Hawaii on the Mainland

On April 1, 2015 · 4 Comments

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.

Diamondhead, Mississippi


A maze of waterways on the Mississippi Coast near Bay St. Louis
A maze of waterways on the Mississippi Coast… by Frank Kovalchek

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.


Aloha, Oregon



Aloha, Oregon

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


Honolulu, North Carolina
Honolulu, North Carolina
via Google Street View, June 2013

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.

On April 1, 2015 · 4 Comments

4 Responses to “Hawaii on the Mainland”

  1. Rick Nordstr├Âm says:

    There is also an Aloha, Michigan, located in Cheboygan County. It is an unincorporated community in Aloha Township. According to the Wikipedia entry, it was built around James B. Patterson’s sawmill. He named the twin Aloha due to a recent trip to Hawaii.

  2. John of Sydney says:

    In a similar vein here in New South Wales we have the town and beach of Copacabana which was unashamedly named after the famous beach in Rio. Haven’t seen the one in Brazil but the one here is really beautiful.
    There is also the town of Miami on the Gold Coast in Queensland.

  3. Pfly says:

    Owyhee is an old spelling of Hawaii. Lots of them. Not least the Owyhee River, named for Hawaiian fur trappers (three sent to explore and never returning).

  4. KCJeff says:

    How about Wahoo, Nebraska?

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