Virginia Silver and Gold

On July 19, 2015 · 2 Comments

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


Virginia City

I searched for that Virginia/Madison connection and actually found a more interesting story. As noted by the Virginia City Preservation Alliance,

On June 16, [1863] …directors presented the charter to Dr. Gaylord Bissell (who had been elected as Judge of the Fairweather Mining District), the proposed name of the new town was "Varina;" honoring the wife of Jefferson Davis-president of the Confederate States of America. Judge Bissell, a staunch Unionist, declared that there was no way he would approve of a charter which carried this name. One of the charter’s proponents hastened to explain that, inasmuch as Mrs. Davis was the daughter of a prominent New Jersey family, her name actually represented a thoughtful compromise in sectional consciousness. Somewhat mollified-if not totally convinced-Judge Bissell responded by crossing out the proposed name "Varina" and writing in the name of the city as "Virginia."

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


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:

"[O]ne midnight Old Virginia, going home with the boys and a bottle of whiskey," wrote Charles Howard Shinn in The Story of The Mine (1896), "after an unusually protracted revel, fell down when he reached his cabin, broke the bottle, and rising to his knees, with the bottle-neck is his hand, hiccoughed, ‘I baptize this ground Virginia Town!’"

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,

…named after the state in America by Louis Seymour, a mechanical and mining engineer who scratched the name of his birthplace on a boulder close to where a railway siding was subsequently built… Years later, after the discovery of gold in 1955 the emergence of a town took on the name of the railway siding. Life here revolves around the gold fields… Virginia’s claim to fame is it pipe-mine, the deepest on the planet, whilst the manufacture of sulfuric acid from gold ore and the mining of gold are what drives the town’s economy.

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.

On July 19, 2015 · 2 Comments

More Fill in Millard

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.

Territorial Statehouse


Utah Territorial Statehouse State Park
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:

Why Fillmore? Location (geographic center). Location (water, land). Location (wood, stone). After congress set the boundary and created the Territory of Utah in 1850, Brigham Young, as the newly appointed governor, chose a suitable location for a capital. This location, near the geographic center of the territory, had all the needed resources to build with, and was located on the major travel route. Brigham Young designated it Fillmore City and Millard County to honor the United States President.

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


Fort Deseret, Utah
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.

The years 1865 to 1867 were by far the most intense of the conflict. Latter-day Saints considered themselves in a state of open warfare. They built scores of forts and deserted dozens of settlements while hundreds of Mormon militiamen chased their illusive adversaries through the wilderness with little success. Requests for federal troops went unheeded for eight years. Unable to distinguish "guilty" from "friendly" tribesmen, frustrated Mormons at times indiscriminately killed Indians, including women and children.

Local residents constructed Fort Deseret (map) as a defensive measure in 1865.

In desperation the settlers sent word to President Brigham Young who authorized them to built a fort. As teams of men were chosen to build the fort, it was decided a contest would help encourage speed in erecting the defensive structure. The winners were to be recipients of a supper and a dance, while the losers had to furnish the food and entertainment… The fort was completed in 18 days by 98 men. It was 550-feet square with bastions at the northeast and southeast corner, and portholes giving a view of each side. The fort was never used for its primary purpose, but instead housed the livestock each night.

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.


Topaz, Utah. A panorama view of the Central Utah Relocation Center, taken from the water tower. - NARA - 536975

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.

Reader Mailbag 3

On July 12, 2015 · 6 Comments

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.



Delaware Highpoint
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:

Cape Muzon, the southernmost point of the island, is the western terminus, known as Point A, of the A-B Line, which marks the marine boundary between the state of Alaska and the Canadian province of British Columbia as defined by the Alaska Boundary Treaty of 1903. This line is also the northern boundary of the waters known as the Dixon Entrance.

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


Liberty Bell
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.
.
.
.
.
.
.
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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.


Maldives


Maldives
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!


Stewart Granger


Stewart Granger
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


Wade Hampton

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.

On July 12, 2015 · 6 Comments
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