Great Scott

On November 24, 2016 · 1 Comments

It occurred to me that a great general like Winfield Scott probably influenced place names beyond the recently-featured Scott’s Addition in Richmond, Virginia. Citizens considered him a national hero during his lifetime even if we don’t hear much about him today. This period also coincided with a rapid expansion of population and migration. They needed names for all of those settlements they built on the frontier during the first half of the 19th century.


General Winfield Scott
General Winfield Scott. Photo by David on Flickr (cc).

I wanted to use a better image of Winfield Scott than the unattractive photo of the elderly, bloated man near the end of his life from the previous article. The equestrian statue at Scott Circle in Washington, DC (map) seemed appropriate. Certainly I could uncover more significant geographic designations than a roundabout. How about five Scott counties named for him? They sprouted in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Tennessee and Virginia


Scott County, Iowa


Blackhawk Hotel, Davenport, IA
Blackhawk Hotel, Davenport, IA. Photo by Alan Light on Flickr (cc)

The Iowa county named for Scott probably measured as the most significant. It’s primary city, Davenport (map), held nearly 170 thousand residents.

Winfield Scott’s legendary career covered half a century. He served as a general in the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, the Mexican–American War, and the Civil War. His wide ranging exploits inspired place names throughout his lifetime. Scott County, Iowa traced its named to the Black Hawk War that broke out in 1832. He commanded troops during the brief campaign (losing many more men to cholera than warfare) and helped negotiate the treaty that ended it. Much of the fighting unfolded in the vicinity of future Scott County, in neighboring Illinois and Wisconsin. Scott seemed an appropriate figure to honor when Iowa formed the county in 1837, just five years after the war ended.


The Independent State of Scott


Historical Marker: Independent State of Scott
Independent State of Scott. Photo by J. Stephen Conn on Flickr (cc)

An entire Independent State named itself for Scott. It wasn’t really independent though. Nothing official. Scott County, Tennessee traced its beginning to 1814, named for Winfield Scott because of his War of 1812 activities. Geographically, much of it fell within the Appalachian Mountains. People living there farmed small plots on rocky hillsides on the far side of the frontier. They held little in common with people across the mountains and their culture of plantations and slavery. Scott County refused to join the rest of Tennessee when it seceded from the Union during the Civil War. It’s been called the The Switzerland of America both for its mountains and its neutrality.

Scott became a Union enclave, proclaiming itself an Independent State no longer beholden to Tennessee. The county had little strategic importance to either side so the Confederacy never tried to force it back into the fold. Scott did not officially rescind its "independence" from Tennessee until 1986.

The county also founded a town of Winfield (map), so a handful of residents now live in Winfield, Scott. It straddled U.S. Route 27 — Scott Highway.


Named for That Other Winfield Scott


Scottsdale Waterfront
Scottsdale Waterfront. Photo by D. Patrick Lewis on Flickr (cc)

There couldn’t be too many 19th century U.S. Army officers named Winfield Scott, or so I figured. Yet, inexplicably, there was one more. Winfield Scott — the other Winfield Scott — came into this world in 1837. I assumed his parents named him for the more famous Winfield, and the time period seemed to fit. However I didn’t find any evidence to prove it. He became a minister, later accepting a commission as an Army captain and serving as a chaplain during the Civil War. His legacy did not come from his military service.

In mid February of 1888, Winfield Scott was invited to the Salt River Valley in Arizona. Some residents of Phoenix had heard of Scott’s reputation as a promoter and wanted him to help promote Phoenix and the surrounding area. Scott was impressed with the valley and on July 2, 1888 made a down payment of 50 cents an acre for a section of land… His brother, George Washington Scott, came at Winfield Scott’s request to clear the land. He planted 80 acres of barley, 20 acres of vineyards and a 7-acre orchard.

The land he settled became Scottsdale, Arizona (map). Recently Scottsdale erected a statue in his honor (photo).

A quarter-million people live in Scottsdale now and it continues to grow rapidly. Ironically, the most famous place named for Winfield Scott recognized the man who was practically insignificant to American history. They named Winfield, Kansas after him too.

Northern Panhandle of West Virginia

On October 13, 2016 · 9 Comments

Anyone looking at a West Virginia map would immediately notice its northern panhandle. It rose high above the rest of the state like a flagpole. This narrow splinter ran 64 miles (103 kilometres) due north, wedged tightly between Ohio and Pennsylvania. Its width also narrowed sometimes to only 4 miles (6 km).


Northern panhandle west virginia
Northern panhandle west virginia on Wikimedia Commons (cc).

Four counties occupied the space; Hancock, Brooke, Ohio and Marshall. They all aligned in a vertical sequence.


Boundary Dispute

How could such a bizarre situation develop? Certainly no rational government would create such an anomaly. The usual situation existed here, the overlapping of colonial claims. Nobody really knew what existed beyond the coast. Various Kings of England simply granted a bunch of royal charters. Virginia gained a territory that went all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The charter for Pennsylvania set its farthest extent at an unexplored longitude 5 degrees west of the Delaware River. The overlap became apparent when explorers pushed inward through the Appalachian Mountains decades later. Fort Pitt, built by the British in 1759 during the French and Indian War, fell within the disputed area. Both coveted the town that formed there, Pittsburgh.

Virginia established a county structure despite the overlap. Of course, Pennsylvania refused to accept it. The dispute even continued into the Revolutionary War. The Second Continental Congress convinced the two to settle their dispute and concentrate on fighting the British instead. Pennsylvania had settled a similar problem with Maryland previously, creating the Mason & Dixon Line. The border between Pennsylvania and Virginia would extend that same line a bit farther, to five degrees west of the Delaware River. From there, they drew a line north to the Ohio River. Both sides approved the new border in 1780.

After the war, several of the former colonies including Virginia continued to claim land west of the Ohio River. Most gave up their claims voluntarily for the good of the new nation. Virginia ceded its Northwest Territory after some cajoling, and Congress accepted its offer in 1784. Virginia’s western border became the Ohio River and created the odd panhandle. Nobody intended to form the anomaly. It was a two-step process.


Birth of West Virginia


Independence Hall - Wheeling, West Virginia
Independence Hall – Wheeling, West Virginia. Photo by Ryan Stanton on Flickr (cc)

Then came the Civil War and Virginia joined the Confederacy. Many of its western counties wanted to form their own state even before the war began. They jumped at an opportunity to remain on the Union side. The state of West Virginia was born in 1863. Interestingly the initial West Virginia capital fell within that unusual northern panhandle. They formed their new government in the Federal Custom House in Wheeling (map), now called West Virginia’s Independence Hall. Wheeling remained its capital for most of the next twenty years.


Rise of Industry


INDUSTRY MILLING IRON & STEEL Weirton West Virgina THE WEIRTON STEEL COMPANY WORKS Coke Ovens Furnace Operation and Production Areas
The Weirton Steel Company Works. Image provided byUpNorth Memories (cc)

The Northern Panhandle became a center of commerce and industry after the Civil War. It had a great location along the Ohio River. It also had more in common with industrial cities like nearby Pittsburgh, Youngstown and Cleveland. Factories rose to serve many needs. The biggest ones produced iron and steel, and Weirton Steel became the biggest of the bunch. It would operate for nearly a century until International Steel Group bought it in 2004. The area also fell onto hard times like other so-called Rust Belt cities. For example, the city of Weirton lost a third of its population starting at the middle of the 20th Century. The city of Wheeling lost more than half of its population.


Cultural Distinctiveness


Ohio River Bridges
Ohio River Bridges. Photo by cmh2315fl on Flickr (cc)

The northern panhandle mirrored the states that wedged it in place. It differed distinctly from the remainder of West Virginia.

… many people moved to Weirton and Wheeling which both had reputations for being excellent places to work. Immigrants moved into the area in the early 1900’s because of employment offered by the steel mills… By some counts, there are 50 ethnic groups in Weirton alone.

This included large communities of people from Eastern and Southern Europe like its neighbors. The U.S. Census bureau even included the two northernmost counties, Hancock and Brook, within the Pittsburgh Combined Statistical Area.

Of course, I also like this oddity because it created funny geographic names. How about the West Virginia Northern Community College?

Michigan, Part 5 (Do Overs)

On July 31, 2016 · 0 Comments

A Simple Observation

I checked the Twelve Mile Circle dashboard this morning. The 1,276th article posted on Wednesday. I still cannot believe I came up with so many different topics. I do know that my writing evolved since that initial post on November 6, 2007. Early articles contained few words. Now I delve farther into the details and average closer to a thousand words an article, although I post a little less frequently. Even so, I think the 12MC audience gets more writing from me at least by total word count.

As I look back nearly nine years, I sometimes regret that I covered many of the most amazing geo-oddities with so little explanation. The world held only so many truly weird geographic bits, probably a lot fewer than 1,276, and I explored them with barely a couple of hundred words. Sometimes I wish I could take a "do over," and erase what I wrote years ago, and replace it with something more deserving of the subject matter. However that wouldn’t be fair so I won’t try to change the past. On the other hand, the Michigan trip offered a great opportunity to create an addendum for the very oldest 12MC articles.


Lost Peninsula


Lost Peninsula

Michigan’s Lost Peninsula (map) appeared as the first real article on Twelve Mile Circle, one day after I posted a simple Introduction and Purpose. I don’t remember why I selected the peninsula for such a prominent position. I doubt I gave it much thought because I felt pretty skeptical that 12MC would last more than a few weeks. Exclaves always fascinated me and there stood an example of a chunk of Michigan that could only be approached by land from Ohio. Reader "Jim C." later visited the Lost Peninsula and provided a bunch of photos in 2009. I posted those in a follow-up article called Lost Again.

Briefly, the anomaly existed as a result of the bloodless Toledo War. Ohio and Michigan disagreed on their border because of conflicting legislation passed by the Federal government. They both claimed a narrow strip, although it covered 468 square mile (1,210 square kilometres) when measured across the length of their disputed border. Ohio blocked Michigan’s attempts to become a state because of their unresolved issue. The two rallied their militias and faced-off in what might best be described as a yelling match. Nobody fired a shot. President Andrew Jackson and Congress eventually sided with Ohio. Michigan ceded the Toledo Strip in 1836 and received the Upper Peninsula as a consolation prize; land considered basically worthless at the time. History proved that Michigan probably got the better end of the bargain.

I finally made it to the Lost Peninsula in person on the way to our ultimate destination in Grand Rapids. It seemed busier than I expected until I considered we’d arrived on the Fourth of July weekend. The peninsula included a large marina and I guess everyone wanted to get onto Lake Erie for the day. A gate separated the marina from the rest of the peninsula. A separate gate blocked access to its residential area. Normal visitors could cross the border, take a photo of the sign, eat at a waterfront restaurant and that was about it. Otherwise it was rather unremarkable.

They needed to trim the shrubs. The signs and markers will be unreadable in a couple of years.


Howder Street


Howder Street

I knew exactly why Howder Street (map) appeared as the third article on 12MC. No other street with my surname existed anywhere in the world, or so I thought. Years later I also found Dr. Howder Road in Pennsylvania. However, even then, Howder Street in Hillsdale, Michigan remained the only one named for someone verifiably related to me.

That article also received the very first comment on Twelve Mile Circle. It dropped onto the page barely three hours after I posted my story. I don’t know how the guy found it because I certainly didn’t have an audience then. He must have had an alert set to Hillsdale College on his newsreader or something like that. Even so I remember thinking that this was going to be easy. I’d write articles and comments would magically appear without any other special effort on my part. What blissful naïveté. Many of you write your own blogs (or used to) and would probably agree that it’s hard work. Right? If I only knew that then. It wouldn’t have stopped me from writing although maybe it would have softened the blow when the next batch of articles got little attention.

Today I’m used to the complete obscurity of 12MC so it doesn’t phase me. I write for myself on my own personal journey of learning and discovery. Visitors are always welcome.


A Little Tangent

Howder Street wasn’t the only bit of family history during my Michigan visit. My great-great grandfather John Howder died in Grand Rapids at the Michigan Soldiers’ Home. He led a difficult life, including two enlistments in the Union army during the Civil War. He survived some pretty brutal combat at the siege of Petersburg and in the Appomattox campaigns during his second enlistment. From research I conducted it seemed he abandoned his family after the war and headed to Michigan to become a lumberjack. We’ll never know if he experienced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or if he was simply a jerk.

During his final years he suffered from dementia amongst other ailments, and died destitute at the Home in 1903 (map). It felt strange to walk down some of the same streets, looking at some of the same 19th Century buildings, that John Howder would have observed during his years there. I didn’t feel any need to search for his gravesite, although maybe I should have made more of an effort in retrospect. Maybe next time. Maybe another do over.


Articles in the Michigan Journey Series:

  1. County Adventures
  2. Breweries
  3. Rambling and Wandering
  4. Above and Below
  5. Do Overs
  6. Parting Shots

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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