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.
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."
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.
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.