I enjoyed reading Wikipedia’s List of U.S. State Nicknames recently. My amusement didn’t come from the familiar nicknames I already knew, rather it derived from the nicknames I never knew existed. Alabama was the Lizard State? Really? Did anyone else know that? Then I noticed that several of the states featured nicknames that compared them to other geographic locations.
I went ahead and researched all of them because that’s what happens on a geo-oddity blog and apparently I didn’t have anything better to do. I have issues.
A few of the geographic nicknames seemed relatively plausible. Others seemed strange. Still others were so ancient and obscure that I’d guessed they hadn’t been uttered seriously in at least a century. Wikipedia should be embarrassed to print that last batch. They should be stricken.
Arizona: Italy of America
The Grand Canyon State would resonate as a valid nickname for Arizona for many readers while the Italy of America seemed to be a vastly inferior option. I didn’t really understand the comparison and neither did the major Intertubes search engines. I did find links to the Italian Association of Arizona and the Arizona American Italian Club although I didn’t think either of those would explain the nickname. I dug deeper and went into Google’s book search — a recurring theme for this article — and finally found an obscure reference. It came from a Report of the Governor of Arizona (1879):
These considerations of the sensible and shade temperature will account for the absence of any detrimental effect from the extreme heat of Arizona. It is the long period of hot days that becomes tiresome, but this is balanced by the delightful cool nights and enjoyable season from October to May, inclusive, during which no better climate can be found, and may be termed a veritable Italy of America.
Back in the 1870s, when American travelers imagined the West, they didn’t picture the desolate plains and cactus-strewn mesas so beloved by John Ford. They thought of somewhere far more sedate and manicured — a place, in fact, that looked surprisingly like Switzerland. For the restless city slickers of the Gilded Age, the dream destination was Colorado, where the high valleys of the Rocky Mountains, adorned with glacial lakes, meadows and forests as if by an artist’s hand, were reported to be the New World’s answer to the Alps. This unlikely connection with Europe’s most romantic landscape was first conjured in 1869 by a PR-savvy journalist named Samuel Bowles, whose guidebook to Colorado, The Switzerland of America extolled the natural delights of the territory…
The town of Ouray, Colorado (map) adopted the nickname and continues to use it.
Verdict: Ouray can continue to use it; retire it for the rest of the state.
I knew why this one existed. Twelve Mile Circle featured Delaware’s Swedish connection in an article called "New Sweden." I even created a map, reproduced above. The New Sweden colony functioned for decades during the Seventeen Century in northern parts of future Delaware and beyond.
Verdict: Accurate although I’m not sure anyone would commonly use the nickname today. I’ll defer to the opinion of 12MC’s Delaware readers.
Georgia: Empire State of the South
There were plenty of references that tied Georgia to the Empire State of the South, as exemplified by the New Georgia Encyclopedia Georgia History Overview: "By 1860 the "Empire State of the South," as an increasingly industrialized Georgia had come to be known, was the second-largest state in area east of the Mississippi River." The reference generally applied to the mid-Nineteenth Century. I can’t imagine anyone in Georgia or any other Southern state wanting to be compared to Yankees from the Empire State (New York) today.
Verdict: Retire the nickname.
Louisiana: Holland of America
I found plenty of information on the Holland America Cruise Line and precious little on Louisiana as a supposed Holland of America. It made some sense though. Both had extensive canals, dikes and levies designed to keep water from flooding their low-lying terrain. Finally I discovered an obscure reference from 1905, an article from the Meridional newspaper based in Abbeville, Louisiana that had been cataloged by the Library of Congress. I also found a few old books with similar references. The trail led back to the first quarter of the Twentieth Century.
Verdict: Retire the nickname.
Maryland: America in Miniature
I don’t live in Maryland although I’ve lived near Maryland’s border with Virginia for most of my life. I’d never heard anyone call it America in Miniature. Yet, I found numerous contemporary references to the nickname. This even included Maryland’s tourism website, Visit Maryland, on its Maryland Facts page: "Maryland has been called "America in Miniature" because so much is packed into its 10,460 square miles of land and water. You can find just about any kind of natural feature here, except a desert."
Verdict: I guess people still use it.
Minnesota: New England of the West
Numerous references existed, both outdated and contemporary. However, uniformly, they all pointed to a single period of Minnesota history circa 1850-1870. For example, the Library of Congress referenced Pioneering the Upper Midwest:
Early migration to Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota from the east came disproportionately from New England and New York. That pattern was mightily reinforced by the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, which funneled Yankees and ex-Yankees from New York into the southern portions of the Upper Midwest. Each state in turn for a time dubbed itself "the New England of the West."
I had ancestors who made that same journey, traveling from Maine to Wisconsin initially and then onward to Minnesota during its so-called New England of the West period. I found it interesting that the phrase also contained a double geographic reference, first to the New England region of the United States, and then farther back to England. That was a curious aside although it did nothing to legitimize the nickname for current usage.
Using New Andalusia as a nickname for New Mexico held little water. I found a vague reference to New Andalusia being used an early name for New Mexico. That was back in 1583. Yes, 1583. There was a tiny Andalusia Court in Cloudcroft, New Mexico although I doubted there was any connection to the so-called nickname.
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 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.