I focused an inordinate amount of time and attention on Wikipedia’s List of U.S. State Nicknames as I wrote the Comparison Nicknames article. That wasn’t the original intent of the effort however, just an interesting byproduct somehow spinning into its own topic. I’d been working on something else, something finally revealed today. It all began when an obvious fact presented itself to me in a new way. There was a major road nearby that ran for about 25 miles from Arlington to Great Falls in Virginia named Old Dominion Drive. So what, I figured, my entire lifetime up until a few days ago. Then I recalled that Virginia’s nickname was the Old Dominion State. The connection should have been completely apparent to me years ago although I’d overlooked it somehow. I’ve never claimed to be the brightest kid in class.
That led me to wonder whether or not at least one street in every state incorporated its nickname. I needed to know every state nickname first and that led me to the list on Wikipedia, sparking the whole chain of events that brought us here today after the earlier tangent. Only two states didn’t have official nicknames, Alabama and Wisconsin. I called Dealer’s Choice for those and selected Heart of Dixie and the Badger State respectively, finding streets named for each of them without any trouble. It surprised me how quickly I discovered streets even for the most bizarre of nicknames such as Show Me Lane in Camdenton, Missouri (map).
Most were ridiculously easy and provided an abundance of choices. I selected one per state somewhat randomly because I didn’t want to add every occurrence to the map. I supposed I rationalized that as wanting to prevent cluttering although the real reason involved laziness. Fifty waypoints seemed enough. Better examples (e.g., longer, more significant roads) likely existed and 12MC readers should feel free to add their favorites in the comments if they feel their home state may have been slighted. Readers outside of the United States can play the game too. Good luck finding "The Land of Seed and Honey" Street in Saskatchewan, though.
The easiest might have been Delaware. How could I possibly mark every nicknamed street in Delaware? The state called itself the First State. As the state explained,
Delaware is known by this nickname due to the fact that on December 7, 1787, it became the first of the 13 original states to ratify the U.S. Constitution. "The First State" became the official State nickname on May 23, 2002 following a request by Mrs. Anabelle O’Malley’s First Grade Class at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School. Delaware Code Title 29 § 318
I was a bit surprised that it didn’t become the official nickname until 2002 although kudos to the kids at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School. However, this resulted in any 1st Street in Delaware sharing a commonality with the state nickname. There must have been hundreds of them. The only thing that might possibly have been worse would have been if Maine had called itself the Main State (it didn’t thank goodness, it selected the Pine Tree State instead). I took a more complicated route and found a few that represented the entire state nickname, for example an actual First State Boulevard in Wilmington (map).
Why Atlanta Sucks by treybunn2 on Flickr (cc)
Georgia presented an interesting situation as the Peach State. There were so many Peachtree Streets and variants in its capital city of Atlanta that it became a running joke years ago. By some estimates, there were at least 71 separate occurrences of Peachtree in the city. However, Georgia wasn’t the Peachtree State, it was the Peach State. Oddly enough, there were very few Peach Streets minus the tree although I did manage to find several and I even found one with the full name, Peach State Drive in the town of Adel (map).
Boston – Boston University: The Castle by Wally Gobetz on Flickr (cc)
Most of the states did not include a street with the full nickname, specifically dropping the "state" portion from the street name. Hawaii, as an example, had an Aloha Drive although no Aloha State Drive, and so on. Nonetheless, several did as noted previously for Delaware and Georgia. The best example may have been Massachusetts. The Bay State had a Bay State Road in Boston that actually traversed a significant place, the campus of Boston University (map). Most of the other examples were stubby little roads serving industrial parks, shopping centers or a few rural homes.
Last place in this friendly competition went to Wyoming. It was the Equality State, a nickname applied when Wyoming became a state in 1890 and was the first to allow women’s suffrage. I had no argument with that, it was a notable historic fact. However I couldn’t find a single Equality Street much less an Equality State Street, making Wyoming the the only state without a nicknamed street. There were several streets that aligned with its unofficial nickname though, the Cowboy State so I took some solace there.
At long last, and after years of gentle nudging, Steve from CTMQ finally created a County Counting map. He was up above 700 counties too. Great start!
I enjoyed reading Wikipedia’s List of U.S. State Nicknames recently. My amusement didn’t come from the familiar nicknames I already knew, rather it derived from the nicknames I never knew existed. Alabama was the Lizard State? Really? Did anyone else know that? Then I noticed that several of the states featured nicknames that compared them to other geographic locations.
I went ahead and researched all of them because that’s what happens on a geo-oddity blog and apparently I didn’t have anything better to do. I have issues.
A few of the geographic nicknames seemed relatively plausible. Others seemed strange. Still others were so ancient and obscure that I’d guessed they hadn’t been uttered seriously in at least a century. Wikipedia should be embarrassed to print that last batch. They should be stricken.
Arizona: Italy of America
The Grand Canyon State would resonate as a valid nickname for Arizona for many readers while the Italy of America seemed to be a vastly inferior option. I didn’t really understand the comparison and neither did the major Intertubes search engines. I did find links to the Italian Association of Arizona and the Arizona American Italian Club although I didn’t think either of those would explain the nickname. I dug deeper and went into Google’s book search — a recurring theme for this article — and finally found an obscure reference. It came from a Report of the Governor of Arizona (1879):
These considerations of the sensible and shade temperature will account for the absence of any detrimental effect from the extreme heat of Arizona. It is the long period of hot days that becomes tiresome, but this is balanced by the delightful cool nights and enjoyable season from October to May, inclusive, during which no better climate can be found, and may be termed a veritable Italy of America.
Verdict: Retire the nickname.
Colorado: Switzerland of America
U.S. 550, Ouray, Colorado by Ken Lund via Flickr (cc)
Colorado was the Switzerland of America during the same basic era although the nickname found a little more traction. The expression faded over the years even though some sources still cited it, albeit as an anachronism. Smithsonian Magazine even published When Colorado Was (And in Many Ways Still Is) the Switzerland of America
Back in the 1870s, when American travelers imagined the West, they didn’t picture the desolate plains and cactus-strewn mesas so beloved by John Ford. They thought of somewhere far more sedate and manicured — a place, in fact, that looked surprisingly like Switzerland. For the restless city slickers of the Gilded Age, the dream destination was Colorado, where the high valleys of the Rocky Mountains, adorned with glacial lakes, meadows and forests as if by an artist’s hand, were reported to be the New World’s answer to the Alps. This unlikely connection with Europe’s most romantic landscape was first conjured in 1869 by a PR-savvy journalist named Samuel Bowles, whose guidebook to Colorado, The Switzerland of America extolled the natural delights of the territory…
The town of Ouray, Colorado (map) adopted the nickname and continues to use it.
Verdict: Ouray can continue to use it; retire it for the rest of the state.
Delaware: New Sweden
View New Sweden (Nya Sverige) in a larger map
I knew why this one existed. Twelve Mile Circle featured Delaware’s Swedish connection in an article called "New Sweden." I even created a map, reproduced above. The New Sweden colony functioned for decades during the Seventeen Century in northern parts of future Delaware and beyond.
Verdict: Accurate although I’m not sure anyone would commonly use the nickname today. I’ll defer to the opinion of 12MC’s Delaware readers.
Georgia: Empire State of the South
There were plenty of references that tied Georgia to the Empire State of the South, as exemplified by the New Georgia Encyclopedia Georgia History Overview: "By 1860 the "Empire State of the South," as an increasingly industrialized Georgia had come to be known, was the second-largest state in area east of the Mississippi River." The reference generally applied to the mid-Nineteenth Century. I can’t imagine anyone in Georgia or any other Southern state wanting to be compared to Yankees from the Empire State (New York) today.
Verdict: Retire the nickname.
Louisiana: Holland of America
I found plenty of information on the Holland America Cruise Line and precious little on Louisiana as a supposed Holland of America. It made some sense though. Both had extensive canals, dikes and levies designed to keep water from flooding their low-lying terrain. Finally I discovered an obscure reference from 1905, an article from the Meridional newspaper based in Abbeville, Louisiana that had been cataloged by the Library of Congress. I also found a few old books with similar references. The trail led back to the first quarter of the Twentieth Century.
Verdict: Retire the nickname.
Maryland: America in Miniature
I don’t live in Maryland although I’ve lived near Maryland’s border with Virginia for most of my life. I’d never heard anyone call it America in Miniature. Yet, I found numerous contemporary references to the nickname. This even included Maryland’s tourism website, Visit Maryland, on its Maryland Facts page: "Maryland has been called "America in Miniature" because so much is packed into its 10,460 square miles of land and water. You can find just about any kind of natural feature here, except a desert."
Verdict: I guess people still use it.
Minnesota: New England of the West
Numerous references existed, both outdated and contemporary. However, uniformly, they all pointed to a single period of Minnesota history circa 1850-1870. For example, the Library of Congress referenced Pioneering the Upper Midwest:
Early migration to Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota from the east came disproportionately from New England and New York. That pattern was mightily reinforced by the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, which funneled Yankees and ex-Yankees from New York into the southern portions of the Upper Midwest. Each state in turn for a time dubbed itself "the New England of the West."
I had ancestors who made that same journey, traveling from Maine to Wisconsin initially and then onward to Minnesota during its so-called New England of the West period. I found it interesting that the phrase also contained a double geographic reference, first to the New England region of the United States, and then farther back to England. That was a curious aside although it did nothing to legitimize the nickname for current usage.
Verdict: Retire the nickname.
New Mexico: New Andalusia
Using New Andalusia as a nickname for New Mexico held little water. I found a vague reference to New Andalusia being used an early name for New Mexico. That was back in 1583. Yes, 1583. There was a tiny Andalusia Court in Cloudcroft, New Mexico although I doubted there was any connection to the so-called nickname.
Verdict: Retire the nickname.
All that talk of doughnut county captures and airport-only visits in Counting Down a few days ago led me to consider that I’d been to a lot of airports during my wanderings over the years. One would think that I would have counted all of those before, seeing how I make lists of just about everything else I’ve encountered during my lifetime, and yet I’d never considered it before. It was easy enough to resolve by throwing all the airports I’ve transited onto a map:
I took it a step further by compiled everything on a shared Google Sheet that readers should feel free to view, sort, examine or whatever. Currently I’ve sorted it by nation with the USA first for obvious reasons, and then by three-character airport code.
I learned that I’d been to 83 airports. That wasn’t bad considering I’d never thought about it before and hadn’t consciously been trying to pad the score. None of them were doughnuts either except for Frankfurt, Germany. I wasn’t particularly concerned about Frankfurt however because I’ve been to Germany on plenty of other trips. I can’t guarantee that my list is 100% accurate either. I kept recalling airports randomly throughout the day. Regardless, at least I now have a place to write them all down if I ever want to track my use of airports on an ongoing basis.
Recombobulation Area; Milwaukee Airport, Wisconsin, featured in More Strange Signs
Within the United States I’ve traveled to and physically left the premises of airports in 36 states and Puerto Rico. Three of those served the Washington, DC area, my home base, although technically I supposed I couldn’t count DC because even National Airport was (barely) outside of the District proper. I doubt I’ll catch the remaining 14 states either. I can’t imagine going through a substantial monetary expense because I’m cheap, especially for states within easy driving distance. Where would I fly to in West Virginia, for example. And why would I want do that? I’d spend twice as much time in the airport as I would driving there.
I also discovered that I’ve been to every one of the top 31 airports in the United States by total passenger boardings and total passenger traffic. The largest airport I hadn’t yet visited was William P. Hobby Airport in Houston, Texas and of course I’d been to the much larger airport in Houston, George Bush Intercontinental.
Inside an Alaskan Airlines 737-800 in 2010, featured in Because I Can
Most of the airports I’d transited were quite large. The smallest one was probably the airport on the island of Pico in the Azores (map). Single-engine turboprops holding only a handful of passengers landed on its tiny runway, serving a terminal atop the lava fields not much larger than a hut. Within the United States, I’d venture that the smallest I’d used was probably the airport serving Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It wasn’t all that much larger than Pico although the facilities seemed much nicer, serving affluent skiers heading to the Grand Tetons on holiday.
I’d also traveled to at least one airport that no longer existed. Stapleton Airport served Denver, Colorado from 1920 until 1995 (map). I used Stapleton in the early 1990’s. Denver International Airport replaced Stapleton and the former site became a planned community. Recently the Denver Post announced that Stapleton’s former control tower was being converted into a restaurant with room for 600 patrons. It still counted on my list. Stapleton was an airport when I used it.
Logan Airport; Boston, Massachusetts on the way back from Cape Cod Adventures
Maybe someday I’ll break the 100 mark. If so I’d likely need to travel to international locations. That was my weak link. I’ve been to airports in only 12 nations. That left a lot of room for growth.
During this exercise I also learned a lesson in not counting chickens before they hatch (an explanation for the non-native English speaking members of the audience). I was in San Diego, California all last week. I started compiling this spreadsheet as I sat at the airport terminal in San Diego, using my phone and opening a WiFi hotspot. I noticed that I was just about to capture a new airport because my layover would take me through Love Field in Dallas, Texas, so I put it on the list. The flight prepared to board, we all stood in line, the crew opened the jetway door and… all flights to Dallas were halted due to thunderstorms. The next thing I knew I’d been re-routed to a direct flight from San Diego to Baltimore, leaving four hours later. That was better than some of the alternatives though. If I’d wanted to travel to my original destination I wouldn’t have landed until 1:00 am. My wife was less than thrilled to drive all the way to Baltimore to pick me up although it was the best possible solution in a string of bad possibilities. And then I had to remove Love Field from my list.
That might be the biggest reason why I’ll never capture an airport in every state. My recent experience reminded me of what I considered the nightmare scenario: perfect weather on either end (San Diego and Washington, DC) and lousy weather at the layover (Dallas) to mess everything up. I hate layovers and generally try to avoid them at all costs. I would have done the same this time except that my employer required me to use a certain airline between those two points, limiting my options. Yet, layovers would be the only way to capture many of the remaining state airports not yet visited. Direct flights between Washington, DC and Billings, Montana? Not likely in this lifetime.
I am sure there are members of the Twelve Mile Circle audience who have touched down in more airports than I. What’s the highest number?