A Merry Christmas to everyone in the Twelve Mile Circle who is celebrating today. A Happy Holiday or well wishes to everyone else as well. Every once in awhile the 12MC publishing schedule falls on Christmas day. A Christmas theme felt appropriate even with a diminished audience. Ironically, most people with enough time to read today probably don’t celebrate Christmas. Nonetheless I’m going to stick with it and plow forward anyway.
Dude, Watch Out!. Photo by Rebecca Dominguez on Flickr (cc)
For sure, Christmas Island needed to appear first on the list (map). Amazingly, even though the island fell not too distant from heavily-populated Java, Christmas Island remained unknown until the 17th Century. Various mariners spotted it during that time although it remained without a permanent name until 1643. Captain William Mynors of the English East India Company sailed within eyesight on Christmas day that year. Not being terribly original, Captain Mynors called it Christmas Island and the name stuck. Nobody set foot on the island for another several decades. A permanent population didn’t arrive until the 1880’s. Now Christmas Island belongs to Australia as a territory with around two thousand residents.
I’d always been fascinated by its incredible red crab migration. The wet season begins near the end of October. Then tens of millions of crabs leave their burrows in the forest and make their way to the shoreline to spawn in alignment with the cycles of the moon. Afterwards they return to the forest and life goes on. These waves of roving crabs cover every patch of available earth as they approach their destination. Officials literally shut down roads during peak periods to prevent tragedy to the local crab population. It’s supposed to be an amazing spectacle and a big tourism draw. I’d love to see it in person someday.
Christmas Common, Oxfordshire
Red Kite over Watlington. Photo by Raj on Flickr (cc)
Nobody really knew how Christmas Common (map) near Watlington, England got its name. Theories pointed to "a 1643 Christmas Day truce between combatants in the English Civil War, local holly tree coppices, or the Christmas family, which had local connections." People seemed to be guessing.
Christmas Common sat within the Chiltern Hills, a picturesque chalk escarpment designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty by Natural England. This entire area recently experienced the successful reintroduction of Red Kites, a bird of prey, in the 1990’s.
Red kites were driven to extinction in England by human persecution by the end of the nineteenth century. A small population survived in Wales, but there was little chance of these birds repopulating their original areas. Between 1989 and 1994, kites from Spain were imported and released into the Chilterns by the RSPB and English Nature (now Natural England). Red kites started breeding in the Chilterns in 1992 and now there could be over 1,000 breeding pairs in the area.
A local entrepreneur also capitalized on Christmas Common by opening a Christmas tree farm, the Tree Barn. The farm included about a hundred acres of Nordmann Fir, Norway Spruce and other varieties. It claimed to provide the Christmas tree for 10 Downing Street for several years. I corroborated that with a quick search of the Intertubes. The Tree Barn supplied a Rocky Mountain fir native to Arizona for 2015. Unfortunately it did not win the contest in 2016.
Fort Christmas, Florida
Fort Christmas. Photo by boxer_bob on Flickr (cc)
The United States featured several Christmas towns. I selected one in Florida. Each year a steady stream of people travel to this little hamlet to get their Christmas cards stamped at the local post office. It added a little touch of merriment, I supposed.
The Christmas name traced back to events long before the town existed. The United States staged a series of military actions against the native Seminoles, driving them farther south by force and by treaty. The Seminole chieftain Osceola resisted these incursions, sparking what would become the Second Seminole War. In response, the U.S. Army constructed a series of forts within the disputed area to protect its settlers. One of these rose in eastern Orange County in 1837, a simple log stockade designed as a supply depot. Construction began on Christmas day and it became Fort Christmas as a result (map). The Army abandoned it a few months later when the Seminoles left the area.
The town took its name from the remote outpost that once stood there.
Christmas Valley, Oregon
Christmas Valley Sand Dunes. Photo by Bureau of Land Management on Flickr (cc)
Lake County, Oregon included a community called Christmas Valley, situated in a valley of the same name near Christmas Lake (map). They all got their names from the same source, a local pioneer named Peter Christman.
So it would seem that Peter’s Creek and nearby Christman Lake were named after Major Peter Christman. Sometime between 1873 and 1877 people started calling Christman lake "Christmas." It is yet to be discovered exactly how the "s" came to replace the "n", but maps bearing the name "Christmas Lake" would go into the hands of every homesteader that would come to the valley.
The Christmas Valley community developed after the Second World War. It repeated the earlier mangling of the surname.
I came across an interesting naming string as I researched Noble Layers. It didn’t quite fit the definition of that earlier article. Even so I found it fascinating in its own right, and it deserved to be highlighted.
Richemont mairie [town hall]. Photo by Gjv76 on Wikimedia Commons (cc)
It began, maybe, in a remote corner of Normandy a millennia ago. There stood the village of Richemont (map), now a commune in the present-day Seine-Maritime department of France. Richemont in the old Norman language translated to something like Strong Hill. It never grew into much. Fewer than 500 people lived there even in the modern era.
Richmond, North Yorkshire
Richmond, North Yorkshire. Photo by Ian Britton on Flickr (cc)
Sources diverged on whether the Norman Richemont inspired the name of Richmond in North Yorkshire, England (map). Maybe it did, or maybe North Yorkshire’s Richmond truly served as the "Mother of All Richmonds." A long line of Earls and other nobles of Richmond hailed from Yorkshire’s Richmond starting in 1071. William the Conqueror bestowed the initial title of 1st Lord of Richmond upon Alan Rufus (Alan the Red) of Brittany who lived in Richmond after the Norman conquest of England.
Richmond Palace, London
GOC Richmond 010: Gate House. Photo by Peter O’Connor aka anemoneprojectors on Flickr (cc)
Earls of Richmond existed through several creations, held by more than twenty men over the next four centuries. Henry Tudor claimed the title indisputably in 1485. He went on to win the Battle of Bosworth Field to effectively end the War of the Roses, becoming King Henry VII of England. Henry VII moved to the royal palace of Sheen outside of London. It burned down in 1498 so he replaced Sheen with a new palace on the same spot. He called it Richmond Palace (map) after his Earldom. Very little of Richmond Palace survived besides its original Gate House. The rest was demolished soon after Charles I died in 1649.
A town formed around Richmond Palace and remained there after the demolition of the castle. It carried the same name, Richmond.
Richmond on the James. Photo by Mobilus In Mobili on Flickr (cc)
Across the Atlantic Ocean, adventurers streamed into the Virginia Colony. They focused their settlements along the James River. They brought familiar place names with them too.
As early as 1608, the English settlers eyed a community near the seven-mile-long series of rapids that divided the head of navigation at the river’s downstream end and the calm stretch of water upriver from it. The area provided a series of strategic advantages: as a port, as a location for mills, and as a transitional territory between the Tidewater-based Powhatan Indians and the Monacan Indians of the Piedmont.
It took more than a century for a town of significance to form along the James River’s fall line. A prominent colonial plantation owner, William Byrd II, provided the necessary land in 1737. He named it Richmond (map). The view of the James River supposedly reminded him of the view of the Thames from the Richmond near London.
Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Photo by Don McCullough on Flickr (cc)
Richmond, Virginia existed before most of the places in the new United States. It also served as the capital city of the Confederate States. Its longevity and significance inspired people to name newer communities in its honor. Thus, Richmonds sprouted successfully in Kentucky, Missouri, Oregon, California and many other states. The one in California arose soon after California gained statehood.
[Edmund] Randolph, originally from Richmond, Virginia, represented the city of San Francisco when California’s first legislature met in San Jose in December 1849, and he became state assemblyman from San Francisco. His loyalty to the town of his birth caused him to persuade a federal surveying party mapping the San Francisco Bay to place the names "Point Richmond" and "Richmond" on an 1854 geodetic coast map.
California’s Richmond later included several neighborhoods incorporating the Richmond name. These included Central Richmond, East Richmond, Richmond Annex, Richmond Heights, and Southwest Richmond Annex. I wondered if people living in any of those places realized the unlikely string that connected their communities back in time a thousand years.
Several other Richmond strings existed to lesser degrees. I also found Richemont, Seine-Maritime, France –> Richmond, North Yorkshire –> Duke of Richmond –> Richmond Co., New York (Staten Island) –> Richmond, Alabama. In addition there was Richemont, Seine-Maritime, France –> Richmond, North Yorkshire –> Duke of Richmond –> Fort Richmond –> Richmond, Maine.
So many Richmonds existed that the possibilities seemed endless.
In Latin, the word canna meant reed, the root of canalis meaning "water pipe, groove, [or] channel." The French language retained this term as it evolved from Latin, and the English language adopted it to describe a pipe for transporting liquid. This transformed to its modern English usage by the Seventeenth Century to represent an artificial waterway, as noted by the Online Etymology Dictionary.
I always thought that a canal resulted from someone digging a path through the ground to let a steady stream of water flow through it. That wasn’t necessarily the case according to technical jargon I stumbled upon. A canal connected two or more watersheds. Something called a navigation performed similar functions within a single watershed. Thus the Erie Canal connecting Lake Erie to the Atlantic Ocean via the Hudson River counted as a canal. In contrast, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal from Cumberland, Maryland to Washington, DC wouldn’t be considered a canal by that definition because it ran solely along the Potomac River. It didn’t matter that it stretched 180 miles (290 kilometres). The C&O counted as a navigation, which I’m sure would have surprised the people who designed, constructed and dubbed it a canal in the 1830’s.
The distinction didn’t make much difference to me. I decided to call them all canals.
Dismal Swamp Canal. Photo by Ryan Somma on Flickr (cc)
Nobody knows exactly when or where people built the very first canal. They traced back to the earliest times of agricultural settlement. Canals served an important purpose in ancient Mesopotamia both to control flooding and to irrigate crops. Egyptian pharaohs turned canal construction into an art form in later centuries, using them for additional purposes including transportation.
Since I couldn’t find the first canal ever built, I decided to feature the oldest canal in the United States in continuous usage. Work began on the Dismal Swamp Canal in 1793 and it soon connected North Carolina’s Albemarle Sound to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia (map). It provided convenient access to the lumbermen who harvested large cypress trees that grew in abundance in the swamp. No less than George Washington owned a 1/12 share in the venture. This resulted in George Washington Ditch, probably the least memorable features honoring him. A national capital memorialized his name. An entire state honored him. Then there was this ditch in a swamp. I’m sure his wife wouldn’t think too highly of nearby South Martha Washington Ditch either.
Today the canal provides a link in the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway, giving safe passage to small vessels moving up and down the Atlantic coast.
The Grand Canal. Photo by Lawrence Siu on Flickr (cc)
China’s Grand Canal (map) garnered two superlatives. No other canal extended farther and no other canal operated longer. This ancient canal stretched 1,115 miles (1,794 kilometres) and has been used continuously since the Sixth Century. UNESCO recognized the Grand Canal as a World Heritage Site, noting,
It formed the backbone of the Empire’s inland communication system, transporting grain and strategic raw materials, and supplying rice to feed the population… linking five of the most important river basins in China, including the Yellow River and the Yangtze.
The Grand Canal continues to serve a vital purpose in the Chinese economy today more than 1,500 years after its construction.
Panama Canal. Photo by MT_bulli on Flickr (cc)
Scientists used Global Positioning Satellite data to track more than 16,000 ships a few years ago. They hoped to determine the busiest ports in the world empirically, and their results pointed to the Panama Canal (map) first and the Suez Canal next. I supposed gross tonnage served as a nice proxy for busiest canal too. That distinction will only increase with the Panama Canal Expansion project that "will double the Canal’s capacity."
Millenium Ribble Link. Photo by Chris Hills on Flickr (cc)
While the canal building era seemed to reach its peak in the Nineteenth Century, new canals continue to be built even now. I couldn’t be sure which one might be the newest worldwide although I found an answer for the United Kingdom. The Millennium Ribble Link canal located outside of Preston, England opened in 2002 (map). That was almost a century after the next younger UK canal opened. It stretched only five miles (8 km), connecting the Lancaster Canal to the River Ribble. However, the canal served no economic purpose other than tourism. It provided a few miles of pleasurable passage and, more importantly, added the formerly-isolated Lancaster Canal to the hundreds of miles in the larger English canal network.
Someday the newest canal might open in Nicaragua if its prospective builders ever get their act together.