I focused an inordinate amount of time and attention on Wikipedia’s List of U.S. State Nicknames as I wrote the Comparison Nicknames article. That wasn’t the original intent of the effort however, just an interesting byproduct somehow spinning into its own topic. I’d been working on something else, something finally revealed today. It all began when an obvious fact presented itself to me in a new way. There was a major road nearby that ran for about 25 miles from Arlington to Great Falls in Virginia named Old Dominion Drive. So what, I figured, my entire lifetime up until a few days ago. Then I recalled that Virginia’s nickname was the Old Dominion State. The connection should have been completely apparent to me years ago although I’d overlooked it somehow. I’ve never claimed to be the brightest kid in class.
That led me to wonder whether or not at least one street in every state incorporated its nickname. I needed to know every state nickname first and that led me to the list on Wikipedia, sparking the whole chain of events that brought us here today after the earlier tangent. Only two states didn’t have official nicknames, Alabama and Wisconsin. I called Dealer’s Choice for those and selected Heart of Dixie and the Badger State respectively, finding streets named for each of them without any trouble. It surprised me how quickly I discovered streets even for the most bizarre of nicknames such as Show Me Lane in Camdenton, Missouri (map).
Most were ridiculously easy and provided an abundance of choices. I selected one per state somewhat randomly because I didn’t want to add every occurrence to the map. I supposed I rationalized that as wanting to prevent cluttering although the real reason involved laziness. Fifty waypoints seemed enough. Better examples (e.g., longer, more significant roads) likely existed and 12MC readers should feel free to add their favorites in the comments if they feel their home state may have been slighted. Readers outside of the United States can play the game too. Good luck finding "The Land of Seed and Honey" Street in Saskatchewan, though.
The easiest might have been Delaware. How could I possibly mark every nicknamed street in Delaware? The state called itself the First State. As the state explained,
Delaware is known by this nickname due to the fact that on December 7, 1787, it became the first of the 13 original states to ratify the U.S. Constitution. "The First State" became the official State nickname on May 23, 2002 following a request by Mrs. Anabelle O’Malley’s First Grade Class at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School. Delaware Code Title 29 § 318
I was a bit surprised that it didn’t become the official nickname until 2002 although kudos to the kids at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School. However, this resulted in any 1st Street in Delaware sharing a commonality with the state nickname. There must have been hundreds of them. The only thing that might possibly have been worse would have been if Maine had called itself the Main State (it didn’t thank goodness, it selected the Pine Tree State instead). I took a more complicated route and found a few that represented the entire state nickname, for example an actual First State Boulevard in Wilmington (map).
Why Atlanta Sucks by treybunn2 on Flickr (cc)
Georgia presented an interesting situation as the Peach State. There were so many Peachtree Streets and variants in its capital city of Atlanta that it became a running joke years ago. By some estimates, there were at least 71 separate occurrences of Peachtree in the city. However, Georgia wasn’t the Peachtree State, it was the Peach State. Oddly enough, there were very few Peach Streets minus the tree although I did manage to find several and I even found one with the full name, Peach State Drive in the town of Adel (map).
Boston – Boston University: The Castle by Wally Gobetz on Flickr (cc)
Most of the states did not include a street with the full nickname, specifically dropping the "state" portion from the street name. Hawaii, as an example, had an Aloha Drive although no Aloha State Drive, and so on. Nonetheless, several did as noted previously for Delaware and Georgia. The best example may have been Massachusetts. The Bay State had a Bay State Road in Boston that actually traversed a significant place, the campus of Boston University (map). Most of the other examples were stubby little roads serving industrial parks, shopping centers or a few rural homes.
Last place in this friendly competition went to Wyoming. It was the Equality State, a nickname applied when Wyoming became a state in 1890 and was the first to allow women’s suffrage. I had no argument with that, it was a notable historic fact. However I couldn’t find a single Equality Street much less an Equality State Street, making Wyoming the the only state without a nicknamed street. There were several streets that aligned with its unofficial nickname though, the Cowboy State so I took some solace there.
At long last, and after years of gentle nudging, Steve from CTMQ finally created a County Counting map. He was up above 700 counties too. Great start!
A couple of articles featured Circleville, Ohio earlier this year, Square the Circle and Circleville Survived. I’d honed in on this otherwise nondescript town because anything with a circle was fair game for Twelve Mile Circle, and I actually discovered a few fascinating tidbits, confirming once again that geo-oddities existed everywhere. One such item included a remarkable trompe l’oeil mural of a nostalgic old-timey scene of what the town may have looked like a century ago. It had been commissioned to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Circleville’s Pumpkin Show
Circleville Ohio downtown Mural by excelglen, on Flickr (cc)
The artist was Eric Henn of Eric Henn Murals, and a Circleville native. I’d wanted to post an article about other Eric Henn artworks right away. That wouldn’t have been unprecedented, either. I’ve featured other artists of outdoor wonders such as The Visual Genius of Dave Oswald. Unfortunately, at the time, I couldn’t find enough photographs with the proper Creative Commons licensing to display them here. An article about artwork without images would have been a problem so I set the idea aside, revisited it from time-to-time, and just recently found enough examples to continue.
The Eric Henn portfolio focused on outdoor structures including buildings, petroleum storage tanks and water towers. I managed to find a representative sample and some additional background information for a few that piqued my interests.
Brick Arches Mural – Franklin, Ohio by J. Stephen Conn on Flickr (cc)
About 90 miles west of Circleville, in Franklin, Ohio, stood a great concentration of Eric Henn murals. Local residents were justifiably proud of them too, as noted by the local Convention & Visitors Bureau:
City of Murals Tour. Take a self-guided walking tour around the city of Franklin, Ohio for a day and you’ll understand why it’s called the "City of Murals." Ten beautiful murals depicting different scenes throughout the history of the city can be found all around town. The murals, most found on the exterior of buildings, were painted by nationally known local muralist Eric Henn, and include the only Ohio Bicentennial mural in the state that is not on a barn.
Apparently Mr. Henn relocated from Circleville to Franklin at some point in his life and went about creating murals in his new home town. The image I selected on the Huntington Bank Building (map and Street View) won some type of National Municipal Mural Award although I couldn’t find further information about it. Nontraditional outdoor artwork like this had an issue, however. Harsh weather will take a toll eventually and some of the Franklin murals were a little worse for wear although restoration efforts were underway.
Savannah Globe by Dizzy Girl on Flickr (cc)
It would probably be obvious to most 12MC readers that a globe mural would fascinate me the most. This portrait of earth applied to an old natural gas holding station in Savannah, Georgia replaced an earlier and less realistic version created by another artist that had fallen into disrepair (map).
Once dubbed the largest world in the world — 60 feet in diameter — the globe was operable until the 1970s. By then, a well-known part of Savannah’s geography, the globe was maintained by the gas company until the early 90s. When A to Z Coating bought the rusting structure, it asked businesses to help it get the planet back in shape. More than a year later, the time has finally come…
Eric Henn Murals was commissioned to paint the globe in its new form in 1999. A minor controversy ensued when the image included a hurricane just off of the coast of Savannah. I would have thought the controversy might have been related to the application of a potentially catastrophic storm about to slam into the city. No, apparently that wasn’t a problem. Rather the hurricane had been painted as rotating in the wrong direction, as if it were moving out to sea. A quick touch-up resolved the situation and the storm charted a course to Savannah. The storm, incidentally, can be seen quite clearly on Street View.
Mt. Jackson, Virginia has an apple basket water tower by Andrew Wiseman on Flickr (cc)
I hate driving on Interstate 81 in Virginia — HATE it — with frequent hills that bunch up intense truck traffic. It’s probably second only to Interstate 95 on my list of evil roads to avoid unless absolutely necessary. However, I know I’m just about done with the horrible experience when I pass the apple basket water tower in Mount Jackson (map and Street View). The design made perfect sense. Apples have long been a fixture of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, with an annual Apple Blossom Festival and everything.
Originally the tower had been decorated with large vinyl stickers that started to decay after many years of exposure to the elements. Mt. Jackson hired Eric Henn Murals to replace the design with paint applied freestyle. The special paint cost $400 a gallon and was expected to last 30 years. He completed the effort in January 2015 after about three months of work. One of the local television stations had a nice video describing his efforts. Henn was also commissioned recently to restore the famous Gaffney Peachoid along Interstate 85 in South Carolina, perhaps the most iconic roadside water tower anywhere.
I enjoyed reading Wikipedia’s List of U.S. State Nicknames recently. My amusement didn’t come from the familiar nicknames I already knew, rather it derived from the nicknames I never knew existed. Alabama was the Lizard State? Really? Did anyone else know that? Then I noticed that several of the states featured nicknames that compared them to other geographic locations.
I went ahead and researched all of them because that’s what happens on a geo-oddity blog and apparently I didn’t have anything better to do. I have issues.
A few of the geographic nicknames seemed relatively plausible. Others seemed strange. Still others were so ancient and obscure that I’d guessed they hadn’t been uttered seriously in at least a century. Wikipedia should be embarrassed to print that last batch. They should be stricken.
Arizona: Italy of America
The Grand Canyon State would resonate as a valid nickname for Arizona for many readers while the Italy of America seemed to be a vastly inferior option. I didn’t really understand the comparison and neither did the major Intertubes search engines. I did find links to the Italian Association of Arizona and the Arizona American Italian Club although I didn’t think either of those would explain the nickname. I dug deeper and went into Google’s book search — a recurring theme for this article — and finally found an obscure reference. It came from a Report of the Governor of Arizona (1879):
These considerations of the sensible and shade temperature will account for the absence of any detrimental effect from the extreme heat of Arizona. It is the long period of hot days that becomes tiresome, but this is balanced by the delightful cool nights and enjoyable season from October to May, inclusive, during which no better climate can be found, and may be termed a veritable Italy of America.
Verdict: Retire the nickname.
Colorado: Switzerland of America
U.S. 550, Ouray, Colorado by Ken Lund via Flickr (cc)
Colorado was the Switzerland of America during the same basic era although the nickname found a little more traction. The expression faded over the years even though some sources still cited it, albeit as an anachronism. Smithsonian Magazine even published When Colorado Was (And in Many Ways Still Is) the Switzerland of America
Back in the 1870s, when American travelers imagined the West, they didn’t picture the desolate plains and cactus-strewn mesas so beloved by John Ford. They thought of somewhere far more sedate and manicured — a place, in fact, that looked surprisingly like Switzerland. For the restless city slickers of the Gilded Age, the dream destination was Colorado, where the high valleys of the Rocky Mountains, adorned with glacial lakes, meadows and forests as if by an artist’s hand, were reported to be the New World’s answer to the Alps. This unlikely connection with Europe’s most romantic landscape was first conjured in 1869 by a PR-savvy journalist named Samuel Bowles, whose guidebook to Colorado, The Switzerland of America extolled the natural delights of the territory…
The town of Ouray, Colorado (map) adopted the nickname and continues to use it.
Verdict: Ouray can continue to use it; retire it for the rest of the state.
Delaware: New Sweden
View New Sweden (Nya Sverige) in a larger map
I knew why this one existed. Twelve Mile Circle featured Delaware’s Swedish connection in an article called "New Sweden." I even created a map, reproduced above. The New Sweden colony functioned for decades during the Seventeen Century in northern parts of future Delaware and beyond.
Verdict: Accurate although I’m not sure anyone would commonly use the nickname today. I’ll defer to the opinion of 12MC’s Delaware readers.
Georgia: Empire State of the South
There were plenty of references that tied Georgia to the Empire State of the South, as exemplified by the New Georgia Encyclopedia Georgia History Overview: "By 1860 the "Empire State of the South," as an increasingly industrialized Georgia had come to be known, was the second-largest state in area east of the Mississippi River." The reference generally applied to the mid-Nineteenth Century. I can’t imagine anyone in Georgia or any other Southern state wanting to be compared to Yankees from the Empire State (New York) today.
Verdict: Retire the nickname.
Louisiana: Holland of America
I found plenty of information on the Holland America Cruise Line and precious little on Louisiana as a supposed Holland of America. It made some sense though. Both had extensive canals, dikes and levies designed to keep water from flooding their low-lying terrain. Finally I discovered an obscure reference from 1905, an article from the Meridional newspaper based in Abbeville, Louisiana that had been cataloged by the Library of Congress. I also found a few old books with similar references. The trail led back to the first quarter of the Twentieth Century.
Verdict: Retire the nickname.
Maryland: America in Miniature
I don’t live in Maryland although I’ve lived near Maryland’s border with Virginia for most of my life. I’d never heard anyone call it America in Miniature. Yet, I found numerous contemporary references to the nickname. This even included Maryland’s tourism website, Visit Maryland, on its Maryland Facts page: "Maryland has been called "America in Miniature" because so much is packed into its 10,460 square miles of land and water. You can find just about any kind of natural feature here, except a desert."
Verdict: I guess people still use it.
Minnesota: New England of the West
Numerous references existed, both outdated and contemporary. However, uniformly, they all pointed to a single period of Minnesota history circa 1850-1870. For example, the Library of Congress referenced Pioneering the Upper Midwest:
Early migration to Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota from the east came disproportionately from New England and New York. That pattern was mightily reinforced by the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, which funneled Yankees and ex-Yankees from New York into the southern portions of the Upper Midwest. Each state in turn for a time dubbed itself "the New England of the West."
I had ancestors who made that same journey, traveling from Maine to Wisconsin initially and then onward to Minnesota during its so-called New England of the West period. I found it interesting that the phrase also contained a double geographic reference, first to the New England region of the United States, and then farther back to England. That was a curious aside although it did nothing to legitimize the nickname for current usage.
Verdict: Retire the nickname.
New Mexico: New Andalusia
Using New Andalusia as a nickname for New Mexico held little water. I found a vague reference to New Andalusia being used an early name for New Mexico. That was back in 1583. Yes, 1583. There was a tiny Andalusia Court in Cloudcroft, New Mexico although I doubted there was any connection to the so-called nickname.
Verdict: Retire the nickname.