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.

Great Allegheny Passage, Day 3 (Ohiopyle to Meyersdale)

We pushed deeper into the trip, halfway done as we pedaled out of Ohiopyle on the morning of the third day. We intended to cover the same distance as the previous day, a little more than forty miles, although we’d gain a thousand feet of altitude while reaching the town with the highest elevation along the trail. The day turned warm and sunny. I would finish this stretch with a minor sunburn on the back of hands where they were exposed as I gripped my handlebars.

Trailside Towns


Each town along the trail had its own character. Besides Pittsburgh, they were all small and some were downright tiny. Their fortunes faded as Rust Belt industries collapsed. Now the Great Allegheny Passage offered a new hope based on a more environmentally-friendly source, the trekkers who passed anonymously along the trail.

Only the most resourceful cyclists packed everything they needed for a 150 mile journey. We saw a few if them and I wondered how they even managed to remain on two wheels carrying their quadruple panniers with sleeping bundles and tents like vagabonds. Everyone else stopped at trailside towns as the need arose, at convenience stores, restaurants, lodges, B&B’s, campgrounds, taverns, hardware stores, pharmacies or bicycle shops. A new town appeared every ten miles-or-so. The trailbook made it easy to anticipate anything that would be available up-the-road (e.g., Ohiopyle) and plan accordingly.

Everyone we met couldn’t have been nicer. People went out of their way to be helpful and hospitable. Maybe some of that happened because we were amongst the vanguard of riders arriving in early Spring. I got the feeling though that they’d be equally nice at the end of a long touring season, even before things got quiet again for a long winter.


Confluence Shrouded in Fog

Departing Ohiopyle, the town of Confluence (map) was the next significant settlement. If that name sounded familiar it might be because it appeared on Twelve Mile Circle in February 2014 in an article called Confluence of Confluences. I’d learned about Confluence by happenstance. The article mentioned several interesting sites and geo-oddities within its general orbit. At the time I said, "Now that I’ve considered it more, I think I’ll have to put Confluence on my list for a long weekend. This should be a feasible itinerary for anyone living in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Someday maybe I’ll take this trip and report back to the 12MC audience." I hadn’t anticipated that my prophesy would come true barely a year later.

Confluence impressed me even more than I’d imagined; a quaint town on a beautiful stretch of river, or more accurately two rivers and a creek forming the namesake confluence. In the photograph, the Youghiogheny appeared as the river in the foreground. The Casselman River flowed into it. Up the Casselman on the left bank one can barely see where Laurel Hill Creek flowed into the Casselman. We arrived on the first day of trout season. Fishermen lined the banks for miles (photo) as we biked along the trail.

I still want to return to Confluence. We simply passed through, stopping only for a late breakfast in an old-school diner (photo) on the town square. I didn’t get to see any of the fascinating features I mentioned in the earlier article. This area deserved to be savored.

The bike trail switched away from the bank of the Youghiogheny River at the town of Confluence and followed the Casselman for the remainder of the day.

Pinkerton Tunnel

Pinkerton Tunnel

The Pinkerton High Bridge led to the entrance of the Pinkerton Tunnel (map). It will be an impressive feature on the trail someday. The tunnel was dug originally for the Western Maryland Railroad in 1912 although it was in sorry shape by the time the Great Allegheny Passage came into existence. Modern railroad trains traveled through the large cut seen up and towards the left in the photograph, leaving the Pinkerton Tunnel obsolete. Restoration efforts continued on the tunnel at the time we arrived in April 2015.

When completed, this feature will eliminate a 1.5 mile detour along a bend in the Casselman River called the Pinkerton Horn. The GAP marked miles as if the tunnel existed, planning ahead optimistically I supposed. In essence we didn’t bike 150 miles during our journey, we biked 151.5 with the Horn serving as uncounted bonus mileage. It was actually quite lovely as a detour, passing through thick forest high above turbulent waters.

I’ve read several trip reports that described the long uphill segment as "barely noticeable." That was correct in a sense. The grade never went higher than 0.7%. However it was an accumulation of miles that made it noticeable. I’d been training on rolling terrain all winter and I felt strong although I still wanted to crest that final hill and be done with it. It was right after the Horn that one of our biking companions had about enough of the constant day-long steady climb and slowed to a crawl for awhile. Generally it wasn’t all that bad though.


Trailside Art at Rockwood

Towns along the trail took pride in their appearance. Oftentimes this reflected as works of art with whimsical themes reflecting area history, a railroading legacy or bicycles. Rockwood had a wonderful steel train with bicycle rims replacing steam from a smokestack (map).

It became a game for me. I’d stop to admire each new creation for a moment and snap a photograph or two.

These all livened-up the trip and helped pass the time as hours and miles blended into each other.


Farm Outside of Meyersdale
Farm Outside of Meyersdale

The character of the terrain changed slowly once again. Mountain and forest gave way to farmland as we drew closer to Meyersdale (map). Day three ended with visions of open fields and barns and windmill turbines atop scenic hillsides (photo). It took one final push across the spectacular Salisbury Viaduct, almost two thousand feet long, to draw closer to our day’s destination. It crossed U.S. Route 219, the "Flight 93 Memorial Highway" at this point, only twenty five miles south of Shanksville where a United Airlines flight hijacked by terrorists crashed on September 11, 2001.

We entered Meyersdale soon after crossing the viaduct for our third and final overnight.

The Great Allegheny Passage articles:

Circling Back

"Circling Back" would be the best title for this article, implying a revisiting or rethinking of previous ideas with a connection back to Twelve Mile CIRCLE. It’s appropriate. Also it sounded a lot better than "barely warmed-up leftovers" which is what it really is.

I reached back to a trio of articles for the first item including one from the very early days of 12MC. My wife and I made our annual pilgrimage to "Savor: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience" yesterday evening. I first wrote about this event in May 2008 which was also the first year it was held. Back then the venue was the Mellon Auditorium in Washington, DC and since then it’s been held at the National Building Museum except for last year when it moved to New York City. Naturally I’ve attended every year except for last year.

I’m getting to the point where my poor old body can’t take too many beer festivals anymore. We concentrate on Savor which is run by the Brewers Association (the same group that does the Great American Beer Festival) and also the Great Taste of the Midwest in Madison, Wisconsin, which is run by the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild. Those are all I need; I might as well concentrate on the best. Quality over quantity.

Right about now the entire 12MC audience is wondering where I’m going with this. Let’s jump back a couple of months and revisit Geo-BREWities. One of the places I referenced was Confluence Brewing in Des Moines, Iowa. Well, to my complete surprise, notice what I spotted last night.

Confluence Brewing

Last February I said,

Looking at its location a little more closely, the brewery can’t be more than maybe a mile-or-so from the confluence of the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers… I’ll bet the river confluence inspired the name of the brewery at least a little even if I couldn’t find it stated explicitly.

I can confirm that now. I had a nice conversation with the owners. Either that or they were humoring some oddball geo-geek who was asking them about their name.

Lickinghole Brewery

Another brewery connected with 12MC’s Three Notches article, and specifically to the Three Notch’d / Three Chopt Road in Central Virginia which runs not too far from the brewery. Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery is at the forefront of the whole Farm Brewery movement that’s been building in recent years and offered a "Three Chopt Tripel" for tasting. Lickinghole sounded like a rather, um, interesting name for a brewery too. I guess you do what you gotta do to get your name to stand out in a crowded field. It’s certainly memorable.

By the way there is also a Three Notch’d Brewing Company named after the same road a little farther west in Charlottesville. They weren’t represented at Savor (I’ve tried their beers elsewhere) although I thought it was still worth mentioning because it aligned with the theme. I’ve now discovered a beer and a brewery both named for the same basic road.

Also represented was Mother Road Brewing Company from Flagstaff, Arizona, which would definitely qualify as a Geo-BREWity too. It was named for the Mother Road of course — the famed Route 66 — which ran through Flagstaff on its way from Chicago to Santa Monica. I should have taken a photo. I guess I was too busy grabbing coasters and stickers from their table. I’m a sucker for breweriana swag.

Monumental Ride

The boys and I will replicate the Monumental Ride I first referenced about three years ago, later today. I was informed in very certain terms that the best possible Mother’s Day present would involve removing myself and the kids from the house for a few hours.

Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument from the Potomac

This might also be a good opportunity to mention the upcoming 12MC Geo-Oddity bicycle ride I’ve been threatening for awhile. It’s finally going to happen and I’m trying to narrow down the date to a Saturday or Sunday in June. It will feature many of the sites discussed in Monumental Ride plus many more. The route remains a work in progress although here is what I’m thinking:

View Epic 12MC Geo-Oddity Bike Ride in a larger map

Those who expressed interest earlier should have already received an email message with more details and a request for date preferences. Those who want to jump on the bandwagon can contact me and I’ll forward the same information along. It should be a fun, casual ride with plenty of stops for abundant geo-geekery.

Dorena-Hickman Ferry

Everyone is probably tired of hearing about my Riverboat Adventures so I’ll be brief. The Dorena-Hickman ferry made an appearance in Part 3 (Borders). I finally uploaded some video footage to YouTube and created a dedicated page for the ferry on my travel website. That probably won’t interest most of the 12MC audience although maybe a handful of readers share my ferry fascination and may want to see much greater detail about this particular one.