Twelve Mile Circle received a visit from someone in Susanville, California (map) last week, landing right on the front page of the site. What an odd name for a town, I figured. It had to have a story. Who was Susan and why did she have a town named for her? Couldn’t the town founders have honored her surname instead?
Actually, the did, sort of, when first settled. The seat of government in Lassen County, California went by a different name originally, the even stranger Rooptown. The City of Susanville provided context:
In 1853 the Honey Lake Valley was an oasis for emigrants, the first green grass and free flowing water after months of desert and dry. During that summer the Roop brothers built a cabin at the head of the valley, just west of the meadow where thousands of emigrants camped. That cabin would go on to act as a trading post, a seat of government and as a fort in the Sagebrush War of 1863.
It made sense to call it Rooptown in a sense, although who would have wanted to live in a place called Rooptown? Soon the designation started to morph and take on the name of the nearby Susan River. It had been named for Susan Roop, the daughter of one of the Roop brothers, Issac Roop. The town prospered for many years because of its proximity to the Sierra Nevada’s abundant resources such as timber and minerals. It reinvented itself latter as a prison town, now the site of the High Desert State Prison and the California Correctional Center.
I considered the possibility of other mundane first names adopted as placenames. Indeed, they existed. Some of them derived from actual people while others appeared entirely by coincidence.
I found Joe Batt’s Arm on Fogo Island in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada (map). If that wasn’t odd enough it had once been combined with two other local communities to form Joe Batt’s Arm-Barr’d Islands-Shoal Bay, which later became a larger grouping known as the Town of Fogo Island: "The town was incorporated on March 1, 2011 following the amalgamation of the towns of Fogo, Joe Batt’s Arm-Barr’d Islands-Shoal Bay, Seldom-Little Seldom and Tilting and a portion of the Fogo Island Region." Got all that? 12MC only cared about Joe Batt’s Arm.
A websight devoted to Joe Batt’s Arm went into more detail. Readers should be warned that it began… "Legend has it." Nonetheless, I found it amusing so here it is with the distinct possibility that poetic license may have been taken.
Legend has it that the name of the community comes from the first European settler, possibly a deserter of Captain James Cook in the early 1750s. The community is shaped as an inlet and in those days it was called an ‘Arm’. The deserter – Joseph Batt settled here and the locals liked him so much that they gave it the name Joe Batt’s Arm.
Twelve Mile Circle once posted an article about Captain Cook. Now the previously unknown deserter Joseph Batt had something too.
There were distinct differences in the geographic mention of Bill in the United Kingdom and the United States. Bill in the UK referred to a narrow promontory or peninsula, like the bill of a bird. This specific usage appeared in the Online Etymology Dictionary, deriving from Middle English and "a common Germanic word for cutting or chopping weapons." The beak of a bird was thought to resemble the curves of certain knives or axes, and the notion carried through to a geographic designation. The most well known reference was Portland Bill at southernmost Dorset, England (map). Selsey Bill along the English Channel in West Sussex offered another tantalizing occurrence (map). I couldn’t find any other instances although I’m sure they must have existed.
By contrast, Bill spots in the United States tended to reflect the names of actual people named Bill. For example, Negro Bill Canyon in Utah (map) got a bit of press attention in 2015 because of various perceptions of its potential offensiveness. At least it was an improvement over its previous, horribly offensive name.
There was also a town named Bill in Wyoming and one named Hollow Bill in Kentucky. I desperately wanted to discover the story behind Hollow Bill and sadly, I failed.
The names just kept coming. I noticed a whole assortment of things called Dave (map) near the Wallonian city of Namur in Belgium. There was a village of Dave, a castle of Dave, a fortress of Dave and an island of Dave all along the river Meuse. Dave must have been quite a guy. Actually the name went back much further, having previously been Daveles, Daule, Davelle, Davelis, and Davre.
I particularly like Doug Well in South Australia (map). Not only was it Doug Well, presumably it was Dug Well.
Finally, one could always take a journey to Bob Island in Antarctica.
Everyone knows how much I enjoy counting things. This marks the 1,234th article posted on Twelve Mile Circle.
Towards the end of 2015 I posted State Nickname Streets, which was exactly what it sounded like, a compendium of at least one street named in each state for its official nickname. I supposed it must have stuck in my subconscious because the notion returned. This time, however, I fixated on a several different sets of objects bearing state nicknames. The list on Wikipedia came in handy again although I expanded it a bit. Unofficial nicknames were fine this time.
The Empire State Building brought everything to a head and sparked a search for more examples. New York, of course, was the Empire State. The iconic art deco skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan drew upon this nickname to create a parallel with the greatness of the city and the state where it located (map). It amazed architects and art aficionados alike when it opened in 1931, rising more than 1,400 feet from street to spire, climbing 102 stories above Fifth Avenue. It remained the tallest building in the world for the next four decades. The Empire State Building became a beloved symbol, a stand-in for New York City itself in thousands of cultural references. Who could ever forget, for example, King Kong swatting airplanes from atop the building at the climax of the 1933 movie?
Oddly, nobody knew exactly how or why or when New York came to be known as the Empire State. The New York Historical Society offered one plausible theory,
Signs commonly point to George Washington. Although other, unsubstantiated stories crediting Washington exist, the best documented source is a 1785 thank-you letter to the New York Common Council for bestowing upon him the Freedom of the City. In addition to praising New York’s resilience in the war he describes the State of New York as "the Seat of the Empire."
Other sources pointed more generally to abundant natural resources found throughout New York and concentrations of wealth and capital that emerged there in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Apparently that qualified it as an Empire, at least as a nickname. The history was murky.
The Commonwealth of Virginia designated an entire public university to carry its nickname, Old Dominion University in Norfolk. It began originally as a satellite campus of the College of William & Mary and grew from there, splitting-off and gaining independence along with its new name in 1962 (map). Now ODU has nearly twenty-five thousand students — about three times as many as its parent.
The origin of Virginia’s nickname, alas like New York, seemed shrouded in history. The Library of Virginia did its best to provide an explanation.
While this name clearly refers to Virginia’s status as England’s oldest colony in the Americas, it is impossible to trace the origin of the term with precision. In 1660 Charles II acknowledged a gift of silk from "our auntient dominion of Virginia."… As early as 1699, the phrase "most Ancient Colloney and Dominion" appeared in official state documents.
There was also a body of mythology and speculation commonly mentioned on other websites that tied the nickname to an era when Virginia supported Charles II during the English Civil War. The name purportedly referenced the Commonwealth’s loyalty to the monarch.
I wasn’t able to find any other universities named directly for their state nicknames although I didn’t search exhaustively either. Maryland came close. It was the Free State among other nicknames, and I did find a University of the Free State, however it was in Bloemfontein, South Africa. (map). Maybe the 12MC audience would know of others.
There might have been few universities directly carrying the responsibility of a state nickname, however there were plenty of schools that used nicknames (official and unofficial) to represent their sports teams. Very quickly, I came up with Arkansas Razorbacks, Delaware Blue Hens, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Maryland Terrapins, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Gophers, Nebraska Cornhuskers, North Carolina Tar Heels, Ohio State Buckeyes, Oklahoma Sooners, Oregon State Beavers, Tennessee Volunteers, Wisconsin Badgers, and Wyoming Cowboys.
It wasn’t clear to me which came first in many cases, the sports team names or the state nicknames. Did the state gain a nickname from the university’s sports team or did the team honor an existing state nickname? Sure, there were Hoosiers in Indiana (at least as early as 1827) before Indiana University began intercollegiate football (1887). What about gophers or beavers or badgers, though?
Professional basketball provided a great instance of a team appropriating a state nickname to cover a large geographic footprint, the Golden State Warriors. While based at Oracle Arena in Oakland (map) Golden State laid claim to the entirety of California. The Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, and the Sacramento Kings might have begged to differ.
Old Dominion University’s sports name, by the way, was The Monarchs. They missed a great opportunity to grab the sole double-nickname, Old Dominion Dominions.
Literally hundreds of business, primarily small ones, adopted state nicknames to represent their companies or specific brand names. I thought of a couple of pretty large ones too. The first one that came to mind was Quaker State Motor Oil. This brand actually dated all the way back to 1859, arising during the Pennsylvania Oil Boom in the state where the U.S. petroleum industry got its initial start. The brand was developed for "petroleum products to lubricate steam engines, machinery and wagons." It’s now part of Royal Dutch Shell. I also thought of Lone Star Beer, a brand dating back to 1884. It’s still brewed in Texas although currently owned by Pabst Brewing Co. and produced under contract at a Miller Brewing Company facility in Fort Worth.
Article research doesn’t always go as smoothly or as cleanly as one might imagine. I fall headlong into rabbit holes, sometimes finding inspiration for future articles that continue the cycle. Rarely, however, do I find the sheer volume of factual oddities I encountered while investigating places "Outside of California." I supposed it was enough to create a nice entry for the ongoing series of Odds and Ends that appear sporadically on Twelve Mile Circle, however I decided to call it California Tangential to honor its source instead.
Hooray for Hollywood
California was notable for so many things although perhaps best known for Hollywood, at least from a worldwide cultural perspective. Appropriately, the California locality in southern Maryland referenced in the previous article practically abutted another settlement named Hollywood. Only 6.3 miles (10 kilometers) separated Hollywood from California. This happy juxtaposition was completely coincidental:
It was named in 1867, when a storeowner at Thompson’s General Store near the Uniontown section of Hollywood required a name for the post office inside the store. The storeowner was inspired by the gigantic holly tree planted in front of the store and named the post office Hollywood.
The Hollywood in Maryland (map) predated it’s California cousin by more than twenty years as well as the movie industry’s establishment on the west coast by nearly half a century. Still, it put a smile on my face to imagine the possibility of a Patuxent River Walk of Fame.
I found another bait-and-switch at the California neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio. It seemed strange that they select a name from the west coast. A later entrepreneur drew his inspiration from the opposite coast in an attempt to recreate New York’s Coney Island.
In time for the opening on June 21, 1886, the name was officially changed to "Ohio Grove, The Coney Island of the West" in an effort to link the park with the famous New York destination. Fortunate enough to be on a riverfront location, riverboat soon became the most popular method of transportation for park visitors. In 1887, "Ohio Grove" was completely dropped from the name as the park became known simply as "Coney Island."
The attraction still exists. However, just as California, Ohio fell short of its original namesake, so too did its Coney Island (map).
I’m too easily amused. I smirked when I spied Jackass Flat adjacent to California Gully in Victoria, Australia. Jackass Flat simply sounded silly because I lacked decorum and maturity. At least people elsewhere had the good sense to change their Jackass to something slightly more sensible. Pity the 224 people who lived in Jackass Flat. Still it could have been a lot worse as I was reminded by an 1860 book I uncovered, Two Years in Victoria
In our walk through the diggings, we could not help noting the names of places and signs as indications of the character of mind of the people who give such names — Jackass Flat, Donkey Gully, Dead horse Gully, Sheepshead Gully, Tinpot Gully, Job’s Gully, Poverty Gully, and Piccaninny Gullies without end. These however are not quite so bad as Murderer’s Flat and Chokem Gully.
I agreed that Murderer’s Flat would have been dreadful. Chokem Gully had a nice ring to it though, ignoring what it actually referenced.
I found a California Avenue in Chicago. Actually I’d known about the California station (map) on the Chicago Transit Authority’s Blue Line for many years because I’d passed it many times taking the train from O’Hare International Airport. I didn’t realize that the station was named for a street until now, though. Conversely there was a Chicago (actually several of them) in California. The most well known may have been Port Chicago, on Suisun Bay northeast of San Francisco (map). It was the site of the horrific "Port Chicago Disaster"
Port Chicago… was developed into a munitions facility when the Naval Ammunition Depot at Mare Island, California, could not fully supply the war effort. By the summer of 1944, expansion of the Port Chicago facility allowed for loading two ships at once around the clock. The Navy units assigned to the dangerous loading operations were generally segregated African-American units…. Approximately 320 workers were on or near the pier when, at 10:18 p.m., a series of massive explosions over several seconds destroyed everything and everyone in the vicinity.
These events exposed racial inequalities in the U.S. Navy although reforms took many more years. Port Chicago also no longer exists. The government declared eminent domain in 1968 and tore it down to create a safety buffer zone.
Back to the United Kingdom
I’d forgotten about an English California featured previously on 12MC in Wrong Side of the Atlantic. Then another California appeared in Ipswich (map) courtesy of a comment posted by reader Mark. He also provided a document link with much more information about the Ipswich California. That led me to examine the Gazetteer of British Place Names for more California locations. It included several; five in England and one in Scotland. I was surprised by the prevalence.