Going Postal, Part 2

On December 17, 2014 · 0 Comments

As I mentioned in Part 1, the first installment dealt with physical post offices and this one will focus on methods of postal delivery. Both featured examples drawn primarily from the United States Postal Service’s "fun facts" page.

Mule


The Postman
The Postman by Eric Gelinas, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Pack animals would seem to be an antiquated method of mail delivery. Certainly horses, mules or donkeys had their heyday up until about a century ago before being replaced unceremoniously by an upstart horseless carriage. A modern semi-truck might have around 400-450 horsepower. A draft horse would have, um, one. It didn’t take much convincing for the postal authorities to ditch their animals long ago and transport mail by mechanical means. That became a universal standard nationwide except for one incredibly inconvenient location — Arizona’s Grand Canyon, or more specifically the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Supai, Arizona (map) would be an excellent candidate for the most remote settlement in the Lower 48 states. No roads lead there. That would be impossible. Access required a helicopter or a strenuous hike down an 8 mile (13 kilometre) trail. Nonetheless two hundred people lived in Supai, the primary town of the Havasupai Tribe as they have for at least a thousand years. They required postal services just like everyone else. Mule trains continued to be the most cost-effective method. The USPS estimated each mule hauled about 130 pounds (59 kg) of postcards, letters or packages.

This same method was also used to deliver mail to the National Park Service’s Phantom Ranch, elsewhere at the bottom of the canyon.


Boat


JW Westcott II
JW Westcott II by Lauren, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Large freighters traveled regularly throughout the Great Lakes hauling grains, coal, iron ore and other commodities, as I learned from my visit to the Great Lakes Floating Maritime Museum. Mariners spent a lot of time away from home although not too far away from land. The Postal Service devised a way to get mail to these sailors as they passed through a narrow slot near the midpoint (map). The J. W. Westcott Co., established in 1874, won the contract to deliver mail to the freighters using its 45-foot boat.

Along the Detroit River, on any given day, a well-known diesel motorship brushes up against a much larger, passing vessel. A rope and bucket are lowered from the ship to the smaller boat, where messages, mail and other items are placed and raised back up. It’s the tradition called "mail in the pail" …and a legacy known as J.W. Westcott, the most reliable and dependable marine delivery service on the Great Lakes.

The boat even received its own ZIP Code, 48222.


Missile


Growler Submarine and Regulus Missile
Growler Submarine and Regulus Missile by Neil R, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

It was one of those things that sounded good at the time.

On June 8, 1959… the Navy submarine USS Barbero fired a guided missile carrying 3,000 letters towards the naval auxiliary air station in Mayport, Florida. Racing along at about 600 miles per hour, the guided missile traveled the more than 100 miles from the deck of the submarine off the coast of Florida to the air station in about 22 minutes… [Postmaster General] Summerfield was quoted as saying, "mail will be delivered within hours from New York to California, to England, to India or to Australia by guided missiles." History proved differently.

Mail in this experiment traveled as the payload within a Regulus guided missile, with the letters replacing a nuclear warhead. An example of such an imposing missile can be seen today at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, in New York City as presented above (and map). What could possibly go wrong with a missile-based postal delivery service during the height of the Cold War? The test worked perfectly, other than the possibility of sparking an accidental nuclear Armageddon. It wasn’t particularly cost effective either in an era when jet-powered airmail was already feasible.


Longest Postal Delivery Route


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The longest rural delivery route caught my attention. According to the USPS that honor went to Route 081 based out of Mangum, Oklahoma (map). I had a hard time finding more information about the service because I was an idiot and my brain converted Mangum to Magnum. I’m not sure if I had guns, big bottles of wine or a cheezy television show from the 1980’s starring Tom Selleck on my mind at the time. I had no trouble finishing my research once I put that little issue behind me though: MAN-gum.

Apparently the subject captured popular imagination as well. The story of septuagenarian Jim Ed Bull and his 187.6 mi (302 km) route that served only 240 customers appeared prominently in both Bloomberg and the NBC Nightly News in 2013. There’s no sense in me repeating it though so feel free to watch the video.


Longest Main Street



Island Park, Idaho, USA

This one might have been a little bogus although I enjoyed the story. Main Street was and has been the most common street name in the United States, no argument there. Of all of the Main Streets though, one of them had to be the longest. The USPS noted that it was Main Street in Island Park, Idaho at 33 mi (53 km). However I couldn’t find an actual "Main Street" in Island Park. The entire length seemed to be signed and addressed as US Route 20 (for example). Nonetheless, Island Park claimed it had the longest occurrence (see the banner on the city’s website) and various local business repeated the mantra. It appeared to a marketing gimmick.

As the story went,

The city of Island Park, for all other descriptive words, is "unique" in its entirety. It was incorporated in May 1947 to meet a state law requiring businesses that serve or sell alcoholic beverages to be within incorporated towns. The city’s government at the time drew up the city’s boundaries to include all the businesses from the Last Chance area north to the Montana border that desired licenses to serve and sell alcoholic beverages. All other areas of what is now known as the Island Park Recreational area remained in Fremont County.

It was about booze. Local lodge owners cobbled together a town 33 miles long and only 500 feet (150 m) wide astride US Route 20 so their patrons could drink. For that, they deserved to remain on the superlatives list forevermore.

Particularly Possessive

On December 3, 2014 · 4 Comments

I noticed that Prince George’s County, Queen Anne’s County and St. Mary’s County — all in Maryland — included the genitive apostrophe to form their possessive constructions. I’d always taken it on faith that the United States Board on Geographic Names disallowed apostrophes for that specific purpose. That’s how we ended-up with Harpers Ferry and other odd conglomerations. The possessive remained albeit awkwardly without an apostrophe. I wondered how Maryland got away with it.

A little checking revealed a probable answer in the Board’s Frequently Asked Questions page: "certain categories—broadly determined to be ‘administrative’—are best left to the organization that administers them. Examples include schools, churches, cemeteries, hospitals, airports, shopping centers, etc." In those cases (and apparently counties were considered part of "etc."), possessives formed by an apostrophe-s were allowed although discouraged. Maryland felt that a prince, a queen and a saint would all deserve an apostrophe.

For names not considered broadly administrative, however, exceptions with the genitive apostrophe were extremely rare. The Board authorized apostrophes for that specific purpose only five times since its creation in 1890. Lots of theories and folklore attempted to explain that odd disdain for apostrophes although the FAQ proclaimed: "The Board’s archives contain no indication of the reason for this policy." Someone a century ago apparently had a preference, made a bold decision and it stuck.

Each of the five exceptions merited further examination. Most were obscure. Fortunately the Geographic Names Information System included additional justification for these deviations and I could use them to tell their stories.


Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts (approved 1933)


Martha's Vineyard, Aquinnah Cliffs
Martha's Vineyard, Aquinnah Cliffs by Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Martha’s Vineyard (map) would be the prime example. I won’t spend any time talking about it because I’d like to save that for another day. Maybe it’s wishful thinking or maybe it’s foreshadowing. I’ll simply note that if I ever want to tally Dukes County on my county-counting list I’ll need to travel to Martha’s Vineyard (or one of several smaller islands nearby).


Ike’s Point, New Jersey (approved 1944)



Ike’s Point

GNIS described Ike’s Point as "a swamp point on the western side of Jenkins Sound about 0.4 km (0.25 mi) south of Shellbed Landing." It was named for a local family and it had been in common usage for at least 60 years when evaluated in the 1940’s. The Board decided to keep the apostrophe to clarify pronunciation. Otherwise it would have been Ikes Point and subject to interpretation. Surprisingly, Google Street View coverage went all the way to Shellbed Landing. It’s possible to sort-of see Ike’s Point.


John E’s Pond, Rhode Island (approved 1963)


Block Island Southeast Lighthouse
Block Island Southeast Lighthouse by Heather Katsoulis, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The same issue pertained to John E’s Pond on Block Island, RI, not far from the Southeast Lighthouse (map). Otherwise it would have been John Es Pond. Originally the Board named this tiny pool of water something else, Milliken Pond. The decision was reversed in 1963 citing "apparent persistence in local usage, recently verified by GS field workers" that dated back to 1886. Actually, further statements in the record implied that another variation may have been more common, John E’s Tug Hole. Some 12MC Intertubes sleuthing found several other "tug holes" on Block Island: Dees Tug Hole (included in GNIS – map); Ames Tug Hole and Elija Tug Hole. Tug hole appeared to be a very localized term for a pond.


Carlos Elmer’s Joshua View, Arizona (approved 1995)


Joshua Trees
Joshua Trees by Melanie J Watts, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Carlos Elmer’s Joshua View (map) certainly seemed to be a mouthful for an isolated slope in Arizona. The problem was that Carlos, Elmer and Joshua might confuse readers because all of them could be construed as first names. The place wouldn’t make any sense without the apostrophe. From the minutes of the Arizona State Board on Geographic and Historic Names, January 11, 1995:

Booth, Arizona Board member and proposer of the name, provided a brief biographical sketch of Carlos Elmer, long time Arizona photographer published in Arizona Highways Magazine. Booth commented that he had consulted with Elmer’s widow in trying to locate an area that he loved and to establish a name in memory of him, and together they pinpointed a mountain slope that is very dense with Joshua trees, a subject of many of Elmer’s photos… removing the word Joshua from the title would be inappropriate, because Joshua trees were the subject of the area that Carlos Elmer photographed.

The United States Board on Geographic Names concurred with the Arizona Board’s recommendation.


Clark’s Mountain, Oregon (approved 2002)



Clark’s Mountain

Clark’s Mountain retained its apostrophe for historical reasons. The name came about as part of events commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. William Clark likely admired the view from this eponymous mountain as told in the journal of Meriwether Lewis on January 10th, 1806.

Capt. C. found the road along the coast extreemly difficult of axcess, lying over some high rough and stoney hills, one of which he discribes as being much higher than the others, having it’s base washed by the Ocea[n] over which it rares it’s towering summit perpendicularly to the hight of 1500 feet; from this summit Capt. C. informed me that there was a delightfull and most extensive view of the Ocean, the coast and adjacent country; this Mout. I have taken the liberty of naming Clark’s Mountain and point of view; it is situated about 30 M. S. E. of Point (Adams) and projects about 2 1/2 miles into the Ocean…

Meriwether Lewis named the vantage point Clark’s Mountain — with an apostrophe — for his co-leader while the famed Corps of Discovery explored overland to the Pacific Ocean and back. The Board decided to honor his choice.

Pueblo Deco

On May 13, 2014 · 0 Comments

I learned about an uncommon, unusual design style known as Pueblo Deco as I researched Pre-Nazi Swastika Architectural Details. Native American tribes of the US Southwest such as the Navajo used a symbol that would be mistaken by the general public today as a swastika. That element carried forward to some of the derivative Pueblo Deco buildings constructed prior to the Second World War, which is how I came across the style.

Pueblo Deco arrived at the intersection of two other architectural movements popular during the early part of the 20th Century through the 1930’s, Art Deco and Pueblo Revival. 12MC isn’t an architecture site and I don’t have any training in the field so I won’t even begin to describe the styles. I’ll let the images explain themselves: Art Deco was an unmistakable you know it when you see it design and Pueblo Revival was rather self-explanatory too. Imagine a mash-up of the two. Their spawn became Pueblo Deco.

KiMo Theatre, Albuquerque, New Mexico


Kimo Theater
Kimo Theater by Mike Tungate, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Albuquerque’s KiMo Theatre may best exemplify Pueblo Deco, or at least serve as its most recognizable landmark (map). This was the property I featured in my earlier article that sparked my initial curiosity.

The City of Albuquerque purchased the KiMo Theater in 1977, saving it from probable destruction after years of neglect. It began as the vision an immigrant entrepreneur, Oreste Bachechi, and opened in 1927 during the golden era of elegant movie palaces. As the city’s Kimo Theater History explained, Bachechi wanted a building "that would stand out among the Greek temples and Chinese pavilions of contemporary movie mania." His architect Carl Boller "traveled throughout New Mexico, visiting the pueblos of Acoma and Isleta, and the Navajo Nation" in search of inspiration. Even the name KiMo derived from the pueblos; it reflected a Tiwa word for mountain lion.

Albuquerque seemed to be the epicenter of Pueblo Deco. The Art Deco Society of New Mexico even published a Pueblo Deco Tour of the city.


Arizona Biltmore Hotel, Phoenix, Arizona


IMG_2994
IMG_2994 by Daniel Langer, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Pueblo Deco spread within neighboring Arizona too. The state’s preeminent example may be the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, now a Waldorf Astoria resort, billed as "The Jewel of the Desert since 1929" (map).

Sometimes it’s mistaken for a Frank Lloyd Wright design. While Wright consulted on the project for several months, the actual architect was one of his former students, Albert Chase McArthur. As the hotel’s history page noted, "Perhaps the most obvious and dramatic design link to Wright is the use of indigenous materials that led to the creation of the ‘Biltmore Block.’ The pre-cast concrete blocks were molded on-site and used in the total construction of the resort."

The Arizona Biltmore anchored a high-end commercial and residential neighborhood that developed around it, the Biltmore District. Famous celebrities and politicians relaxed in the desert over the years. For example "Irving Berlin penned many tunes, including ‘White Christmas’ while sitting poolside at the Arizona Biltmore." The hotel last scored a minor historical footnote as the site where John McCain conceded defeat after his failed 2008 presidential campaign.


(former) Casa Grande Train Station, Casa Grande, Arizona


Casa Grande, AZ train station (destroyed by fire 6/09)
Casa Grande, AZ train station (destroyed by fire 6/09) by Ron Reiring, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Pueblo Deco buildings didn’t need to be grandiose and monumental to fit the general style. The Southern Pacific Railroad constructed a station in Casa Grande, Arizona in 1940 that presented a much more utilitarian form. It was rather simple although it clearly displayed elements of the fusion. Unfortunately despite being listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building fell into neglect, remained empty for many years, caught fire in 2009 and could not be saved. Photographs of the fire were included on the Casa Grande Firefighters site.

The station used to stand at 201 W Main Street, now a vacant lot. Such a pity. The location still appears on OpenStreetMap for now (map).


Cliff Dwellers’ Apartments, New York City, New York



Cliff Dwellers’ Apartments, New York, NY

While primarily a regional style generally confined to the desert southwest, Pueblo Deco sometimes appeared outside of its natural range. The Cliff Dwellers’ (Cliff Dwelling) Apartments on Riverside Drive between West 96th and 97th Streets in New York City employed a number of similar design characteristics. The New York Times featured this structure in 2002, describing it as "A Terra Cotta Masterpiece."

On the exterior, [Herman Lee] Meader again used terra cotta inventively. His designs of double-headed snakes, the skulls of cows, mountain lions, scowling masklike faces, spears and various American Indian details were worked into ornament. In 1916, The New York Herald praised the Cliff Dwelling’s appearance on a lot that had been considered "only fit for a billboard" and hailed its "made-in-America feeling." The Herald said its name opened up a new horizon for developers who had "exhausted the supply of names and styles from every famous palace, chateau and castle in Europe."

It was an interesting solution to fit a narrow, oddly-shaped lot. All apartments faced towards the Riverside Drive side of the building. CityRealty called it "…New York City’s architectural ode to the Wild West, this narrow and angled building is one of the city’s most eccentric." and noted that the American Institute of Architects had earlier said, it "symbolizes the life of the Arizona cliff dwellers and serves to tie these prehistoric people to Manhattan’s modern cliff dwellers."


It All Gets Confusing

I found plenty of other buildings that had been described as Pueblo Deco, or not. Once again my lack of architectural background made it impossible for me to parse. Was the La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe a Pueblo Deco structure, or Pueblo Revival? Was Fort Worth’s Texas & Pacific Railroad Passenger Station Pueblo Deco or Zigzag Moderne Deco? I dunno. Sources differed and I didn’t have the knowledge to make an intelligent judgment. I still enjoyed looking at them.

I didn’t even know Zigzag Moderne was a thing. Maybe I should stick to geography.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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