A couple of earlier topics conglomerated conceptually in my mind to create my recent fascination with the U.S. state of Georgia’s Enigma. I discovered Enigma — it’s an actual town in Georgia that has about 1,200 residents — as I researched Shaped Like it Sounds (Street Edition). Enigma contained an Ell Street, which indeed resembled the letter L in certain orientations.
Ell Street, Enigma, Georgia, USA
I noted in that earlier article that "Ell was the most common Letter-Shape road" although I failed to mention the Enigma example intentionally. I was preoccupied by the notion of Enigma so I set the topic aside for further exploration. I didn’t want to spoil the surprise by drawing attention to it prematurely. Enigma reminded me of Colorado’s Paradox, another place with a puzzling name. Paradox had an interesting history. I imagined Enigma hid an equally compelling origin.
Georgia.gov explained, "Enigma earned its somewhat odd moniker when settlement founder John A. Ball quipped that he found it ‘a puzzle to name [the town] anyway.’" That wasn’t much to go on. Several other sources amplified the explanation by claiming that an earlier incarnation had been called Gunn-and-Weston. Townspeople didn’t consider that a suitable name for a village with potential. Residents proposed Lax and Enigma, and Georgia state officials endorsed Enigma. Lax already belonged to another town.
Enigma, Georgia 31749 by Jimmy Emerson on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
Thus, Enigma earned its name and it later incorporated as a formal town. It gained a wonderful circular boundary as was so delightfully common in Georgia at the time, through the Acts Passed by the General Assembly of Georgia – 1906
Sec 2. Be it further enacted by the aforesaid authority, That the corporate limits of said town of Enigma shall be as follows: One mile in a circle from the center of where the dirt road crosses the Atlantic Coast Line Railway Company in the town of Enigma in every direction therefrom.
Enigma looked to be one of those little towns that many people think of as stereotypically All American. Photographic evidence seemed to support that, such as the image linked above and from other sources such as Brian Brown’s Vanishing South Georgia. The mundane explanation behind the name left me wanting, though. Essentially, some guy in an off-hand remark a hundred-plus years ago noted that it was hard to name a town. That was about the extent of it. I guess residents were lucky he hadn’t suggested Stumped, Freeze Brain or Writer’s Block instead. So, Enigma it was and Enigma it remained.
With that mystery solved and with plenty of white space remaining to be filled in the article, I turned my attention to Enigma’s enigmas, of which there were plenty. Enigma had no shortage of perplexing situations. For instance, what about Miss Enigma Firecracker? I’d found an interesting twist on a beauty pageant where participants could dress only in "patriotic wear" with a 4th of July theme ("NO FLIPPERS, PAGEANT DRESSES, or HAIR PIECES"). This covered infants through adults, including any Miss who might actually be a Mrs., as long as she was not older than 25. Actually I guess it didn’t seem all that enigmatic other than the title, Miss Enigma Firecracker.
It’s a Street, Now It’s Not a Street
Stoner Circle, on the other hand, was genuinely strange. In conformance with its Urban Dictionary definition, the street seemed utterly dazed and confused. It appeared on several major online mapping applications but it disappeared on the ground when viewed through Google’s satellite mode. Go ahead and toggle back-and-forth from map to satellite. Somewhere a resident on Stoner Circle chuckles as he munches Cheetos, while everyone guided there by GPS wonders "hey dude, what happened to the street?"
Enigma Cemetery, Georgia, USA
via Google Street View, June 2013
Finally, why would a deaf child have to play in a cemetery?
And in case you were wondering…
The town of Lax didn’t exactly take off. I bet the name is available.
DeKalb felt like such an odd choice for a relatively common place name in the United States. I’d seen it a number of times in various widely-distributed locations over the years. I’d pondered its pronunciation which seemed to sound like dee-KAB with a silent L, most of the time. I’d wondered about its origin, which didn’t appear to align with settlement patterns since it was clearly neither English nor Native American. It was easy enough to learn the secret once I made an effort, leading towards an obscure chapter of the birth of the United States and its struggle for independence.
The Geographic Names Information System listed nearly two hundred DeKalb features or variations. That included six U.S. counties found in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Tennessee. It applied to at least eight cities or towns in Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia. Add to those examples a crazy number of municipalities, schools, streets, lakes and other features.
howderfamily.com photo: Stone Mountain is located in DeKalb Co.; commemorates a different war
DeKalb County, Georgia (map) might have been the most significant example of the phenomenon with nearly seven hundred thousand residents. DeKalb is largely a suburb of Atlanta, and forms a small portion of the eastern side of the city where it overlaps the county line. Anyone who has ever visited Stone Mountain (as I have) has been to DeKalb.
The largest city named DeKalb can be found in Illinois (map), with about fifty thousand residents, also located in a county of DeKalb so it earned double recognition. An agricultural company located here with the same name developed a brand of hybrid seeds and I can remember seeing its winged ear of corn logo (you know which one I mean) along rural roadsides when I was growing up in farm country. Monsanto purchased DeKalb Genetics in the 1980′s and continued the brand.
This simply underscores that one can find lots of features and things named DeKalb.
The preponderance and maybe every DeKalb place name in the United States derived directly from Johann von Robais, Baron de Kalb. Many students of U.S. history learned about Germans mercenaries — principally Hessians — who fought on the side of the British Empire during the American Revolutionary War. Lesser known were Germans with French connections that aided the Americans effort for independence. Johann Kalb fell into that latter camp. Consequently his surname spread throughout the eastern side of the nation following the conflict.
DeKalb statue by randomduck, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license
This de Kalb statue at the statehouse in Annapolis, Maryland looks great in Google Street View too.
Ethnic and Racial Minorities in the U.S. Military: An Encyclopedia provided some useful biographical insight. Born in Bavaria, Johann Kalb enlisted in a German unit of the French Army — the Loewendal German Regiment — under a French language variation, Jean de Kalb. That accounted for the partially French (de = of) and partially German (Kalb = calf) conglomeration of DeKalb that carried forward into numerous American locations.
Despite his humble farming pedigree, de Kalb rose through the ranks and distinguished himself in battle long before the American Revolution. He also married well. The source noted that "There is some confusion as to whether Kalb received his title ‘baron’ as a result of his military service or his marriage to one of the richest women in France." Either way, the French foreign minister asked de Kalb to come out of retirement and travel to the British colonies in America. His secret mission was to gauge colonial discontent with British rule in the years immediately prior to the Revolution. He didn’t learn much militarily although he returned to France with an affinity for the Americans.
The Marquis de La Fayette, a much more famous figure in the American Revolution, convinced de Kalb to come with him to the colonies to join the Continental Army as the war began. A whole lot more happened after that point so I’ll skip ahead to the end of the story. Major General de Kalb was commanding a division of Continental soldiers from Maryland and Delaware in 1780 at the Battle of Camden in South Carolina, when he died of wounds sustained in battle. The clash was a complete debacle for American forces:
The American losses were enormous, nearly 1000 men killed and 1000 captured, besides numerous transport and ammunitions confiscated. The British lost less than 350 men. For the Americans, this was the most disastrous battle of the Revolution.
Where de Kalb Fell, North of Camden, SC
The commanding American general, Horatio Gates, never took to the field again. Nonetheless, Continental troops under de Kalb fought valiantly despite the rout and their actions were held in high regard. The revolutionaries also regarded his death in battle from multiple gunshot and bayonet wounds as particularly heroic. This accounted for abundant monuments, memorials, streets, towns and counties all named in his honor during the early decades after independence. Paradoxically, only a few interpretive signs exist at the Camden battlefield today along with a stone marker where Baron de Kalb fell. It may be one of the largest, most significant battlefields in the United States still in its basic original condition, and completely unimproved other than a couple of acres with the signs and marker.
Barron de Kalb was once a well-known revered figure, now remembered principally through the hidden origins of places created as memorials.
I’m always on the lookout for unusual trivia so something stuck in my mind a couple of years ago when I learned about the Augusta Canal, logically located in Augusta, Georgia. The claim, well it took a variety of forms so I put it on the discard pile for awhile before finally returning to it recently.
- Maybe, "the only canal in the world still used for its original purpose of providing power to textile mills."
- Perhaps, "One of the only intact, functioning American 19th century industrial power canal systems."
- Perchance, "the nation’s only industrial power canal still in use for its original purpose."
It was definitely remarkable and noteworthy although I felt I needed to try to verify that claim, although nobody seemed to agree on what it was exactly. I discarded the national and worldwide assertions — invariably those kinds of statements trend towards hyperbole and an enterprising 12MC reader would prove them wrong soon enough — and focused on whether the Augusta Canal retained its original purpose.
Simple enough. So what was the original purpose? Again I ran into much of the same silliness. Most sources specified industrial power although others threw in a secondary purpose, a source of drinking water, or even a tertiary purpose, transportation. Talk about hedging one’s bets. At the logical extreme it meant that as long as anyone continued to use the canal for power, water or boating, the canal could still be claimed to serve its original function. I took a strong position and stuck with power production. Did the Augusta Canal still provide power for industrial purposes? That should be a simple yes or no.
I rewound the clock and reviewed the Augusta Canal History page provided by the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area. To summarize, the canal began in 1845 along the fall line of the Savannah River, an excellent location because the elevation drop could be harnessed for hydro-mechanical power using water wheels and such. Factories soon followed. It became one of the few industrial areas located in the southern U.S. before the outbreak of the Civil War, and a natural choice for secessionists to construct the Confederate Powderworks, their gunpowder factory. Augusta survived the war better than most Georgia cities and boomed during Reconstruction, with a string of textile mills and ironworks. The latter half of the 20th Century wasn’t kind to this type of industrialization in Augusta or elsewhere in the United States. The mills began to close, one by one.
That background data helped. I simply needed to find an intact mill or factory still powered by the canal. It didn’t sound promising, though.
Enterprise Mill by AugustaGALiving, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
The Enterprise Mill and Granite Mill ceased operations in 1983. Since then it became, in real estate speak, "an extraordinary setting for working in commercial office space and living in residential lofts and apartments." It was reborn as an excellent example of urban renewal and repurposing after many years of decay and neglect. In addition to offices and apartments, the Enterprise Mill also provided a home for the Augusta Canal National Heritage Discovery Center.
Here’s the best part. The Discovery Center included a Hydropower Demonstration Turbine using canal water to create "hydro-mechanical power which drives the line shaft mounted on the ceiling. The paddle fan above the gift shop operates directly from the line shaft power." In one very small way, for a single ceiling fan in a gift shop in a former textile mill building, one could claim legitimately that the canal continued to provide its original purpose. Could I do better?
It was important to consider another historical fact. Power generated by the canal switched from hydro-mechanical to hydro-electric in the 1890′s.
Sibley and King Mills by Sir Mildred Pierce, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
Sibley Mill was another of the old historic structures, in this case constructed in 1882 and producing textiles until 2006. The chimney was a nonfunctional element by the way — it was an historic relic from the old Powderworks — which gave the property a distinctive appearance. Soon after its closure, the Augusta Canal Authority purchased the site with the intent of preserving and redeveloping it, as had been done successfully with the Enterprise Mill. The latest information I uncovered came from a local television station in (October 2013): apparently the structure could become the Mills Campus of Georgia Regents University.
More significantly for the purpose of my search, the Augusta Canal Authority continued to operate the hydropower unit at the Sibley Mill Site "for its own use and sells the surplus to the Georgia Power Company." The Authority used canal-generated electricity although it didn’t serve an industrial purpose, so could I find something better?
The King Mill sealed the deal. The J. P. King Mill started operating in 1883 and closed at the turn of the 21st Century. The Authority purchased the property and leased it to Standard Textile, which continues to operate the premise as a mill, as one can see clearly in Google Street View. Best of all, 50% of their electrical power comes from the canal and the rest from Georgia Power.
That was enough to convince me that the Augusta Canal has indeed maintained it’s original purpose, providing power to fuel industry since its inception in 1845.
Not Completely Unrelated
You said butt. Uh huh huh huh.
I discovered Butt Bridge. It crosses the historic Augusta Canal and was named for Archibald Willingham Butt, a passenger on the Titanic who did not survive. Recently I featured bridge sculptures and was pleased to observe that Butt Bridge had some impressive statuary as well (Street View).