Another Town Roundup

On October 29, 2017 · 1 Comments

I’ve collected unusual town names for awhile. They often came up as I researched Twelve Mile Circle articles or when I checked the daily log files. Generally they didn’t make those "weird names" lists found elsewhere on the Intertubes. I find them endlessly fascinating for some unknown reason. Then I make a note of them and promise to return. Occasionally I’ll post an article after I collect enough of them and I want to cut down my pile of unwritten topics.

Capitol Hill, Seattle, Washington


Downtown Seattle from Capitol Hill
Downtown Seattle from Capitol Hill. Photo by Matthew Rutledge on Flickr (cc)

Already on the very first entry I broke my rules for this article. Seattle’s Capitol Hill was a neighborhood not a town (map). Nonetheless, I wondered why Capitol Hill even existed as a name there. The Capitol Hill in another Washington came to mind, however, that one had an actual capitol on its hill. Nobody could claim the same for the Seattle version. Rather, the state capitol sat about sixty miles (100 kilometres) farther south in Olympia.

According to History Link, "the Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History," the name probably came from one of two (or both) alternatives. It happened in 1901, courtesy of a local land developer, James Moore. That was certain. By one theory he hoped to persuade the state government "to move its business from Olympia onto Prospect Street." By another, his wife came from Colorado and the name referenced Capitol Hill in Denver. The one in Denver, by the way, actually contained the state capitol. Sadly, Seattle’s Capitol Hill remained capitol-less.


Future City, Illinois


Future City Illinois
Future City Illinois. Photo by Joe on Flickr (cc)

I wanted to make a crack about Future City (map) not looking like it had much of a future. It looked completely desolate. Irony seemed cruel after I researched its history. Future City sat near the southern tip of Illinois, just north of Cairo and the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. African Americans founded it around the turn of the last century as a refuge from racism and lynchings in nearby Cairo. They created their own self-contained settlement and named it optimistically. It promised a better future. Several hundred people lived there a century ago. Now, only a handful remained.

I visited that river confluence a few years ago. It floods, a lot. Naturally, Future City flooded regularly even as early as the disastrous floods of 1912 and 1913. Three times the town needed to be rebuilt from scratch. Meanwhile, nearby Cairo went into a long, slow economic decline. River traffic decreased as rails and roads rose, and its geographic placement became increasingly irrelevant. People in Future City depended on jobs in Cairo so their dream declined with it.


Layman, Ohio



Layman, Ohio

Little Layman, Ohio barely qualified as a settlement, much less a town. Even so I liked the name so it made the list. The dictionary definition explained why. A layman is a "a person who does not belong to a particular profession or who is not expert in some field." What a lousy name, I thought. It implied nobody in town could do much of anything. There sat Layman at Tick Ridge Road with nothing but laymen living there. Actually, it appeared to be named for a 19th Century local newspaper editor, Amos Layman. That wasn’t nearly as much fun.


Bowbells, North Dakota


St Mary le Bow
St Mary le Bow. Photo on Flickr in the Public Domain

Doesn’t Bowbells sound a lot like Cowbells? I thought it did. Some random visitor from Bowbells (map) landed on the pages of 12MC. That in itself might be remarkable. Barely 300 people lived there at the last census. Nonetheless, it served as the seat of local government in Burke County. I saw small towns just like Bowbells with important government functions in many North Dakota counties during my Center of the Nation tour. So many settlements throughout the Great Plains suffered population declines in recent decades. Burke County itself dropped from about ten thousand residents to maybe two thousand since 1930.

That didn’t explain the name, though. A common source for names in these open spaces, the railroad companies, took care of that. As the city explained,

The city of Bowbells was founded in 1898 along the main line of the Soo Line Railroad and incorporated in 1906. The city was named by railroad officials after the famed Bow bells at St Mary-le-Bow in London, England.

Naturally I needed to tug that thread a little harder. So the town got its name from the bells of the church, St. Mary-le-Bow (map). I didn’t know about the "fame" of the famed church bells so I dug deeper. As the Daily Mail noted, "tradition dictates that only those born within earshot of the ‘Bow Bells’ can claim to be Cockneys." That still seemed like an odd name for a town in the middle of North Dakota. I couldn’t imagine waves of Cockneys rolling over the endless prairie.

Three of Them

On October 26, 2017 · 1 Comments

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


270_7073
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.

Body Parts

On October 5, 2017 · 2 Comments

The more I thought about it, apparently body parts influenced an awful lot of geographic names. It seemed natural though. People liked to name things after familiar objects. What could be more familiar than the flesh right there in front of them? From head to feet and practically everywhere in between, I found spots on the map that shared those names. I focused on a small sample of some of the more interesting references.

Foot


A Portage to Freedom
A Portage to Freedom via TradingCardsNPS on Flickr (cc)

The name that began this latest search appeared in Pennsylvania. Imagine living in a place called Foot of Ten (map). Within this unincorporated village stood the Foot of Ten Independent Baptist Church. Its website solved the mystery.

The Pennsylvania Legislature authorized construction of a canal between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in 1826. This would do more than simply connect two cities, it would open a trade route between the eastern seaboard and the frontier. Pittsburgh offered direct access to the Ohio and Mississippi River watersheds. However, builders faced a problem, the Eastern Continental Divide atop the Allegheny Mountains. Tunnels or locks would not be feasible on such a massive scale.

Instead, the builders borrowed an idea from England, the use of inclined planes. I mentioned such structures in Tunnels, Bridges, Lifts and Inclines a few years ago. Here the solution became the Allegheny Portage Railroad. Barges loaded onto rail cars and went through a series of ten inclined planes; five uphill and five downhill. Then they resumed their canal ride on the other side. Pulleys and ropes helped move loaded rail cars between inclines, up and over the ridge. They named each incline numerically, from one to ten. A little village sprouted at the foot of Incline Ten. Not being terribly original, the village became Foot of Ten.


Knee


Wounded Knee South Dakota
Wounded Knee South Dakota. Photo by Adam Singer on Flickr (cc)

Wounded Knee leapt immediately to mind as I considered noteworthy examples. Wounded Knee Creek flowed into the White River in southwestern South Dakota (map). The name originated exactly as I thought. Rival groups of Native Americans clashed at that spot somewhere in the long forgotten past and one of the men suffered a wound to his knee. Thus, Wounded Knee. Those events happened well before Wounded Knee entered the lexicon for an entirely different reason.

Historians used to call an infamous 1890 incident the "Battle of Wounded Knee." More contemporary interpretations labeled it the "Wounded Knee Massacre." The exact sequence of events will likely never be known. By one account it began when U.S. Cavalry soldiers attempted to disarm members of the Lakota tribe at their encampment. One member of the tribe, being deaf, did not understand the soldiers’ intent. A struggle for his rifle and a possible accidental discharge began a shooting spree on both sides. The soldiers didn’t stop firing until 150 Lakota, including unarmed women and children, lay dead upon the frozen ground.


Backbone


Devils Backbone - Outpost
Devils Backbone – Outpost. My own Photo.

In Virginia, the small Devils Backbone brewery grew quickly, eventually large enough to be purchased by Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2016. I’ve been to both their original brewpub location in Roseland and their "Outpost" production brewery outside of Lexington during my beer wanderings. Naturally I wondered about the unusual name. Did it come from the geography of the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains?


JeffFryDetail
Fry-Jefferson map” of Virginia (1751) via Wikimedia Commons, in the Public Domain

Actually, the name did indeed and it tied to a rather notable colonial-era accomplishment. The brewery’s website explained further.

On September 25, 1746, eight years before the French and Indian War, a party of forty set out from Bear Fence Mountain in the Blue Ridge on one of the most legendary land surveys in American history… Their task was to carve and measure a straight line, eighty-miles long through the wilderness, connecting the sources of the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers. This line was known as "The Fairfax Line."

I visited the northwestern terminus of that line at the Fairfax Stone last year.

The Geographic Names Information System listed several different Devils Backbones just in Virginia alone. Looking at the Fry-Jefferson Map of 1751, the one inspiring the brewery seemed to be the ridge on the western flank of the Shenandoah Valley (map). The survey line crossed what they called "The North Ridge alias the Devil’s Back Bone." not too far west of current Mount Jackson, the town with the awesome water tower.


Finger


Cayuga Lake
Cayuga Lake. My own photo.

So many interesting places existed throughout the world that I generally don’t travel to the same place more than once. I’ve made an exception for the Finger Lakes of New York. I’ve explored the region twice and I’d love to get there a third time. It’s that beautiful. These lakes earned their name for their appearance, like fingers pressed upon the earth.



Glaciation, as one might expect, created these lakes. Glaciers during the most recent ice age pushed down through north-south valleys. Their southward flow accentuated these valleys and left deep, broad troughs behind. They also pushed debris to their farthest extremes. When the glaciers retreated, those large debris moraines became natural dams. Water filled the troughs, and behold, the Finger Lakes appeared. Creeks and rivers left hanging after ice retreated created amazing waterfalls like Taughannock Falls, Watkins Glen and Buttermilk Falls.


So Many More

I could go on-and-on although it’s probably time to stop. Heads, teeth, mouths, elbows and lots of other body parts appeared across the landscape. I so wanted to add Liverpool. Unfortunately, Liverpool was not named for the liver. It came from the Old English word "lifer," meaning "thick, clotted water." Yuk. Even a liver sounded more attractive.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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