Another Town Roundup

I’ve collected unusual town names for awhile. They often came up as I researched Twelve Mile Circle articles or when I checked the daily log files. Generally they didn’t make those "weird names" lists found elsewhere on the Intertubes. I find them endlessly fascinating for some unknown reason. Then I make a note of them and promise to return. Occasionally I’ll post an article after I collect enough of them and I want to cut down my pile of unwritten topics.

Capitol Hill, Seattle, Washington

Downtown Seattle from Capitol Hill
Downtown Seattle from Capitol Hill. Photo by Matthew Rutledge on Flickr (cc)

Already on the very first entry I broke my rules for this article. Seattle’s Capitol Hill was a neighborhood not a town (map). Nonetheless, I wondered why Capitol Hill even existed as a name there. The Capitol Hill in another Washington came to mind, however, that one had an actual capitol on its hill. Nobody could claim the same for the Seattle version. Rather, the state capitol sat about sixty miles (100 kilometres) farther south in Olympia.

According to History Link, "the Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History," the name probably came from one of two (or both) alternatives. It happened in 1901, courtesy of a local land developer, James Moore. That was certain. By one theory he hoped to persuade the state government "to move its business from Olympia onto Prospect Street." By another, his wife came from Colorado and the name referenced Capitol Hill in Denver. The one in Denver, by the way, actually contained the state capitol. Sadly, Seattle’s Capitol Hill remained capitol-less.

Future City, Illinois

Future City Illinois
Future City Illinois. Photo by Joe on Flickr (cc)

I wanted to make a crack about Future City (map) not looking like it had much of a future. It looked completely desolate. Irony seemed cruel after I researched its history. Future City sat near the southern tip of Illinois, just north of Cairo and the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. African Americans founded it around the turn of the last century as a refuge from racism and lynchings in nearby Cairo. They created their own self-contained settlement and named it optimistically. It promised a better future. Several hundred people lived there a century ago. Now, only a handful remained.

I visited that river confluence a few years ago. It floods, a lot. Naturally, Future City flooded regularly even as early as the disastrous floods of 1912 and 1913. Three times the town needed to be rebuilt from scratch. Meanwhile, nearby Cairo went into a long, slow economic decline. River traffic decreased as rails and roads rose, and its geographic placement became increasingly irrelevant. People in Future City depended on jobs in Cairo so their dream declined with it.

Layman, Ohio

Layman, Ohio

Little Layman, Ohio barely qualified as a settlement, much less a town. Even so I liked the name so it made the list. The dictionary definition explained why. A layman is a "a person who does not belong to a particular profession or who is not expert in some field." What a lousy name, I thought. It implied nobody in town could do much of anything. There sat Layman at Tick Ridge Road with nothing but laymen living there. Actually, it appeared to be named for a 19th Century local newspaper editor, Amos Layman. That wasn’t nearly as much fun.

Bowbells, North Dakota

St Mary le Bow
St Mary le Bow. Photo on Flickr in the Public Domain

Doesn’t Bowbells sound a lot like Cowbells? I thought it did. Some random visitor from Bowbells (map) landed on the pages of 12MC. That in itself might be remarkable. Barely 300 people lived there at the last census. Nonetheless, it served as the seat of local government in Burke County. I saw small towns just like Bowbells with important government functions in many North Dakota counties during my Center of the Nation tour. So many settlements throughout the Great Plains suffered population declines in recent decades. Burke County itself dropped from about ten thousand residents to maybe two thousand since 1930.

That didn’t explain the name, though. A common source for names in these open spaces, the railroad companies, took care of that. As the city explained,

The city of Bowbells was founded in 1898 along the main line of the Soo Line Railroad and incorporated in 1906. The city was named by railroad officials after the famed Bow bells at St Mary-le-Bow in London, England.

Naturally I needed to tug that thread a little harder. So the town got its name from the bells of the church, St. Mary-le-Bow (map). I didn’t know about the "fame" of the famed church bells so I dug deeper. As the Daily Mail noted, "tradition dictates that only those born within earshot of the ‘Bow Bells’ can claim to be Cockneys." That still seemed like an odd name for a town in the middle of North Dakota. I couldn’t imagine waves of Cockneys rolling over the endless prairie.

Junk Drawer

This isn’t a real entry. I have some random topics that I need to empty from the junk drawer. None of these would be sufficient to stand alone but you may find the collected results somewhat interesting.

Statue of Freedom

Statue of Freedom, Capitol, Washington, DC

Did you ever wonder about the statue at the top of the United States Capitol building? Me neither. I was walking near Capitol Hill a couple of weeks ago and I wanted to check out the zoom on my camera with my new mini-tripod. The statue seemed a worthy enough target. Its full name is the Statue of Freedom (yes, all three words) and of course it has its own Wikipedia page if you want to know more. There are at least two points of geo-significance here:

  • The statue aligns towards the east so that "the sun never sets on the face of liberty." The designers made a deliberate symbolic choice, here.
  • Washington, DC is divided into four quadrants: Southeast; Southwest; Northeast and Northwest, intersecting at a common point at the Capitol building. The Statue of Freedom, being situated at the very center of the dome, is positioned within all four quadrants of the city simultaneously. People can replicate this same alignment within the building by the way, although it doesn’t impress ungrateful out-of-town visitors that you’ve been roped into touring around. They’d rather see the First Ladies’ dresses at the Smithsonian instead.

Creepy Dolls

First Kindergarten, Watertown, Wisconsin

Steve over at Connecticut Museum Quest is on a multi-year mission to visit every museum in the state, and so far he’s explored and reviewed several dozen. He’s noticed a disturbing pattern, though: Creepy Dolls. This is not a problem exclusive to Connecticut. I submit the following evidence from Watertown, Wisconsin, site of the first kindergarten in the United States. This one-room schoolhouse can be found on the grounds of the Octagon House museum, having been moved from its original location several decades ago. I find the doll with the gaping mouth to be particularly creepy. It’s a fine facility otherwise.

Monster Trucks

Monster Truck Called Superman

Our younger son is going through a monster truck phase. We bought tickets to the "Monster Jam" as a Christmas gift and the big day finally arrived last weekend. Yeh, I’ll admit it. I enjoyed it too. I’ve been accused before — by my wife no less — of being both high-brow and low-brow simultaneously with no space in between. I’m also the guy who brought a bottle of Chimay Bleue Grande Réserve to the local Demolition Derby so her claim would be tough to dispute. Does that help explain the conflicting themes within this blog?

First Time Web Hits

I’ve been running Google Analytics on the site for a little more than a year and I’ve recorded visitors from most of the countries around the globe although I still have pockets here-and-there with little or no originating traffic. Those include some of the nations formed from the old Soviet Union as well as a swath of central Africa. However, lately it’s become unusual for me to pick up any "new" countries because of language differences, subject matter, Internet availability or whatever. Imagine my surprise when Cuba and Myanmar both checked-in for the first time in the last two days. My visitor from Havana had an interest in Caribbean ferries. I couldn’t determine what the visitor from Rangoon wanted to know although I suppose I could go through the raw logs if I cared that much. Two more countries colored-in on the map. Yay! Commies and juntas with Internet access!