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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
I’ve been to Florida many times and always considered it to be incredibly flat. It was one of the flattest of all states with a mean elevation of only 100 feet (30 metres) — edged out only by much smaller Delaware — and definitely represented the smallest elevation span within its borders, extending from sea level to only 345 ft (105 m). Nonetheless it seemed to display some pride in what little elevation it had, puffing it up like it was much more spectacular that the actual situation deserved.
I’ll begin with that most diminutive state highpoint, Britton Hill (map). I know many Twelve Mile Circle readers have experienced Britton Hill in person although I’ve not been fortunate enough to have that opportunity yet. It was my kind of highpoint though, one that any "climber" could conquer easily by automobile, and accessible from an adjacent parking lot collocated in Lakewood Park. Some states with considerably more remarkable highpoint summits did less to mark their magic spots so congratulations to Florida for making an effort to recognize it puny promontory. The mountaineering website Summit Post did its best to keep a straight face and craft a justification to stop by for a visit.
Some may ask why anyone would want to travel to this remote area and walk in the relatively flat Florida panhandle forest. Britton Hill certainly does not provide the best Florida has to offer, but highpointing takes you places you would never think of going – like a unique tour of America that few get to experience.
In truth, nobody would consider this as a particularly remarkable place, much less stop to visit, if it wasn’t a state highpoint. Nonetheless someday I’ll strap on my crampons, prepare my ropes and tame the mighty summit of Britton Hill. Yes, I’m fairly certain that even I could accomplish that.
Britton Hill didn’t actually start my train of thought on this subject. Rather, it was the ridiculously named Highlands County, Florida. I’d been to the Highlands of Scotland a couple of times and it certainly bore little resemblance to anything in Florida. I felt it was more than a bit presumptuous to attach Highlands to a state know for its flatness, and yet there it appeared. Highlands became a county in 1921 and several sources stated emphatically that it was due to the surrounding terrain. Yet its highest elevation never exceeded 210 ft. (64 m.) in several spots so how much variation could there be?
A fascinating facility known as the the Archbold Biological Station held the several highpoints within its 5,200 acre (21 km2) natural preserve (map) so it was easily accessible to county highpointers. The research institute was created in 1941 by Richard Archbold after his original research in New Guinea had to be curtailed at the outbreak of the second world war. His Florida station was positioned at the headwaters of the Everglades in a distinctive habitat known as the Florida Scrub. They’ve done some great fieldwork there over the years.
Hillsborough County — which includes the city of Tampa — contained an inordinate amount of formally designated Highlands. In fact, fully half of Florida’s populated Highlands listed in the Geographic Names Information System fell within the confines of Hillsborough. I wondered if it might actually be hilly. It was named HILLSborough, after all. It turned out to have nothing to do with the terrain, having been named for the Earl of Hillsborough "who served as British Secretary of State for the Colonies from 1768 to 1772." I found it odd that this happened in 1834, a long time after American independence, adding more to the mystery.
Curiously, not only did Hillsborough lack any meaningful hills, it had an indeterminate highpoint even though the climbing site Peakbagger attempted to affix one (map) at an elevation of approximately 160 ft. (49 m.). The County Highpointers Association basically threw its hands into the air declaring, "This is a mess. The entire area has been strip-mined for phosphates."
Given that, why did Hillsborough have Auburn Highlands, Claonia Highlands, Hiawatha Highlands, Hickory Highlands, Highlands Oaks, Hillsborough Highlands, Mill Highlands, River Highlands, Sidney Highlands, Stephen Foster Highlands, Temple Highlands, Terrace Highlands, Valrico Highlands, West Highlands, and Wilma Highlands? I can only guess that local developers simply had a penchant for using the term independent of its actual meaning. Maybe it simply sounded good.
Loyal reader Cary suggested an article idea that built upon a previous topic, Upstart Eclipses Namesake. In that previous posting I offered "new" places that grew more prominent than their original namesakes. Examples I proposed included New Zealand (vs. Zealand), New South Wales (vs. South Wales) and others. There were several comments and a lively discussion — for instance the relative prominence of New Jersey and Jersey seemed to depend upon the side of the Atlantic of one’s abode — and it was all good fun.
Cary’s proposal took these efforts in a different direction, literally. Instead of new places, what if we looked at directional places instead? For example, suppose there was a town of Podunk and later a new settlement grew just to its north, and people lacking originality or hoping to ride Podunk’s coattails decided to call it North Podunk. Then suppose, over time North Podunk continued to grow until it eventually became significantly larger than Podunk. Cary was even kind enough to provide examples. I’m going to simply plagiarize Cary’s ideas in a callous manner, wrap a little text around them and call it a day. I like articles where someone else provides the hard part and I get to take a small break. Keep those ideas and suggestions coming!
Palm Beach vs. West, North and South Palm Beach, Florida
Palm Beach, that ritzy settlement on a sandy stretch of barrier island on the Atlantic side of south Florida, traced its founding back to the efforts of Henry Flagler. He was one of those Gilded Age gazillionaires at the tail end of the Nineteenth Century with abundant money to burn. Anyone familiar with Florida history should recognize the Flagler name. It’s everywhere. He laid the Florida East Coast Railway along the length of the state and plopped a string of luxury hotels down the tracks to Key West. He, maybe more than anyone else should be credited with opening Florida to mass tourism and settlement. Palm Beach was a crown jewel, the place he chose to build his winter mansion Whitehall in 1902 (map).
The opulence and wealth of Palm Beach attracted his well-heeled peers, however supply-and-demand with geography created limitations. There was only so much land available on a thin strip of barrier island. Parcels became obscenely expensive as wealthy industrialists seized the best spots for competing displays of extravagance. Those of lesser means built nearby in other directions, principally west across a narrow channel on the mainland. They still wanted to grasp a bit of the "exclusivity" of the Palm Beach brand, however. Thus grew additional towns of West Palm Beach, North Palm Beach and South Palm Beach. West Palm Beach has ten times more residents (about a hundred thousand) than Palm Beach (a little less than ten thousand). North Palm Beach is slightly larger (about twelve thousand). Only South Palm Beach has fewer residents (about fifteen hundred).
Certainly West Palm Beach overshadowed Palm Beach by population. However Palm Beach could still take some consolation. It’s most recent median annual family income was $137,867 while West Palm Beach was only $42,074.
Orange vs. West, East and South Orange, New Jersey
The story of "The Oranges" — and that’s how the collection of New Jersey’s orange-named places are often grouped — was quite a bit different. Why Orange? Like many places named Orange it referred to William III of England, a.k.a. William of Orange. A group of breakaway Puritans left the New Haven Colony in Connecticut in 1666 and settled in lands that would later become Newark and the Oranges (map). According to the City of Orange Township, the area composing the Oranges served as an agricultural portion of Newark. The interests of the two began to diverge by the end of the Eighteenth Century, with Orange finally detaching in 1806. Internal rifts appeared within Orange over the next few decades and it too split not long after earning town status in 1860.
… Orange was permitted to establish fire, police, street and other town departments. On March 13, 1860, Dr. William Pierson was elected as the first Mayor of the Town of Orange. Almost immediately, the new town began fragmenting into smaller independent communities primarily because of local disputes about the costs of establishing the new departments. The other areas separated from the Town of Orange…
That resulted in four Oranges: Orange, West Orange, East Orange and South Orange. Today Orange has about thirty-thousand residents, West Orange has about forty-five thousand, East Orange has about sixty-five thousand and South Orange has about fifteen thousand. Thus, two of the three directional Oranges grew larger than Orange.
Orange and East Orange are relatively urban and working-class, while South Orange and West Orange remain affluent suburban enclaves. In addition, the residents of Orange and East Orange are predominantly African American (75.1% and 89.5%, respectively), while those of South Orange and West Orange are predominantly white.
Battleford in Saskatchewan provided another interesting tale. First I wondered about its name. Was there really a battle on a ford or was it simply some Englishman’s surname that transposed to the colonies and found its way to the Canadian prairie? Battleford (map) sat near the confluence of the North Saskatchewan and Battle Rivers, and a ford actually existed there. That solved part of the mystery. Also the "battle" wasn’t a single clash, rather it reflected an ongoing series of conflicts between Cree and Blackfoot tribes within the larger geographic footprint. Learning that, I felt comfortable and could move on with my investigation.
Poor Battleford. It should have risen to such greater prominence. Things began well at its founding in 1875 and soon it became the capital of the North-West Territories. Then came the railroad. Originally the Canadian Pacific Railway would have passed directly through Battleford, cementing its future.
But in 1881 the community’s destiny was altered with the federal government’s abrupt decision to alter the route of the trans-continental railway to cross the southern plains: as a consequence, the territorial capital was officially transferred to Regina in 1883…
Then, to add insult to injury, the Canadian Northern Railway came along in 1905 and built a line to Edmonton, placing its route on the other side of the river from Battleford. Naturally a new settlement migrated there and became North Battleford, soon eclipsing the original Battleford. Current Battleford has about five thousand residents compared to North Battleford with at about fifteen thousand. Battleford could have been Saskatchewan’s capital. Instead it became North Battleford’s smaller cousin.
Cary offered several other examples although I got tired of typing:
North Richland Hills vs. Richland Hills in Texas
North Tonawanda vs. Tonawanda in New York
West Covina vs. Covina in California
West Babylon vs. Babylon in New York
I’m sure the 12MC audience can find others. Thanks Cary!