Last Place in the United States

On July 10, 2016 · 1 Comments

I decided to wrap-up the series of "Last Places" with the United States, after previously exploring England, Asia and various members of the Commonwealth of Nations. The premise remained the same, to find the last places in the nation where something once happened or where anachronisms still remained.

The Last Arabbers


18 - Donald 'Manboy' Savoy
Donald 'Manboy' Savoy – a patriarch of the Arabbers by Cultural Documentation on Flickr (cc)

Men known as arabbers once commonly walked beside horse-drawn carts through city streets of the northeastern United States selling fresh fruits and vegetables. They shouted distinctive chants to identify themselves and their wares. Residents came outdoors when they heard items they wanted to buy. Many African American men pursued this entrepreneurial opportunity, a means of steady self-employment free from discrimination in the years after the Civil War. The practice gradually faded after the advent of motorized vehicles. Cities became increasingly hostile to horses and people switched their shopping allegiance to grocery stores. Arabbing disappeared everywhere except for tiny pockets of Baltimore, Maryland.

The term Arabbing seemed unusual. It derived from A-rab (pronounced Ay-Rab), which earned a special explanation from the Baltimore Sun when it described the practice in 2007. The etymology extended back to London in the mid-Nineteenth Century, referring to "a homeless little wanderer, a child of the street." In turn, that "likely reflects the sense of the nomadic life historically led by the peoples on the Arabian Peninsula." In other words it derived from a stereotype.

The profession could disappear soon even in Baltimore. Only a few arabber continued to exist. Animal rights activities derided the practice, lobbying Government officials to end the tradition in other cities such as Philadelphia and New York. Baltimore officials raided one of the last stables, the old South Carlton Street stables near Hollins Market (map) in 2015. All charges were dropped in March 2016 in a case described as "laughably weak." However by that time officials found replacement homes for all of the horses. The city effectively put the rightful owners out of business. Now arabbing in Baltimore hangs by the weakest of threads.


Last Place to Fly the Bourbon flag of France


Fort de Chartres Wall
Fort de Chartres Wall by henskechristine on Flickr (cc)

I struggled with this one. Did Fort de Chartres fly the Bourbon flag of France longer than anywhere else in territory later part of United States, as claimed? Maybe.

France controlled inland North America for much of the Eighteenth Century. This including a preponderance of the Mississippi River and its watershed. It established a series of forts along these waterways to enforce its domain. Fort de Chartres (map) on the east bank of the Mississippi in modern-day Illinois, played a central role. The initial fort dated to 1720. It washed away as did its replacement, a predictable fate for wooden structures built in a floodplain. The French decided on something more permanent after that. They rebuilt Fort de Chartres in thick limestone in 1753. This served as their main military outpost and government center for all of Upper Louisiana until 1765.

France and Britain battled in the Seven Years’ War during this period, a conflict called the French and Indian War in North America. Britain eventually won. The resulting 1763 Treaty of Paris forced France to cede all land east of the Mississippi to Britain and all land west of the Mississippi to Spain. It took another two years before British forces occupied Fort de Chartres.

Then the white banner of old France, with its royal fleur de lis, was drawn down from its staff, and in its place was displayed the red cross of St, George. Thus was ended the splendid dream of French conquest and dominion in North America. After the performance of this sad act, St. Ange took his departure by boat, with his little company of 30 officers and men, and proceeded up and across the Mississippi river to the new French trading post of St. Louis, which was then in Spanish territory.

Napoleon Bonaparte briefly claimed Louisiana from Spain before selling it to the fledgling United States in 1803. However Bonaparte did not fly the Bourbon flag so the assertion might be true.


The Last Indentured Servants


Haleakala Cane Fields
Haleakala Cane Fields by bradmcs on Fickr (cc)

Indentured servitude seemed like something out of the colonial era of American history. People received passage to the New World and in turn they agreed to work for someone for a number of years. The practice disappeared soon after the American Revolution. However, the United States annexed Hawaii in 1898. Hawaii had been an independent nation that allowed indentured servitude so the US had to abolish the practice again.

The Organic Act, bringing US law to bear in the newly-annexed Territory of Hawaii took effect 111 years ago–June 14, 1900. As a result, US laws prohibiting contracts of indentured servitude replaced the 1850 Masters and Servants Act which had been in effect under the Hawaiian Kingdom and Hawaii Republic. Tens of thousands of plantation laborers were freed from contract slavery by the Organic Act.

Sugar drove both freedom for indentured servants and a loss of sovereignty for the Hawaiian nation. Immigrants from the United States built large estates like the 1864 Grove Farm Sugar Plantation on Kauai, now a museum (map). These super-wealthy capitalists demanded more influence in Hawaiian politics. Their power came from the other side of the Pacific and they seized control. Ironically they also lost their cheap supply of Chinese and Japanese indentured servants once the United States took over.


Last Place Where Oysters are Harvested with Tongs from Small Boats


oyster shells in tong heads
oyster shells in tong heads by Southern Foodways Alliance on Flickr (cc)

Machinery changed many practices of people who made their living from the land or the sea. Oystermen generally abandoned traditional labor-intensive techniques in favor of motorized dredges once they became available. Only in Florida’s Apalachicola Bay did harvesters continue to scrape oysters from their beds using hand-powered tongs (map). The water was so shallow and the oysters so abundant that the traditional method actually allowed watermen to make a decent living. This reminded me of another anachronism, the skipjack sailors of Chesapeake Bay. They used small sailboats to harvest oysters. A quirk in Maryland law allowed them to harvest during times of the year that those using motorized boats could not, a means to prevent over-harvesting.

Rotonda West

On May 18, 2016 · 1 Comments

Rotonda West looked like a two-dimensional rendering of the Death Star transformed into a planned community along Florida’s southern Gulf Coast.



Rotonda West, Florida

It also had an air of familiarity, like I’d seen it somewhere before although I stumbled across it quite by accident just recently. My recollection gets a little hazy now that I’ve posted more than 1,200 of these Twelve Mile Circle articles. It’s never gotten so bad that I’ve written the same article twice although I came close a couple of times. I’ve made it a habit to always double-check. Indeed, Rotonda West made a guest appearance once before although not in an article. Reader "Joshua" included it in a comment on Corona’s Corona all the way back in 2009. He described it then as, "about 7/8th of a circle. It’s almost like missing one category pie piece in Trivial Pursuit."

I must have tucked Rotonda West somewhere within the deep crevices of my mind although I never pursued it farther. Maybe its "rediscovery" offered an opportunity for me to undertake a proper examination of the situation. Clearly someone needed to check the facts further.

The Rotonda West Association maintained a comprehensive website with more details that I’ve seen for some actual cities much larger, devoting an entire section and multiple articles to its history. Salient details flowed freely from that definitive source.

The land on which Rotonda sits was owned originally by brothers William and Alfred Vanderbilt. William was a former Governor of Rhode Island, and both brothers were direct descendants of the renowned Cornelius Vanderbilt…. The brothers acquired the Rotonda land (36,000 acres) in 1952… Eventually, Alfred owned most of it and sold it to Cavanagh Leasing Corporation of Miami in 1969 for $19.5 million, when ranching became uneconomical.


Rotonda West
Rotonda West by Mark Mathosian on Flickr (cc)

Like much of South Florida, the community of Rotonda West didn’t have particularly deep roots. Nonetheless it began to grow rapidly especially with those of a certain senior age who had plenty of time for leisure activities. That’s probably why Trip Advisor listed golf courses as two of the Top 5 things to do there. It also had an odd connection to Ed McMahon, the longtime sidekick to Johnny Carson of the Tonight Show. The owners of Rotonda West hired McMahon to promote the community pretty much everywhere he went using any means available to him. They paid him off with property and a house in Rotonda West. He also became a vice president of the development corporation. The arrangement must have worked because now almost nine thousand people live there.

Assuming the existence of a Rotonda West, it seemed natural that there should be another Rotonda community elsewhere acting as its namesake. There wasn’t. The community offered an explanation for that too.

Yes, there was a Rotonda East. It straddled Florida’s Palm Beach and Martin Counties. In the 1960s, Cavanagh reportedly sold about 18,000 acres of mostly swampy land there for up to $6,000 an acre. But suddenly the new ecology awareness took hold, bringing tougher country building and zoning codes… Rotonda East died stillborn.

I loved that crack about the "new ecology awareness" killing Rotonda East before it could be born. Another article offered similar views about Rotonda West,

The environment was another problem for developers."Ecology" became a new buzz word, as did "wetlands." The newly-found interests of eagles, scrub jays, gopher tortoises, sea turtles and certain snakes now had to be addressed. This retarded construction in Rotonda West.

I’m sure this was a fine community and I didn’t intend to cast aspersions, I just found it amusing to see such a nakedly pro-development slant: darn ecology and wetlands and animals and such standing in the way of draining swamps and blocking plans for all those lovely houses. Feel free to throw in a "get off my lawn" if you like, too.

So, that was that. It was a fairly typical South Florida story except for the community’s circular shape which was chosen because it was believed to be "softer and more romantic."


Wait, What’s a Rotonda?


Rotunda
Rotunda. My own photo..

I was certainly aware of Rotunda (with a "u") — after all I was an alumnus of the University of Virginia with its rather distinctive Rotunda designed by Thomas Jefferson — and I figured Rotonda must have had a similar derivation. Was it an accepted version, however, or was it a clever marketing ploy used by the developers of Rotonda West? I turned to a dictionary "1. a round building, especially one with a dome. 2. a large and high circular hall or room in a building, especially one surmounted by a dome." It derived from the Italian rotonda (aha!) which in turn came from the Latin rotundus, meaning round. The usage was entirely proper — perhaps a little pretentious that they went with Italian instead of English — although it was perfectly suitable for a circular community.

Even More Weird Placenames

On January 24, 2016 · 2 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle has been on a bit of an odd placenames fixation as of late. I found a few more examples although they didn’t have enough of a story behind them to justify an entire article on any one of them. I figured I’d resurrect an earlier series and title this "Even More Weird Placenames" in continuation of the theme. This will also help me whittle-down my ever persistent list of possible topics I’ve been compiling since I began this site.


Knockemstiff



Knockemstiff, Ohio

A anonymous 12MC visitor landed onto the site by chance seeking information about Knockemstiff. I didn’t know anything about it and had nothing prepared so I supposed they left disappointed. Even so, it sounded like a suitable topic and I knew I’d explore it eventually. It took little effort to find Knockemstiff once I got around to it, a crossroads in Ohio near another place featured on these pages previously, Chillicothe.

Knockemstiff served as the backdrop for a series of short stories published in 2008 by local writer, Donald Ray Pollock, in a book with the same title. One review said Pollock "presents his characters and the sordid goings-on with a stern intelligence, a bracing absence of value judgments, and a refreshingly dark sense of bottom-dog humor." His literary works received national attention including the New York Times which profiled the settlement of Knockemstiff, attempting to learn the story behind its unusual alias.

The town’s name is a source of folklore and conjecture… a resident saying that the origins dated far back, perhaps 100 years, to an episode in which a traveling preacher came across two women fighting over a man. The preacher said that he doubted the man was worth the trouble and that someone should "knock him stiff." But variations on that story exist, as do ones that say the name is associated with moonshine and bar fights.

That was a long way of saying that no definitive explanation existed. The story had been lost to history. Nonetheless this brief summary will be waiting here for the next unknown visitor who may stumble onto 12MC searching for Knockemstiff.


Ennis in Ellis


Bluebonnet Sunrise - Ennis, Texas
Bluebonnet Sunrise – Ennis, Texas by Kelly DeLay on Flickr (cc)

The City of Ennis fell within the confines of Ellis County, Texas. Ennis had been named for a railroad official, Cornelius Ennis. Ellis probably referred to Richard Ellis, who headed the commission that declared Texas’ independence. The two men had no connection or relationship that I was aware of, although that was completely irrelevant to this story anyway. My fascination centered on the peculiar notion that if one replaced the “nn” in Ennis with “ll” it became Ellis. I was unaware of any other town-county combination where one could make a simple letter substitution in the town’s name to transform it into the county name. Of course I didn’t look too hard trying to find other examples either. I’d like to say that I wanted to reserve that puzzle for the 12MC audience although the real reason was my laziness.

Completely unrelated, the aforementioned Ennis in Ellis "was designated by the 1997 State Legislature as the home of the ‘Official Texas Bluebonnet Trail’ and was designated the ‘Official Bluebonnet City of Texas.‘" That was a pretty big deal considering the prominence of the bluebonnet in Texan culture. The Department of Horticultural Science at Texas A&M University elaborated,

As historian Jack Maguire so aptly wrote, "It’s not only the state flower but also a kind of floral trademark almost as well known to outsiders as cowboy boots and the Stetson hat." He goes on to affirm that "The bluebonnet is to Texas what the shamrock is to Ireland, the cherry blossom to Japan, the lily to France, the rose to England and the tulip to Holland."

During times when bluebonnets weren’t in bloom, no worries, one could always visit Bluebonnet Trail — not the trail itself, rather a street named Bluebonnet Trail — in a local trailer park (map).


Brazil


Welcome to Brazil, Indiana
Welcome to Brazil, Indiana by Jimmy Emerson, DVM on Flickr (cc)

I’m sure if I thought long and hard enough I could figure out a few similarities between Brazil and Indiana. Nonetheless I still found it strange to see a town named Brazil in Indiana (map). It wasn’t a small place either. It had eight thousand residents and served as the seat of local government in Clay County. I wished I could have found a decent explanation. Several sources pointed back to the naming of a local farm in the 1840’s, designated Brazil because the nation had been in the news frequently during the era, supposedly. The town then adopted the name of the nearby farm when it was founded in the 1860’s. I guess I could accept that even though I couldn’t find any solid attribution. I’ve heard of stranger explanations for town names.


High Point?



High Point, Palm Beach Co., Florida

I didn’t know what to make of High Point in Palm Beach County, Florida, except that I wished I’d known about it when I wrote High Level some time ago. What point of High Point was actually high? It’s total elevation barely broached 20 feet (6 metres). It wasn’t even the highest point in Palm Beach, where two separate spots reached pinnacles of 53 feet (16 metres) according to the County Highpointers Association. I realized those two co-highpoints didn’t have magnificent summits either, although 53 feet completely dominated 20 feet. I guess it didn’t matter. High Point and its condominium community were in the process of being annexed by the nearby city of Delray Beach, anyway. The name will probably disappear.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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