Rolla

On July 2, 2017 · 1 Comments

Editor’s NoteWell folks, after 1,373 articles, it finally happened. I repeated a topic. I’d forgotten that I posted a similar article back in 2014. This should make for an interesting compare and contrast, though. I did include a couple of extra Rolla locations this time. I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner, actually.


Once again my compulsive need to review the Twelve Mile Circle access logs inspired an article. I spotted a little dot in North Dakota, way up by the Canadian border. It stood all alone so I wondered why someone from such an obscure spot might come to 12MC. The user probably arrived for a reason similar to anyone else although now it piqued my curiosity. I checked and saw the viewer read about the smallest tribe of Native Americans in the United States. Well, welcome Rolla user. That gave me a nice excuse to explore your town along with others of a similar name.


Rolla, North Dakota


Rolla, North Dakota
Rolla, North Dakota. Photo by Andrew Filer on Flickr (cc)

I most appreciated that Rolla (map) could be found in Rolette County. References indicated that the Rolla name probably derived from the county name. Probably? How could there be any doubt? Unfortunately I couldn’t find a primary source so that forced me to apply the same qualifier. Rolette though derived from Joseph Rolette, a colorful 19th Century fur trader and politician from an area of Minnesota that later became part of North Dakota. He once hid for several days to prevent the governor from signing a bill to move Minnesota’s capital away from St. Paul. Apparently he sought refuge in a nearby brothel where he drank, played cards and, well, I digress. That escapade didn’t disqualify him from having a county and city named in his honor after his death. Maybe it helped.

However, Rolla did not become the county seat of government for Rolette. That honor went to Belcourt, a town of two thousand residents, about double the size of Rolla. I couldn’t find much of historical importance in Rolla although I wouldn’t recommend breaking in to someone’s home there either.

It seemed that residents pronounced it Roll-a. Perhaps my 12MC visitor will return some day and confirm that.


Rolla, Kansas


Dust Storm. Rolla, Kansas 1935
Dust Storm. Rolla, Kansas 1935. Library of Congress Collection on Flickr (cc)

Now why did Rolla sound so familiar? I’d seen a different Rolla before. In Kansas. This happened during my 2013 Dust Bowl adventure. I concentrated on a tight area around the Oklahoma Panhandle. It included the southwestern corner of Kansas. In that faraway nook, in Morton County specifically, stood a little town of Rolla (map). Barely four hundred people lived there along the open plains within the Cimarron National Grassland.

What scant evidence existed seemed to say that Rolla’s founders named if for Sir Walter Raleigh, and pronounced it Raw-la. That seemed fair-fetched, however, many people living in North Carolina’s capital city of Raleigh pronounced it that way in their southern drawl. Transplants could have carried the name and its pronunciation with them as they settled the plains. I couldn’t find direct evidence to back that up for this particular Rolla although it seemed to be within the realm of possibility.


Rolla, Missouri


On Historic Route 66 in Rolla, Missouri
On Historic Route 66 in Rolla, Missouri. Photo by Kent Kanouse on Flickr (cc)

The big Rolla didn’t appear in North Dakota or Kansas, it appeared in Missouri. This Rolla (map) served a population of twenty thousand! It also included a significant university, the Missouri University of Science and Technology. Residents pronounced it Raw-la like in Kansas, and supposedly for a similar reason. It also had a more definitive connection back to North Carolina too.

Rolla was officially surveyed, laid out and named in 1858. Bishop wanted to call it Phelps Center, since his house was the center of the county. John Webber preferred the name "Hardscrabble" for the obvious reasons. George Coppedge, another original settler, and formerly of North Carolina, favored "Raleigh" after his hometown. The others agreed with Coppedge on the condition that it shouldn’t have "that silly spelling, but should be spelled ‘Rolla.’"

Significant military activity took place here during the Civil War because of Rolla’s southern sympathies. The Union army occupied it just to make sure a strategic railroad terminal didn’t fall into the hands of Confederate sympathizers.


Rolla, British Columbia



I didn’t expect a Rolla to show-up in Canada, and yet one appeared (map) in British Columbia near the Alberta border. It seemed like an odd coincidence until I found an entry for Rolla on the Discover The Peace Country website.

The Lea Miller family was the first settlers to arrive in the area in 1912 that were originally from Rolla, Missouri in the USA. This new area then started being referred to as Rolla. The Millers opened a post office and Rolla was officially named in 1914.

Thus, if I followed the logic correctly, Sir Walter Raleigh lent his name to Raleigh, North Carolina where it transferred to Rolla, Missouri, and finally to Rolla, British Columbia. I’d seen longer name chains before (e.g., Richmond) although this one still stood out. The couple of hundred-or-so people there pronounced it similarly to its Missouri namesake.


Rolla, Anantapur, India



The Rolla in India seemed to be completely coincidental (map). I couldn’t find a connection to any of the others. I didn’t know how to pronounce it either. Information seemed scarce. I did find some basic information on its Wikipedia page. However, the page offered little else and failed to cite reliable sources. Someone could have made it up for all I knew. Yet, this Rolla supposedly dwarfed even the similarly-named Missouri town. Nearly thirty-five thousand people lived there. It certainly demonstrated the drawback of Wikipedia, where a town of that size barely earned any mention because of its location.

I didn’t want to be culturally insensitive. Primarily, I wouldn’t ordinarily describe someone’s tradition as "strange." However, a local news report documented a "Strange Tradition in Rolla Village Anantapuram" (their words not mine) in a YouTube video. If the locals thought it qualified as strange then I didn’t feel so bad about calling it strange too. The video showed some kind of ceremony where a row of people laid down on the ground and others stuck their feet on them as musicians played. It showed the same scene of a toddler getting a foot on her neck like a dozen times. Maybe it served as some kind of blessing. I couldn’t grasp any context because the reporter spoke something other than English.

Nonetheless, it let me add another Indian pushpin to my Complete Index Map, and that made me happy.

More Oddities from Independent Cities, Part 2

On March 26, 2017 · 7 Comments

Virginia’s independent cities continued to offer their peculiar geographic secrets. The earlier part of this series explored tendrils and quadripoints. However, other strange features hid within their twisted layouts. I turned my attention to enclaves and pinches next. Those unusual features probably came from heated negotiations between cities and counties during drawn-out annexation hearings. In Virginia, that involved a special court held specifically for that purpose, overseen by a three-judge panel.

Two separate cities included enclaves within their borders. Those little doughnut holes belonged to the counties that surrounded the cities.

Enclave within Fairfax City


Fairfax Enclave
Enclave within Fairfax City

Fairfax City became an independent city in 1961. The county surrounding it — also called Fairfax — extended much farther back in history. English colonies, including Virginia, still hugged North America’s Atlantic coastline when Fairfax County appeared in 1742. The county built a courthouse in a convenient, central location in 1799. That became a seat of local government and a little town grew around it. Eventually the town evolved into Fairfax City.

Fairfax County remained quiet and rural for the next several decades. However, it did not escape the Civil War unscathed. Virginia joined the Confederacy. Union troops crossed the Potomac River as the conflict began, capturing a chunk of Northern Virginia. This protected its capital city, Washington, DC. It also put Fairfax directly on the border between two hosile armies. Troops from both sides crisscrossed Fairfax repeatedly between 1861 and 1865, each occupying the courthouse at different times.

The war’s first death of a Confederate officer took place on the courthouse grounds in 1861 when Union troops shot Captain John Quincy Marr during a skirmish. Two years later, Confederate forces from the legendary Mosby’s Rangers paid a visit.

Mosby’s most famous raid occurred in March of 1863, inside Union lines at Fairfax County Courthouse, when he captured Brigadier General Edwin H. Stoughton. Mosby found Stoughton asleep in bed. Awakening the General with a slap to the rear, Mosby asked "Do you know Mosby, General?" The General replied "Yes! Have you got the rascal?" "No," said Mosby. "He’s got you!"

Obviously Fairfax County didn’t want to give up its historic courthouse when Fairfax City split from it. The two carved-out an enclave around the courthouse grounds that remained part of Fairfax County. I confirmed this arrangement on the Fairfax City zoning map.


Enclave within Manassas


Manassas Enclave
Enclave within Manassas

A little hole also sat within the independent city of Manassas, although it didn’t offer the same historical pedigree as the one in Fairfax. Nonetheless, it existed for a similar reason. I confirmed its existence in the Manassas zoning map and then I drilled-down to check it out. Manassas carved its territorial independence from Prince William County, however, the county courthouse already stood there. It became an enclave. The space contained the Prince William District Court, an Adult Detention Center, the Health Department, a senior center and some associated parking, all part of Prince William County, not Manassas.

Then I spotted something truly surprising. Somehow a single residence remained within the Prince William enclave. An entire neighborhood became part of Manassas except for 9210 Peabody Street for some unknown reason. Zillow dated its construction to 1965 and Manassas gained its independence in 1975, so the house definitely existed before the city changed its status.

The family residing there lived in Prince William County. However, they would need to cross completely through Manassas if they wanted to visit anyone else living in the county. On the other hand they wouldn’t have to cross a border if they ever got arrested. I’m sure they’d have other concerns in that situation anyway.


A Pinch to Grow an Inch


Grayson Pinch
Grayson County Pinch

A different oddity came into view in Galax. Here, a county line complicated a border. The line originally separated Grayson County from Carroll County. Galax grew right atop the line, which annexed land from both counties. The western side of Galax also contained a nob. It extended almost all the way to the county line and then stopped a tiny bit short. That prevented Galax from pinching-off a piece of Grayson. My eyeball estimate concluded that it fell just about seventy feet (21 metres) short of creating a Grayson exclave.

It was awfully nice of Galax to keep Grayson intact. Theoretically the farmer that lived inside that pinch remained connected to the rest of the county. However it didn’t really matter much because the only road access to the farm came from Galax. That made it a "practical exclave."


Bonus Avoidance



Staunton, Virginia

Check out the eastern border of Staunton along Interstate 81. I found several examples of Staunton drawing its border to avoid highway infrastructure maintenance. At the northern end where I-81 diverged from Staunton, the border turned northwest along Route 262 to avoid the cloverleaf. Near the midpoint, New Hope Road crossed above I-81 so the border did a zig-zag around the bridge. Approaching the southern end, the border avoided Route 250’s cloverleaf and then turned to the west, making sure to skip the Interstate 64 interchange. These was classic behaviors influenced by the anti-city provisions of the Byrd Road Act.

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.

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12 Mile Circle:
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