it contained an actual farm. A farm in New York City? Well, actually, that might be a slight exaggeration. A few blocks away from 271st Street stood the Queens County Farm Museum. I guess that counted as a farm in a sense. As the museum explained,

Queens County Farm Museum’s history dates back to 1697; it occupies New York City’s largest remaining tract of undisturbed farmland. The farm encompasses a 47-acre parcel that is the longest continuously farmed site in New York State.

Where in New York City could someone go on a hay ride? Only way out near 271st Street, I’d imagine.


Washington, DC



I figured I could also look closer to home in the District of Columbia. With Washington being so much smaller than New York, I certainly wouldn’t expect it to reach the same number. However, it did have a nice grid divided into quadrants. Looking near the right angles of its rectangular border should help find the largest street numbers. They ran north-south in the nation’s capital. The western cornerstone fell in what is now Virginia so that wouldn’t work. That left the streets near the eastern cornerstone as the best place to search.

There I found 63rd Street Northeast as probably the highest number street (map) in the District of Columbia. These four blocks featured mostly modest brick duplexes with a few small apartments. The boundary stone could be found about a block farther to the east near the intersections of Southern and Eastern Avenues. Some maps called this the East Corner neighborhood appropriately enough, although I couldn’t find any more information about it. The cornerstone near 63rd Street, it should be noted, went through a rededication recently after many years of neglect.

The highest numbered street in the Virginia area previously part of the District of Columbia appeared to be 44th Street in Arlington (map).


Tehran, Iran


Tehran , Iran
Tehran, Iran. Photo by daniyal62 on Flickr (cc)

The city of Tehran in Iran had something of a grid in spots, including some with numbered streets. The city even had a 305th Street (map). This short block included space for two apartment towers, a park and a farmers’ market. However, I couldn’t make sense of the numbering scheme and it seemed like several different patterns existed in close proximity. I included Tehran solely because I wanted an Iranian push-pin on my Complete Index map. Now I have one.


Milton Keynes, England


Milton Keynes, England (June 2009)
Milton Keynes, England. Photo by Mark Pegrum on Flickr (cc)

Few examples of numbered streets existed within the United Kingdom. Most towns formed centuries ago in a haphazard manner. They didn’t include regular grids like their cousins that formed from scratch on the North American prairies. Milton Keynes incorporated one of the the best examples of numbered streets that I could find, though. The city didn’t follow the same model as much of the rest of the UK. It didn’t have an ancient pedigree. "When the UK Government decided to build Milton Keynes in the 1960s, the area was mostly farmland and undeveloped villages." Thus, it followed a model much more aligned to what happened on the other side of the Atlantic.

Even so, its numbering climbed only as high as 14 as far as I could tell (map). Also, city planners didn’t like numbers as numerals so they spelled them out. People lived on Fourteenth Street not 14th Street.