King of Prussia

On November 10, 2016 · 1 Comments

I’ve been fixated on the origins of unusual town names the last few days. First I unraveled the mystery of Snowflake; now I took aim at King of Prussia. A bunch of questions came to mind. Why would someone name a place King of Prussia? Did it refer to a specific king? Why not just name it after the guy instead of referring to him so generally?

The Town


US Route 422
US Route 422. Photo by Montgomery County Planning Commission on Flickr (cc)

I found King of Prussia in Pennsylvania, in an exurb of Philadelphia (map). The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia described a dynamic place,

Twenty miles northwest of downtown Philadelphia, where the Pennsylvania Turnpike converges with the Schuylkill Expressway, a sleepy rural town clustered around a colonial-era tavern expanded massively in the twentieth century to become the region’s largest employment hub outside of Center City Philadelphia.

That could have described perhaps a thousand other places in the United States too, although only one had the strange name. King of Prussia began as an inconsequential village only to be engulfed by the sprawl of a larger city, then transformed into an economic power in its own right. That still didn’t explain its name.


The King


Friedrich Zweite Alt
Friedrich Zweite on Wikimedia Commons. In the public domain.

It didn’t take long to track down the King of Prussia in question. It did refer to a specific Prussian king, Frederick II, often called Frederick the Great. Nobody seemed to know why he got the nod in Pennsylvania and various theories floated about the Intertubes. The area went by Reeseville when the original Quaker settlers moved there in the early 18th Century. The name flipped to King of Prussia sometime during or right after the Revolutionary War. Many Americans thought highly of Frederick II because he supported the Revolution from its earliest days. Also, it may have been a gesture of thanks to General von Steuben of Prussia who trained the Continental Army at nearby Valley Forge. Either way, the name probably arose from patriotic sentiments of local residents as the United States fought for and gained its independence.


The Inn



However, the town did not really get its name from the Frederick the Great. Not directly, anyway. In an odd twist, the name actually came from a local establishment, the King of Prussia Inn.

The original Inn was constructed as a cottage in 1719… The cottage was converted to an inn in 1769 and was important in colonial times as it was approximately a day’s travel by horse from Philadelphia… General George Washington first visited the tavern on Thanksgiving Day in 1777 while the Continental Army was encamped at Whitemarsh…

The Inn (map) remained a local fixture and lent its name to the surrounding area, which also came to be known as King of Prussia. Despite its historical significance, the King of Prussia Inn sat abandoned for much of the last half of the 20th Century, trapped on a traffic island on US Highway 202. The state of Pennsylvania moved it to its present location in 2000. After an extensive restoration, it became the home of the King of Prussia Chamber of Commerce.


The Mall


A cathedral to Consumerism aka King of Prussia Mall
A cathedral to Consumerism aka King of Prussia Mall.
Photo by Thomas Mathie on Flickr (cc)

Most people today, if they knew anything about King of Prussia, probably associated it with its oversized mall. This behemoth housed more than 450 stores in a footprint stretching nearly 3 million square feet. That put it in second place in the United States behind only the Mall of America in Minnesota. From humble inn, to village, to suburb and mega-mall, King of Prussia underwent crazy changes during its history.


The Prince


The View from Craig
The View from Craig. Photo by Joseph on Flickr (cc)

I didn’t discover any other "King of [wherever]" locations in the United States. However I did find a prince, the Prince of Wales in Alaska. Sure, I expected Prince of Wales to appear in the Commonwealth of Nations — and indeed the name appeared all over — although I didn’t expect it in the U.S. Nonetheless, Alaska offered the Prince of Wales–Hyder Census Area, which also included Prince of Wales Island. The island’s largest settlement at Craig (map) included 1,200 residents.

A king ranked above a prince, I supposed.

Presidential Layers

On September 8, 2016 · 2 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle discovered quite the layering of Presidential place names recently, completely by accident. I tried to find a better example during the larger part of an afternoon and never came close. Someone from the audience should feel free to post a comment with better results.

Washington State


Washington State Capitol
Washington State Capitol. Photo by dannymac15_1999 on Flickr (cc)

George Washington as the first President of the United States certainly deserved places named for him in abundance. He probably didn’t need Washington Ditch although I couldn’t fault those responsible for digging a path through a swamp for seizing the opportunity. New York City served as the US capital at George Washington’s inauguration in 1789 and it moved to Philadelphia the following year. In 1791, Washington appointed a commission to establish a new capital city in accordance with the Residence Act. The Commissioners came up with a new name for the city… Washington. I mentioned that because a really important place — namely the capital city of the United States — honored George Washington from the very earliest days of the nation.

Settlers moving to the Pacific Northwest north of the Columbia River wished to split from the previously-established Oregon Territory in 1853. They wanted to call their news state Columbia. Oregon Territory’s nonvoting representative in Congress took their case to the floor of the House of Representatives. Then things took a strange twist.

Upon the completion of Lane’s speech, a new issue was injected into the proceedings. Suddenly the question was not whether the new territory should be created, but what name it should be called. Representative Richard Stanton of Kentucky rose and moved that the bill be amended by striking the word "Columbia" wherever it occurred and substituting "Washington." The House then voted favorably on the motion.

Despite legends to the contrary, the change was actually just one of those things that happened on a whim. They weren’t trying to prevent confusion with the District of Columbia. Congress simply wanted to honor George Washington even more. Thus the US ended up with a Washington State (map) not a Columbia State.


Lincoln County


Lincoln County Courthouse (Davenport, Washington)
Lincoln County Courthouse (Davenport, Washington). Photo by cmh2315fl on Flickr (cc)

Washington State eventually subdivided into 39 counties. Several of them honored presidents other than Washington: Adams; Garfield; Grant; Lincoln; Jefferson and Pierce. Lincoln County (map) appeared in 1883, one of many places named for Abraham Lincoln in the US in the decades immediately following his assassination. The western states settled quickly during that era. Only Native Americans lived in what became Lincoln County a decade earlier.

"Wild Goose Bill" (Samuel Wilbur Condit) might have justly claimed the honor of being the first actual white settler of Lincoln County as he claims his advent into this country as a settler where the town of Wilbur now stands in 1875. Wilbur, named for its founder in 1887, was incorporated in 1889. While out hunting Mr. Condit once mistook a settler’s poultry and shot a fat gander. Ever after he was known as "Wild Goose Bill". Before he platted and named Wilbur, his trading place was known as "Goosetown".

I liked that some guy accidentally shot a neighbor’s goose and they stuck him with a lifelong nickname. People on the frontier could be cruel.


Lincoln (community)



Lincoln, Washington

Within Lincoln County I found a community of Lincoln. Sure, I’d prefer another president instead of the repetitious Lincoln. That didn’t happen. Lincoln County honored no presidents other than Lincoln although the notion of a President Fishtrap intrigued me. So I took what I could get. Nothing much distinguished the community of Lincoln beyond an RV Park/Campground and a post office with its own ZIP code (99147). It’s possible to send mail to people living in Lincoln, WA 99147.


Franklin Delano Roosevelt Lake



Actually one thing distinguished the tiny community of Lincoln. It stood on the banks of Franklin Delano Roosevelt Lake.

Lake Roosevelt formed as a result of the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River (map). Construction began in 1933 at the beginning of the Roosevelt Administration and it took nine years to build. Its massive reservoir stretched 150 miles (240 kilometres), and the dam produces more electricity than any other facility in the United States even today. The President didn’t name the lake after himself, though. That happened after he died. I don’t know if this was the first place named for Roosevelt after his death although it had to be somewhere near the top of the list. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes selected the name only five days after Roosevelt died.

The spectacular presidential layering to beat in this silly competition: Roosevelt Lake, with the community of Lincoln on its shores, in the county of Lincoln in the state of Washington.

On Canals

On September 1, 2016 · Comments Off on On Canals

In Latin, the word canna meant reed, the root of canalis meaning "water pipe, groove, [or] channel." The French language retained this term as it evolved from Latin, and the English language adopted it to describe a pipe for transporting liquid. This transformed to its modern English usage by the Seventeenth Century to represent an artificial waterway, as noted by the Online Etymology Dictionary.

I always thought that a canal resulted from someone digging a path through the ground to let a steady stream of water flow through it. That wasn’t necessarily the case according to technical jargon I stumbled upon. A canal connected two or more watersheds. Something called a navigation performed similar functions within a single watershed. Thus the Erie Canal connecting Lake Erie to the Atlantic Ocean via the Hudson River counted as a canal. In contrast, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal from Cumberland, Maryland to Washington, DC wouldn’t be considered a canal by that definition because it ran solely along the Potomac River. It didn’t matter that it stretched 180 miles (290 kilometres). The C&O counted as a navigation, which I’m sure would have surprised the people who designed, constructed and dubbed it a canal in the 1830’s.

The distinction didn’t make much difference to me. I decided to call them all canals.


Oldest Canal


Dismal Swamp Canal
Dismal Swamp Canal. Photo by Ryan Somma on Flickr (cc)

Nobody knows exactly when or where people built the very first canal. They traced back to the earliest times of agricultural settlement. Canals served an important purpose in ancient Mesopotamia both to control flooding and to irrigate crops. Egyptian pharaohs turned canal construction into an art form in later centuries, using them for additional purposes including transportation.

Since I couldn’t find the first canal ever built, I decided to feature the oldest canal in the United States in continuous usage. Work began on the Dismal Swamp Canal in 1793 and it soon connected North Carolina’s Albemarle Sound to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia (map). It provided convenient access to the lumbermen who harvested large cypress trees that grew in abundance in the swamp. No less than George Washington owned a 1/12 share in the venture. This resulted in George Washington Ditch, probably the least memorable features honoring him. A national capital memorialized his name. An entire state honored him. Then there was this ditch in a swamp. I’m sure his wife wouldn’t think too highly of nearby South Martha Washington Ditch either.

Today the canal provides a link in the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway, giving safe passage to small vessels moving up and down the Atlantic coast.


Longest Canal


The Grand Canal
The Grand Canal. Photo by Lawrence Siu on Flickr (cc)

China’s Grand Canal (map) garnered two superlatives. No other canal extended farther and no other canal operated longer. This ancient canal stretched 1,115 miles (1,794 kilometres) and has been used continuously since the Sixth Century. UNESCO recognized the Grand Canal as a World Heritage Site, noting,

It formed the backbone of the Empire’s inland communication system, transporting grain and strategic raw materials, and supplying rice to feed the population… linking five of the most important river basins in China, including the Yellow River and the Yangtze.

The Grand Canal continues to serve a vital purpose in the Chinese economy today more than 1,500 years after its construction.


Busiest Canal


Panama Canal
Panama Canal. Photo by MT_bulli on Flickr (cc)

Scientists used Global Positioning Satellite data to track more than 16,000 ships a few years ago. They hoped to determine the busiest ports in the world empirically, and their results pointed to the Panama Canal (map) first and the Suez Canal next. I supposed gross tonnage served as a nice proxy for busiest canal too. That distinction will only increase with the Panama Canal Expansion project that "will double the Canal’s capacity."


Newest Canal


Millenium Ribble Link, Preston
Millenium Ribble Link. Photo by Chris Hills on Flickr (cc)

While the canal building era seemed to reach its peak in the Nineteenth Century, new canals continue to be built even now. I couldn’t be sure which one might be the newest worldwide although I found an answer for the United Kingdom. The Millennium Ribble Link canal located outside of Preston, England opened in 2002 (map). That was almost a century after the next younger UK canal opened. It stretched only five miles (8 km), connecting the Lancaster Canal to the River Ribble. However, the canal served no economic purpose other than tourism. It provided a few miles of pleasurable passage and, more importantly, added the formerly-isolated Lancaster Canal to the hundreds of miles in the larger English canal network.

Someday the newest canal might open in Nicaragua if its prospective builders ever get their act together.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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