I hadn’t flown through Chicago’s Midway Airport much until recently. Then Southwest Airlines started offering flights at my local airport and many of its connections passed through Midway. I always hated connecting flights, and flying in general, although I admitted a preference for Midway over O’Hare. I never thought about its name though.
Chicago, Illinois seemed to be a perfect spot for an airport named Midway, being placed just about midway across the continent (map). That’s where I thought the name would lead like the Definitely Halfway article. I’ve been wrong so many times before it shouldn’t surprise me anymore when something takes a strange turn. This one still caught me off guard. It began service as Municipal Airport in 1927. The named changed to Midway in 1949, not because of its geography but to honor the Battle of Midway.
In May 1942, Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto sought to draw the US Pacific Fleet into a battle where he could overwhelm and destroy it. To accomplish this he planned an invasion of Midway Island which would provide a base for attacking Hawaii. Using decrypted Japanese radio intercepts, Admiral Chester Nimitz was able to counter this offensive. On June 4, 1942, US aircraft flying from USS Enterprise, USS Hornet, and USS Yorktown attacked and sunk four Japanese carriers, forcing Yamamoto to withdrawal. The Battle of Midway marked the turning point of World War II in the Pacific.
Midway Atoll marked an approximate midway point between North America and Asia (map), thus the name.
Did the Battle of Midway inspire other names? Yes, of course.
A few months ago my transit through Midway Airport took me onward to San Diego, California. I’ve always enjoyed San Diego and its downtown waterfront. Visitors there can see lots of attractions including the USS Midway Museum. It’s a vintage aircraft carrier converted into a massive floating exhibit.
The Naval History and Heritage Command’s Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships noted three ships with the Midway name. The War Shipping Administration first pressed a private freighter into service in 1942, naming it the Midway (AG-41). It operated mainly along the Pacific coastline and later became the Panay because the Navy wanted to use Midway for a more important ship. That first Midway got its name from the atoll anyway, not the battle, so the battle needed to be commemorated. The second Midway (CVE-63), an escort carrier, got its name in 1943 and it definitely honored the battle. Its name changed in 1944, however, so an even larger aircraft carrier could become the Midway. The second Midway became the St. Lo to honor Saint-Lô, a town in France in the crosshairs of the Normandy Invasion A kamikaze attack sank the St. Lo at the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
The final Midway (CVE-63) eventually became the museum that graced the San Diego waterfront (map). Its commissioning came a few days too late for World War II. However it served valiantly for nearly a half-century thereafter. The Midway ended its service as the flagship of the Persian Gulf fleet during Operation Desert Storm before its 1992 decommissioning.
I couldn’t simply check every Midway Street to see if it traced back to the Battle of Midway. That would have involve thousands of data points. However, I did find a suburb of Adelaide, South Australia called Elizabeth East. The street names reflected the battle. Very quickly, I spotted Halsey Road, Nimitz Road, Hornet Crescent, Saratoga Road, and of course Midway Road. There were many others. These reflected the commanders and ships of the winners. I wondered how many of Elizabeth East’s four thousand residents understood the theme.
There must have been more. I couldn’t find them. They were lost amongst many more streets called Midway for other reasons.
However, I did find an interesting movie theater that opened in 1942. Thomas White Lamb designed this wonderful Art Moderne structure placed in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens, New York (map).
[It] was named after the World War II battle, opened later that year as a single-screen 1,933-seat theater, but it was converted to a nine-screen multiplex when United Artists took control of the building in 1998.
Midway seemed as good a name for a theater as an airport.
I came across an interesting naming string as I researched Noble Layers. It didn’t quite fit the definition of that earlier article. Even so I found it fascinating in its own right, and it deserved to be highlighted.
It began, maybe, in a remote corner of Normandy a millennia ago. There stood the village of Richemont (map), now a commune in the present-day Seine-Maritime department of France. Richemont in the old Norman language translated to something like Strong Hill. It never grew into much. Fewer than 500 people lived there even in the modern era.
Sources diverged on whether the Norman Richemont inspired the name of Richmond in North Yorkshire, England (map). Maybe it did, or maybe North Yorkshire’s Richmond truly served as the "Mother of All Richmonds." A long line of Earls and other nobles of Richmond hailed from Yorkshire’s Richmond starting in 1071. William the Conqueror bestowed the initial title of 1st Lord of Richmond upon Alan Rufus (Alan the Red) of Brittany who lived in Richmond after the Norman conquest of England.
Earls of Richmond existed through several creations, held by more than twenty men over the next four centuries. Henry Tudor claimed the title indisputably in 1485. He went on to win the Battle of Bosworth Field to effectively end the War of the Roses, becoming King Henry VII of England. Henry VII moved to the royal palace of Sheen outside of London. It burned down in 1498 so he replaced Sheen with a new palace on the same spot. He called it Richmond Palace (map) after his Earldom. Very little of Richmond Palace survived besides its original Gate House. The rest was demolished soon after Charles I died in 1649.
Across the Atlantic Ocean, adventurers streamed into the Virginia Colony. They focused their settlements along the James River. They brought familiar place names with them too.
As early as 1608, the English settlers eyed a community near the seven-mile-long series of rapids that divided the head of navigation at the river’s downstream end and the calm stretch of water upriver from it. The area provided a series of strategic advantages: as a port, as a location for mills, and as a transitional territory between the Tidewater-based Powhatan Indians and the Monacan Indians of the Piedmont.
It took more than a century for a town of significance to form along the James River’s fall line. A prominent colonial plantation owner, William Byrd II, provided the necessary land in 1737. He named it Richmond (map). The view of the James River supposedly reminded him of the view of the Thames from the Richmond near London.
Richmond, Virginia existed before most of the places in the new United States. It also served as the capital city of the Confederate States. Its longevity and significance inspired people to name newer communities in its honor. Thus, Richmonds sprouted successfully in Kentucky, Missouri, Oregon, California and many other states. The one in California arose soon after California gained statehood.
[Edmund] Randolph, originally from Richmond, Virginia, represented the city of San Francisco when California’s first legislature met in San Jose in December 1849, and he became state assemblyman from San Francisco. His loyalty to the town of his birth caused him to persuade a federal surveying party mapping the San Francisco Bay to place the names "Point Richmond" and "Richmond" on an 1854 geodetic coast map.
California’s Richmond later included several neighborhoods incorporating the Richmond name. These included Central Richmond, East Richmond, Richmond Annex, Richmond Heights, and Southwest Richmond Annex. I wondered if people living in any of those places realized the unlikely string that connected their communities back in time a thousand years.
Several other Richmond strings existed to lesser degrees. I also found Richemont, Seine-Maritime, France –> Richmond, North Yorkshire –> Duke of Richmond –> Richmond Co., New York (Staten Island) –> Richmond, Alabama. In addition there was Richemont, Seine-Maritime, France –> Richmond, North Yorkshire –> Duke of Richmond –> Fort Richmond –> Richmond, Maine.
So many Richmonds existed that the possibilities seemed endless.
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.