Reader Joel expressed mild surprise at a Hawaiian-inspired spot in Utah that I’d referenced, the town of Loa named by a former resident of Hawaii honoring the towering mountain Mauna Loa. He wondered about "names out of place" in general while I continued to fixate on Hawaii. I complemented his comment with Diamondhead, Mississippi, a locale that had a history of creeping into articles such as Just Keep Turning and Residential Airparks because I have family living there.
Nobody would ever confuse the bayous and tidal estuaries of the Mississippi Gulf Coast with any part in Hawaii. Diamondhead (the Mississippi city) certainly looked nothing like Diamond Head (the iconic volcanic cone in Honolulu spelled with a space between Diamond and Head). First of all Mississippi was flat along the shoreline giving way to gentle rolling hills farther inland at Diamondhead. That’s why Hurricane Katrine gave it such a wallop during its epic storm surge (my family remembrances).
One needed to understand that Diamondhead was a recent construct envisioned by developers hoping to attract retirees to the Gulf Coast. The theme was a marketing gimmick by a company with the same name. They weren’t going to call it Mudbug or Mosquito even though the coast had both in abundance. No, they wanted it to sound like a tropical resort. As the Hancock County Historical Society explained,
The Federal Highway Act of 1956 created the interstate highway system, and construction began on I-10 through the Mississippi Gulf Coast making Hancock County accessible to people from a wide area… It was in this environment that the Diamondhead Corporation, a large corporation with resort developments in several states, began development operations in coastal Mississippi. It purchased six thousand acres of property adjacent to I-10… The first land sales [in Diamondhead] were recorded in 1970.
Diamondhead has been an incorporated city only since 2012.
Right around the same time of my initial Hawaiian fixation I spotted a 12MC viewer who dropped onto the site from Aloha, Oregon. That’s when I decided I needed to create an article. Aloha was an area of approximately fifty-thousand residents just west of Beaverton, which in turn was just west of Portland. Yet, in spite of its size and population I found precious little information to explain the name except for a brief mention on Wikipedia.
According to Oregon Geographic Names, the origin of the name Aloha is disputed. Some sources say it was named by Robert Caples, a railroad worker, but it is unknown why the name was chosen. In 1983 Joseph H. Buck claimed that his uncle, the first postmaster, Julius Buck, named the office "Aloah" after a small resort on Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin.
Indeed, I found an Aloah Beach on Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin. I felt disillusioned, as if maybe Oregon’s Aloha didn’t have anything to do with Hawaii after all.
Honolulu, North Carolina (map) made me feel better. At least it was named for something Hawaiian sort of, although based on a whim. The Honolulu Star Bulletin, the newspaper for the "real" Honolulu highlighted its North Carolina cousin in a feature article in 2002.
The hamlet got its name in 1900 when James Witherington, Selba’s husband’s granddad, got the permit to set up a post office. "They asked what did they want to call it, and on the spur of the moment, he said, ‘We’ll just call it Honolulu.’" Witherington said. The family has no idea why the name of a place 4,872 miles away popped into James Witherington’s head more than 100 years ago. No one in the family has ever been to Hawaii, Witherington said. "They hardly ever got out of the county."
Sometimes I think we wouldn’t have any weird town names without the Post Office.
Kanaka in the Northwestern US
Kanaka Falls, Middle Fork American River
Sometimes Hawaiian names on the mainland were inspired by actual Hawaiians. Although generally not well know, people from Hawaii worked and settled on the western coast of North America beginning in the early 19th Century. They were employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company in present-day British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. They also caught "Gold Fever" along with the rest of the world and flocked to California to make their fortunes. Hawaiians had a distinct advantage because stories of gold hit Hawaii faster than anywhere else, as early as June 1848. They could also sail to California a lot faster than easterners could cross prairie and mountain on foot. Many Hawaiians beat the crowds heading to California to stake their claims so they might more properly be Forty-Eighters instead of Forty-Niners.
Various geographic features in the central California goldfields earned Hawaiian names. One term, Kanaka, a Polynesian word for the native people of Hawaii was particularly popular. Prospectors attached it to mountains, streams, mines, valleys and populated places. The Geographic Names Information System referenced 25 different Kanaka occurrences in California. For example, Kanaka Falls on the Middle Fork of the American River is a well-regarded Class IV rapids for whitewater rafting (videos). Some of the Hawaiians remained in California. Many returned home after experiencing their first mainland winter, poorer although wiser.
I’m sure there were other Hawaiian place names on the mainland. I didn’t have any trouble finding the ones I featured.
The recent Highpoint to Lowpoint article generated some interest. I wanted to go into more detail when I wrote it and I didn’t get an opportunity due to various time constraints. The details would have required a lot of manual effort. Nonetheless, readers seemed to crave more so I bit the bullet and examined every state highpoint and lowpoint, the distances between them and their resulting slopes. I estimated these values in two major systems of measurement, feet per mile and metres per kilometre using a Great Circle distance calculator on the Movable Type Scripts website. The results may be examined in a shared Google Spreadsheet. Feel free to sort it any way you like. You won’t break it.
I’ll begin with a few caveats. The latitudes and longitudes for state highpoints were rather straightforward and easy to obtain from numerous sources, so no issues there. The same could not be said for lowpoints. What exact point along a seacoast should I use? Where within Death Valley’s Badwater Basin should I plant the flag? How far up a tidal estuary for several eastern states did the water remain at sea level? I made a lot of best guesses without complete precision so readers should view data as approximate and relative. Others might run the same exercise and come up with figures slightly different although general rankings should remain similar. That’s a long way of saying you shouldn’t get too hung up on the implied precision of the spreadsheet.
I took that same data from the spreadsheet and created a graph. I had to reduce the image to fit into the article, however. The actual image was larger. Readers can open it in another tab or window if it’s too difficult to read.
Hawaii (overwhelmingly) and Washington demonstrated the greatest slope between highpoint and lowpoint, as referenced by reader Michael. Hawaii’s Mauna Kea was only about 17 miles (28 kilometers) from the ocean so it had an amazing downward slope of nearly 800 feet per mile (150 m/km) from mountaintop to sea. That more than doubled the result created by Washington’s Mount Rainer to Puget Sound. Reader Scott offered that Vermont probably came in third place and my calculations confirmed his suggestion. Mount Mansfield to Lake Champlain descended at 230 ft/mi (44 m/km).
Reader Jacob wondered about the farthest absolute distances between state highpoint and lowpoint, as well as the opposite of what was just discussed, the smallest slope between the two points. Both were easy to discern once I created the spreadsheet.
I calculated the farthest distances in Texas and Oklahoma. Both extended greater than 500 miles (800 km). Interestingly, or possibly of interest only to me, Texas was the second largest state and had the longest distance between highpoint and lowpoint. In the earlier article I discovered that Delaware, the second smallest state, had the smallest distance between highpoint and lowpoint. That was an odd coincidence, as if being in second place wasn’t good enough for either of them and they had to concoct different superlatives.
Nonetheless, I found Oklahoma more impressive than Texas for purposes of this exercise. The distances were nearly identical and yet Oklahoma was a much smaller state. Plus, I’ve actually been within close proximity to Oklahoma’s highpoint at Black Mesa when I undertook the Dust Bowl trip a couple of years ago so I had a nice photo to illustrate the point.
The smallest slope actually surprised me. Louisiana won. The angle was created by an unusual situation; the state’s lowpoint was below sea level in New Orleans so the regular method of drawing a line to the nearest seacoast wouldn’t work. Simultaneously the highpoint at Driskill Mountain wasn’t particularly high and it was located near the northwestern corner of the state, diagonally opposite of the lowpoint to maximized the distance. The downward slope equaled about 2.3 ft/mi (0.4 m/km). Two other states demonstrated slopes of less than 3 ft/mi: Illinois (I’ve been to that lowpoint) and Mississippi (been to that lowpoint too, it’s anywhere along its Gulf of Mexico shoreline).
Michigan came next at 3.5 ft/mi (0.7 m/km). I found that situation particularly fascinating in the context of the previous article where I noted the difference between the geographic placement of Minnesota and Michigan. Minnesota’s highpoint was located near Lake Superior, putting its highpoint and lowpoint in very close proximity. Michigan’s highpoint was also located near Lake Superior. However, the state of Michigan extended all the way down to Lake Erie, making the distance between high and low 400+ miles (650 km) and placing it near the bottom of the slope list.
Projects for Another Day
Other readers came up with great ideas too. Peter suggested that I run a similar analysis for nations of the world. Rob wondered about the highpoints of one state that appeared to fall in close proximity to the lowpoints of another state. I didn’t have time to explore either of these today although I might if time permits or people seem interested.
I wondered what town and state had the fewest letters in its collective name. For example, my hometown of Arlington, Virginia had 17 letters. That wasn’t very short. Why would anyone care? I don’t know. Maybe someone had a job where they had to write down their town and state repeatedly to the point where they’d want to move to a place to minimize their task. Maybe it was a Bart Simpson chalkboard thing.
But oh wise 12MC — I’m sure the audience interjects even as we speak — it wouldn’t matter whether people lived in the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations or any other state for that matter, they would still shorten it to a two-letter postal abbreviation. Simply pick the shortest town name and be done with it. Forget about the state. That wouldn’t be a challenge and we don’t take the easy path on the circle. We need to do this the hard way.
States with four-letter names seemed to be the optimal starting point: Utah, Iowa and Ohio.
There were a couple of towns in Utah with three letters. One was Roy; so Roy + Utah had 7 letters. That was pretty good. The Utah History Encyclopedia explained Roy’s short name.
Twenty-one years after Roy’s first settlement, the town’s few residents met to start the wheels of progress turning by obtaining a post office. The first requirement was the selection of a permanent name for the town. Roy had been called Central City, Sandridge, the Basin, and Lakeview. One member of the group, Reverend David Peebles, a schoolteacher, recently had lost a child to death, a young boy named Roy. Peebles exerted pressure to have the town named after his son, and the local citizens were sympathetic to his plea.
Roy may have started small although it now has nearly 40,000 residents (map). It abutted Hill Air Force Base on its southeaster corner right next to the Hill Aerospace Museum which I visited previously. That signified two dimensions for me personally, (1) I’ve been to Roy although I didn’t realize it at the time because one must pass through Roy to get to the museum, and (2) I can illustrate this entry with one of my own photographs instead of borrowing one from some unsuspecting Flickr user. Roy might be in the background of that photo somewhere. Actually I think Roy might be in the opposite direction, behind me.
The other 7-letter combo was Loa, Utah (map). This town appeared previously as one of my bloggy finds. It demonstrated that I should never recommend other websites because it automatically curses them into never publishing again.
The Utah History Encyclopedia also mentioned Loa. The name "… was suggested by Franklin W. Young, who had once resided in the Hawaiian Islands and had been impressed with Mauna Loa, Hawaii’s second highest mountain."
There were many different 7-letter combos in Iowa. Ira, Iva and Ute were amongst them. I focused on Ely, Iowa (map). It had the largest population of the grouping so it seemed to deserve more attention. The The History of Linn County, Iowa (1878) had a simple explanation for the short name. "Ely was laid out June 5, 1872 by T.M. Johnson, Surveyor, on parts of Sections 30 and 31, Township 82, north Range 6, under the proprietorship of John F. Ely."
Too bad Ely wasn’t founded by Chuck D because then it would have scored even better. The awesome 5-letter combination of D, Iowa would have been unstoppable. Imagine how Iowa might may evolved if that had happened. We may never be able to work out the time/space issues necessary to transport Chuck D back to the 1870’s so he could start a town although that would be amazing.
Those vintage buildings shown in the photograph still exist by the way (Street View)
Ohio had its share of short-name towns including Aid, Fly and Ray. I was prepared to talk about Ray because it was significant enough to have its own post office (45672). That wasn’t necessary because I found something even better.
Yes, we had a winner: the six-letter combo of Ai, Ohio (map)! Some websites claimed that Ai was a ghost town. Clearly, people still lived there so how could that be true? About the name,
The origin of its name has been a local controversy: some say that it was named after the biblical city of Ai, while others believe that it was named after one of its founders, Ami Richards. Ami was a man, so others dropped the ‘M’ from his name to make the town’s name more masculine.
I had a hard time believing explanations based upon a destroyed city or androgyny. I had my own theory after watching the video. The general store featured the village’s name printed on its side in capital letters, AI. That looked a lot like A1, aka superior. That would be a great town name. Did that expression even exist when the town was founded circa 1843? Etymology Online examined A1: "… in figurative sense of "first-rate," 1837, in Dickens; from Lloyd’s of London designation for ships in first-class condition (with the letter referring to the condition of the ship and the number to that of the stores)."
I guess it might be possible. Probably not. I still like it better.