Living in the Commonwealth for so many years I guess I’m predisposed to notice Virginia being mentioned in out-of-context situations. Such was the case with Virginia City, Montana which I saw while researching presidential counties. It was the seat of local government in Madison County named for James Madison, the fourth U.S. President. Madison had been associated with Virginia for his entire life. How fitting, I thought, that settlers arriving in Madison County named their primary town for the home state of the honoree. Except that wasn’t the case. It was a complete coincidence. However that led me to another string of coincidences, of places named Virginia related to silver and gold.
Virginia City, Montana
I searched for that Virginia/Madison connection and actually found a more interesting story. As noted by the Virginia City Preservation Alliance,
It was a pretty bold move to try to name a Montana town in honor of the Confederate’s first lady while the Civil War raged on the eastern end of the continent. I’m surprised Judge Bissell even offered Virginia, seeing how it was the home of the Confederate capital of said conflict. Nonetheless Virginia City thrived for awhile as the gold mines prospered, and even served as Montana’s first Territorial Capital. The current population hovers around 200 residents although it has managed to build a thriving tourist industry attracted to the Virginia City and Nevada City Historic District
Virginia City, Nevada
I’ve actually visited Virginia City, Nevada although it was many years ago. A different mineral — silver — attracted miners in the late 1850’s. This was the site of the famous Comstock Lode, with seven million tons of silver extracted in twenty years between 1860 and 1880. It’s the reason Nevada came to be known as "The Silver State."
That was a fine set of statistics although I wanted to see the connection to Virginia. It was tangential. The name derived from James Finney (or Fennimore), "Old Virginny Finney." In 1859 he may or may not have discovered the Six-Mile Canyon portion of the Comstock Lode. There were various competing legends explaining how his name came to be applied to the town. My favorite version involved his penchant for public intoxication:
He was a native of Virginia — thus the connection — and "probably Nevada’s oldest pioneer settler" as well as a "frontier hunter, and miner, a man of more than ordinary ability in his class, a buffoon and practical joker; a hard drinker when he could get the liquor, and an indifferent worker at anything." He died in 1861 after being thrown from a horse while intoxicated.
Virginia, Free State, South Africa
Virginia, Free State, South Africa
It was hard to follow-up a story like that although Virginia in South Africa’s Free State province deserved a special mention because of its sheer distance from its namesake. This Virginia was,
I’ve seen neither gold nor silver in my little corner of Virginia, although these colorful stories almost make me want to pull out a shovel and start digging in my back yard.
I noticed an anomaly as I pulled together the spreadsheet of every county named for a U.S. president for the recent Last Presidential Counties article. There was a single Millard County. It represented the only county designated for a president’s first name rather than his surname as far as I could determine. It got stranger. Millard County, Utah had its seat of government in the town of Fillmore. The president honored here was Millard Fillmore, so the county picked up his first name and the town adopted his last name. That would be like establishing a Richard County with its local government in a town called Nixon (assuming anything of significance will ever be named for Nixon). If anything it seemed backwards.
However that wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen. Fillmore should have been Utah’s state capital instead of Salt Lake City and then it would have made perfect sense. The weird imbalance would never have existed. Instead, Millard County remained rather obscure with barely 12,000 residents, and offered 12MC an excellent opportunity to fill a blank spot on the Complete Index Map.
Utah Territorial Statehouse State Park by
Jimmy Emerson, DVM (cc)
Millard Fillmore wasn’t exactly the most towering icon of presidential history, in fact he’d been categorized consistently near the bottom of the pile by historians who tracked such things. He just happened to be president at a convenient time for him to benefit from some good-old-fashioned political pandering. It was an expedient choice:
Construction began on the new Capitol building and the Territorial Legislature met there in 1855 (map). Only the south wing was ever completed. The project was overtaken by financial difficulties and the Territorial Capital moved to Salt Lake City a couple of years later. The old partially-completed Capitol is Utah’s oldest intact government building and has been preserved at Territorial Statehouse State Park.
Fort Deseret, Utah by Ken Lund (cc)
Millard County retained some significance in the early history of Utah. Mormon settlers continued to move into the Pahvant Valley. This created ongoing tensions over land and resources with Native inhabitants including the Ute and Paiute, and contributed to a conflict known as the Black Hawk War.
No other Adobe fort from this era of Utah history exists today. Even this site will eventually crumble back into the valley floor as it slowly erodes away.
Topaz War Relocation Center
Millard’s obscurity pushed it towards the forefront during a later historical era, during the Second World War. This was the site of the Topaz War Relocation Center, an internment camp for Japanese Americans.
In a shameful chapter of American History, war hysteria and fear led to the relocation and internment of 120,000 people of Japanese descent from the west coast of the United States to various inland camps. Approximately ten-thousand of them, primarily from the San Francisco area, ended-up at Topaz for the duration of the war. Topaz didn’t close until late 1945. The outline of the Topaz Relocation Center remains etched on the landscape, and memories are being preserved by the Topaz Museum.
An official Presidential apology wasn’t issued until 1991.
Twelve Mile Circle finds itself with an overflowing mailbag once again with lots of intriguing readers suggestions. Each one of these could probably form an entire article although I’ll provide the short versions today to try to clear a backlog. Once again, I’ll say gladly that 12MC has the best readers. I really appreciate learning about news things that I can now share with a broader audience.
Ebright Azimuth (Delaware Highpoint) — my own photo
I heard from reader "Joe" that a brother and sister were looking to break the record for climbing the highest points in each of the lower 48 states in the shortest amount of time. They were surprised to learn that the current records was held by someone from Britain at 23 days 19 hours and 31 minutes. That simply could not be allowed to stand unchallenged. They were on track to beat the record today, and will probably be done by the time you read this.
Dall Island, Alaska
I wasn’t familiar with Dall Island, however it formed a miniscule part of the border between the United States and Canada, as mentioned by reader "A.J." and as noted by Wikipedia:
A.J. thought it interesting that Dall Island was listed as internationally divided with 100% of the landmass in the United States and 0% within Canada. The boundary just touched the tip of the island so the portion within Canada would be infinitesimally small, literally only at the so-called Point A (map). How could the United States own all of an island but not really all of an island? It brought a lot of questions to my mind, too: Was there a border monument? Did the border change with the tides? Would someone get in trouble for touching Point A without reporting to immigrations and customs?
A Capital City
Photo by Chris Brown, on Flickr (cc)
12MC received a bit of a riddle from reader "Brian" that amused me. Everyone educated in the United States should be able to get the answer although apparently it fools a lot people. I’ll go ahead and post the question and then leave a little space so it doesn’t spoil the answer. "Name the City: Of the 50 US capitol cities, this one has the largest population AND falls alphabetically between Olympia (Washington) and Pierre (South Dakota)."
Feel free to scroll down when you’re ready.
It’s Phoenix, Arizona.
I almost fell into the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania trap until I remembered that Harrisburg is the capital city of Pennsylvania. That may be just an instinctual thing showing nothing more than I’ve lived in the Mid-Atlantic my whole life. I’m sure people in Arizona wouldn’t have a problem with this one. It would be interesting to know if the incorrect "answer" varied by geography.
Yes, I realize it was horribly unfair of me to use an image of the Liberty Bell to further confuse the issue.
photo courtesy of reader Lyn; used with permission
Lyn, who’s frequent contributions has earned the exalted title "Loyal Reader Lyn" struck again with a trip to the Maldives (map). Lyn learned long ago that I love getting website hits from obscure locations and has a job that goes to interesting places such as Douala in Cameroon. I wish my job took me to equally fascinating places. Sadly, it does not. I’m more likely to travel to exotic spots like Atlanta or Boston — nice places for sure although nothing in comparison to the Maldives or Cameroon. Lyn should start a travel website. I’d subscribe!
photo courtesy of reader Bob; used with permission
Bob spotted an interesting intersection while wandering about Waterbury, Connecticut: Stewart Avenue & Granger Street (map). Stewart Granger was a British actor active primarily in the 1940’s through 1960’s (e.g., starring with John Wayne in North to Alaska).
It had been a long time since 12MC had done an article on street names and intersections, and this topic looked particularly promising. I thought off the top of my head that someone else from that era would be a good possibility, Errol Flynn. In more modern terms, maybe Taylor Swift? I’ll bet there’s a Taylor St. intersecting with a Swift St. somewhere. Unfortunately the latest version of Google Maps wouldn’t accommodate this type of searching as elegantly as its predecessor so I had to abandon the search.
Wade Hampton Sacked
The last one came from reader, well, me. This time I actually caught a county change as it happened for once instead of finding out about it a year or two later. A county equivalent unit in Alaska, the Wade Hampton Census Area is in the process of being renamed the Kusilvak Census Area. It was all over the Alaska media this week (Wade Hampton no more: Alaska census area honoring Confederate officer is renamed) and Wikipedia has already made the change.
This may be the largest geographic area affected by the recent renaming of things associated with the old Confederacy. I always thought it was a tad strange that an area of Alaska was named for a Confederate cavalry officer.