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.
There was a town in Maryland I spotted named California. I’d known about it for awhile. It always seemed odd to have a town in one state named for another, especially one located an entire continent away. I figured there was a connection and further speculated that it had its roots in the California Gold Rush that captured the imagination of the nation in 1849 and thereafter.
First I needed to examine the etymology of California to understand if the name might have arisen independently. However, nobody was completely sure what influenced the original California name. Most sources tended to speculate that it derived from a romantic novel published in Spain in the early Sixteenth Century, "Las Sergas de Esplandián." The book described a fictional island found east of Asia. Early Spanish explorers, mistaking Mexico’s Baja Peninsula for an island, noticed a similarity and applied California both to the peninsula and to lands farther north. The theory seemed plausible although plenty of other ideas existed too.
The name spread throughout parts of the New World. However, I was interested specifically in places named because of the Gold Rush influence. Therefore I declined to examine places named California in Central and South America. Those would have likely traced back to the Spanish colonial era. I stuck to English-speaking areas.
I didn’t resolve the mystery in Maryland completely. Indeed, the California (map) in St. Mary’s County was named for the west coast state of the same name. However I never discovered what year that happened. I also learned that this once sleepy hamlet had been growing rapidly in recent years due to its proximity to adjacent Naval Air Station Patuxent River while also becoming popular with commuters to Washington, DC. It experienced an explosive 25% population growth in the previous decade, now approaching twelve thousand residents. That recent surge probably made it the largest U.S. California outside of the state of California.
This same general area made an appearance in Twelve Mile Circle about three years ago in Three Notches for an entirely different reason.
The California in Pennsylvania (map) sparked similar déjà vu. I knew I’d encountered the place previously. Sure enough, the university located in town — California University of Pennsylvania — appeared in a 12MC article called Résumé Bait and Switch a couple of years ago. I’d even speculated on the potential Gold Rush nature of its name. The conjecture was well founded since the borough of California confirmed it:
California Borough is a community of approximately 5200 people that covers nearly 13 square miles of land. California was founded in 1849 and incorporated as a Borough in 1853. It is named after the state of California because the town’s founding coincided with the California Gold Rush of 1849. Naming the town after the state was meant to symbolize our town’s future growth and prosperity.
The third largest non-California California seemed to be a town so named in Missouri (map). It also had the distinction of being the seat of local government for Moniteau County. This California was named for its west coast cousin although I’d have to call it a near-miss on the Gold Rush connection. It actually predated the Gold Rush by a couple of years.
California, county seat of Moniteau county, …was first called Boonsborough but by act January 25, 1847, changed to California. The new country on the Pacific Coast was just then attracting attention and the overland railroad was being agitated and during this agitation the name was given for the state of California
The name change may have had something to do with a Post Office issue; the original name already having been applied to another Missouri town.
Most of the other towns of California were nothing more than flyspecks. There was one former town however, now a neighborhood within Cincinnati, that seemed to have some significance (map). The village claimed a Gold Rush derivation, albeit indirectly.
In the year of the Gold Rush, three friends… shook off the desire to become gold miners and decided instead to make money in an "easier" way. Their idea was to lay off a town that would become one of the greatest industrial cities along the Ohio River… Unfortunately, their dreams were never fully realized and California was to remain a small rivertown until it was later annexed by Cincinnati in 1909.
California eventually packed a lot of activities within its tiny neighborhood boundaries including a golf course, a nature preserve and an amusement park. It was also the city of Cincinnati’s southernmost point.
I did discover a couple of California place names in English-speaking countries outside of the United States with potential Gold Rush connections. The larger was California Gulley (map), a suburb near Bendigo in Victoria, Australia. Bindigo was noted for its goldfield.
People came from across the world to seek their fortune in Bendigo in the mid to late 1800’s. Alluvial gold was discovered along the banks of the Bendigo Creek in 1851 and resulted in a major gold rush… In Christmas 1851 there were 800 people on the field and by the following June, 20,000 diggers had arrived in the alluvial field. Alluvial gold production was dominant in the first ten years of the field to 1860 and is estimated to account for up to four million ounces or almost one fifth of the total gold won from the Bendigo goldfield.
It didn’t seem surprising that an area on the outskirts of Bendigo came to be known as California Gully given the timing of the Bendigo Gold Rush, just a couple of years after the similar rush in the United States.
There was also a California in England, an area within Derby (map) in Derbyshire. The etymology was unclear although speculation existed that it may have had ties somehow to the California Gold Rush.
My search showed that many California place names did seem draw their influence from the state of California in the United States. Connections to the Gold Rush often existed, although not ubiquitously.
A visitor landed on Twelve Mile Circle from Surprise. That was the actual name of the town; Surprise, Arizona. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised because more than a hundred thousand people lived there, yet I’d never heard of it. I also learned during my search that Surprise was a surprisingly common designation with 238 surprises lurking in the Geographic Names Information System alone. They included mountains, lakes, mines, basins, beaches, and of course populated places as well as just about every other feature imaginable. I picked a select few for further exploration and then moved on to a couple of international examples.
Naturally I wondered how a town could become a Surprise (map) and fortunately it provided a handy explanation.
Our city of over 120,000 people was just one square mile of farmland back in 1938 when Flora Mae Statler founded it. So why did she call us Surprise? According to Statler’s daughter Elizabeth Wusich Stoft, her mother once commented "she would be surprised if the town ever amounted to much." With our success, she would indeed be surprised and proud!
Surprise became one of the fastest growing cities in Arizona, a state already noteworthy for its remarkable growth. The US Census Bureau reported only thirty thousand residents as of 2000. Its recent growth could only be described as explosive.
A name like surprise offered opportunities for puns and odd juxtapositions. For instance the town held an annual Surprise party that wasn’t actually a surprise party. It was always announced ahead of time (December 4-5 this year). They also had a Surprise Women’s Heritage Trail. In most places, surprising women on a trail might become a matter for the police instead of a recognition of women’s history.
Events unfolded in a less pleasant surprise for the Surprise in Nebraska. It started well enough in the 19th Century according to Virtual Nebraska.
It wasn’t until 1881 that George Miller and several members of his family decided to built a dam on the small, spring-fed stream not far from the headwaters of the Big Blue River. They hoped to be able to impound enough water to operate a grist mill. It is said that Miller was not only pleased, but also quite surprised to get enough water power for such an enterprise, so he gave his mill the name "Surprise."
The settlement grew into a nice town (map) a few years later when the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad Company laid tracks through the area and built a depot there. Then Surprise began to suffer like much of the Great Plains with a slow outward migration of its residents. Peaking with a population above three hundred, Surprise declined with every Census starting in 1910, leaving only 43 souls at the 2010 Census.
I shifted to a larger geographic footprint for the third example, a 70 by 10 mile (112 by 16 kilometre) area in northern California called Surprise Valley, sandwiched between the Warner and Hayes mountain ranges (map). It encompassed several rural towns in Modoc County, including Cedarville, Eagleville, Fort Bidwell and Lake City.
The local Chamber of Commerce described how the area came to be settled.
A bad drought that occurred in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys in 1864 caused much of the livestock there to perish. Owners offered up to half their cattle herds to anyone who would take the animals into the high country to grass and water. Men who saw this as an opportunity to have their own ranches and herds recalled the big grassy valley they had passed through while on the wagon train to California.
I also found a Bureau of Land Management brochure that offered an explanation for the name. Prospectors heading towards the California goldfields suffered immense hardships as they trudged overland through the hostile Great Basin. "It was a welcome and unexpected surprise to see the trees, good water and grassy meadows in the valley below the high mountains we now call the Warners."
I found plenty of other surprises outside of the United States including Mount Surprise (map) in Queensland, Australia. It was a mountain, for sure, as well as a nearby town with the same name. They were set pretty much in the middle of nowhere, with the town becoming a home for fewer than two hundred. Tourists traveled there for fossicking. I had no idea what fossicking entailed so I looked it up. It was an Australian term for prospecting, much to my disappointment. People liked to search for gemstones at Mount Surprise. If not, they could explore lava tubes at nearby Undara Volcanic National Park.
Mount Surprise is a historic rail town in the Gulf Savannah. Its name comes from the surprise the Aboriginal people felt when they were resting at the base of the mountain and the loud white people of Ezra Firth’s pioneer party arrived in 1864.
That seemed more than a little bogus to me although I couldn’t find a better explanation.
I didn’t want 12MC readers in Canada to feel left out in the cold so I selected a surprise there, too. Surprise, Saskatchewan (map) barely existed although the Canadian Geographical Names Data Base still included an entry for it. The Rural Municipality (RM) of Enterprise No. 142 had only 160 residents and most of them lived in Richmound ("The Town With U In It"). Surprise? Maybe just a few buildings, mostly overgrown by prairie. The video I found claimed that the original settlers were surprised to find a complete lack of trees which surprised me because the prairie wasn’t exactly known for trees.
This Surprise shouldn’t be confused with the Rural Municipality of Surprise Valley No. 9, located farther south in Saskatchewan along the US Border.