The Geographic Names Information System listed 94 populated places in the United States called Rome. I figured maybe some should exist in other nations that created a bunch of new places around that same time period. Alas, I didn’t find any such places in Canada, South Africa, Australia or New Zealand. Why Rome seemed so popular in the U.S. (and only the U.S) remained a mystery. I still enjoyed a peek at some of the more engaging Romans of the New World.
Romulus and Remus in Rome Georgia. Photo by Lee LeFever on Flickr (cc)
Americans of European descent began to push into northwestern Georgia in the 1830’s, displacing native Cherokee. One group settled at the confluence of the Etowah and Oostanaula Rivers, at the beginning of the Coosa River. This would be a perfect spot to gather locally-grown cotton and move it downriver to Mobile Bay, to a port on the Gulf of Mexico. They needed a name. Five men placed their choices in a hat; Hamburg, Pittsburg, Warsaw, Hillsboro and Rome. Obviously someone pulled out Rome, and that’s the name that stuck starting in 1834. Rome had seven hills just like its more famous namesake in Italy. That seemed to be the only reason.
Rome suffered the effects of the Civil War like many Georgian towns. I decided to skip forward in time instead and focus on its odd fascist connection.
City officials placed the Capitolene Wolf nursing Romulus and Remus in front of City Hall (map). It faithfully replicated the original at the Pallazio Del Conservatori in Rome (map). That made sense.
Roman legend held that a wolf suckled the abandoned twins Romulus and Remus. As adults they quarreled about where to found a new city. Romulus killed Remus and named the new city after himself. The statue of the Capitolene Wolf commemorated what I’d guess might have been a happier time in their lives.
Officials in Georgia did not commission the statue. It came as a gift. The American Cotillion Company decided to build a rayon factory in the city. However, it didn’t do it all on its own. It formed a joint venture with an Italian company. The statue came courtesy of Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in 1929, arriving "as a forecast of prosperity and glory… from Ancient Rome to New Rome."
Rome removed the statue in 1940 and flew an American flag in its place during the Second World War. It didn’t reappear until 1952.
Rome, New York
Fort Stanwix. Photo by Anne White on Flickr (cc)
Rome also sprouted in New York in the mid-19th Century although its history of settlement went back a century earlier. The Jervis Public Library in Rome offered an interesting explanation for the name.
There are several theories as to how Rome, New York got its name; none of them are definitive… The name, "Rome," apparently first had been applied to the township to which the village belonged. The township was formed in 1796 from Steuben township, and named "Rome" as part of what is now called the Classical Naming Period, a time when upstate New York communities were being named after classical European cities. This type of naming was, for some reason, a popular trend at the time.
Once again I decided to skip a bunch of history and focus on a single narrow era. Rome existed for a very specific reason. It stood at the point of the Oneida Carry (aka the Great Carrying Place). Here, only a couple of miles separated the Atlantic watershed from the Great Lakes watershed. Traders and trappers used the portage as a way to connect the English colonies to a distant frontier hundreds of miles inland, deep within the North American continent. The St. Lawrence River — much farther north — wouldn’t be practical for merchants in New York City. Their emissaries paddled up the Hudson River to the Mohawk. There they portaged over the Oneida Carry to Wood Creek then paddled onward to Oneida Lake, the Oswego River and finally to the Great Lakes themselves.
European troops battled over this spot repeatedly. The English built Fort Stanwix (map) there to protect it during the French and Indian War. Britain and the new United States clashed at the Oneida Carry during the Revolutionary War, and Americans fortified it during the War of 1812. It became obsolete overnight during the canal era a couple of decades later. Rome became just another port along a canal and nobody needed a portage anymore.
New Rome, Ohio
Speed Trap. Photo by – POD – on Flickr (cc)
Why would I include New Rome, Ohio on this list (map)? It didn’t have the name recognition of the others and it didn’t even exist anymore. History at this location came much later, a brief period from its founding in 1947 to its dissolution in 2004. The village never covered more than a few blocks on a 12 acre footprint. Yet it held a dark secret.
It’s population fell from 111 in 1990 all the way down to 60 in the next census a decade later. People grew disgusted with the clan that controlled New Rome and the police force that relentlessly harassed residents and visitors alike. Car and Driver called it a Town Without Pity.
New Rome didn’t have much of a tax base although it straddled a major road for a quarter mile. There it created one of the most notorious speed traps in the nation, generating nearly $400,000 a year at its height. The speed limit dropped suddenly at the village border so police could catch "speeders." A stoplight gave them time to check everyone else for a laundry list of petty violations like dirty license plates. Nearly everyone in power was related by blood or by marriage and money collected had a habit of disappearing.
New Rome’s Demise
It got so bad that Ohio passed a narrowly-tailored law that allowed the dissolution of very small towns with few public services and repeated instances of malfeasance. As memorialized by New Rome Sucks,
The village of New Rome died abandoned and alone on September 9th, 2004. Born in 1947 it has been a source of corruption and abuse for many years and will never be missed. Funeral will be held on September 18th. The procession will start at 2:00pm in the old Kroger parking lot and will be lead by Jim Bussey and the New Rome Sucks Crew.
Thus came the fall of the inglorious New Roman Empire.
A number of years ago, Twelve Mile Circle featured ten county seats in North Carolina with the same name as a different county. The concept continued to fascinate me ever since even as I doubted I’d find anything quite so remarkable. Places kept making it onto my mental list over the years so I decided to feature a few of them.
Macon, Georgia isn’t in Macon County
Macon, Georgia, Neon Sign by tom spinker on Flickr (cc)
I’ve followed the still unresolved Bibb – Monroe border dispute for years. Most people who lived in Bibb County resided in the city of Macon, a name established at its founding in 1822. Nathaniel Macon served numerous terms in the United States Senate and House of Representatives from North Carolina. Consequently, places in several states bore his name even during his lifetime. That often happened to major politician during an era when the population expanded and created lots of new places. New settlements needed names. Macon died in 1837 and Georgia apparently felt it needed to honor him again. That’s when Georgia established Macon County (map), with its seat of government in Oglethorpe. Come to think of it, I found an Oglethorpe County in Georgia too, yet another example of the phenomenon.
Except the city of Macon just changed its name and somehow I missed it. Voters approved a referendum in 2012 to consolidate the city with the county. The merger happened in 2014, creating the conterminous Macon-Bibb County (map). They disincorporated the only other city in the county, Payne City. They deannexed portions of Macon that crossed the border into an adjacent county. Now an elected mayor and county commission govern the consolidated Macon-Bibb.
That left Georgia with both a Macon and a Macon-Bibb County. I’m sure that won’t cause any confusion. Of course not.
Hettinger, North Dakota isn’t in Hettinger County
Hettinger, North Dakota by Andrew Filer on Flickr (cc)
Confusion surrounded the whole Hettinger situation too. Counties in North Dakota formed rather late in U.S. history, crossing into the 20th Century. Hettinger County (map) dated its formation to 1883 although it remained unorganized for another couple of decades without a fully-functioning government. The name honored Mathias Hettinger, an Illinois banker who probably never set foot in North Dakota. His daughter Jennie married Erastus Appleman Williams who served in the North Dakota territorial legislature. That’s all it took to get a county named for someone back then.
North Dakota finally took action to make Hettinger a functional county in 1907. However, it split Hettinger into two portions. The upper half remained Hettinger County. The lower half became Adams County. Around that same time, a town in what would become Adams County blossomed along the path of the Milwaukee Road railroad’s new Pacific Expansion line. Residents decided to name it Hettinger(map), supposedly "by popular demand for the county from which this area was about to separate as a new county." That seemed like an odd development although I’ve seen stranger explanations for town names so let’s go with it.
Lake Itasca, Minnesota isn’t in Itasca County
My own photo from Walk Across the Mississippi River
Henry Schoolcraft created one of his made-up names to recognize the consensus source of the Mississippi River in 1832. He coined Itasca, by combining two Latin words, veritas meaning "truth," and caput meaning "head." He often liked to craft fake Native American words so he took the last four letters of veritas and the first two letters from caput, making Itasca. That Schoolcraft guy deserved credit creativity. Lake Itasca (map) gained quite a bit of recognition for its geographic significance.
Anyone looking at a map would quickly figure out that Itasca County, Minnesota did not overlap with Lake Itasca. In fact it sat nearly a hundred miles (160 km) to the east. How could that possibly be? Again, county structures formed quickly on the frontier during that period. Itasca County originally covered a lot more land when established in 1849. It stretched over a large portion of northeastern Minnesota. Government officials carved away at it repeatedly as it formed new counties and the chunk that retained the Itasca name (map) separated from the lake by quite a distance.
Jackson, Mississippi isn’t in Jackson County
Hinds County (MS) District 2 Courthouse by NatalieMaynor on Flickr (cc)
The capital city of Mississippi took its name from General (later President) Andrew Jackson, to honor his victory at the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. Jackson County did the same thing and for the same reason around the same time. Both fared well over the years. The city of Jackson flourished as the state capital. The county of Jackson grew to a population of nearly 150 thousand, a center of ship building and oil refineries on the Gulf Coast.
I shifted gears as I researched Hinds County, where most residents of the city of Jackson lived. Sure, Jackson fascinated me because of its extinct volcano. The Hinds co-county seat interested me more, at least today. Several counties in Mississippi had more than one county seat, a strange situation common to the state although quite rare elsewhere. Jackson claimed the state capital but it still shared the distinction of county seat with tiny Raymond (map) with barely 2,000 inhabitants.
Jackson and Raymond started out around the same time. Officials selected Raymond as one of the seats of government due to its prime location near the center of Hinds County. Jackson grew due to its status as a state capital. Raymond, well, Raymond didn’t do much. It still had a courthouse that continued to serve legal functions although it quickly became subordinate to Jackson.
Occasionally Twelve Mile Circle likes to feature lesser known architectural styles in articles such as Rock Cut, Pueblo Deco, Egyptian Rivival and Octagons. I came across another one I found both fascinating and rare that I wanted to share: Moorish Revival. This design became modestly popular during the second half of the Nineteenth Century and the first half of the Twentieth Century. Europeans and North Americans looked nostalgically upon Middle Eastern themes and it reflected in their architecture too. Onion domes, horseshoe arches and ornate design elements came from the Moors, a medieval Islamic culture from North Africa and Spain. Architects found the style particularly suitable for theaters, synagogues and the temples of fraternal organizations. I selected a single example from each category.
Georgian National Opera Theater
Tbilisi opera house. Photo by Henri Bergius on Flickr (cc)
Georgians always loved opera and long flocked to their magnificent theater in Tbilisi (map). The opera house first opened in 1851 at the beginning of the Moorish Revival although it underwent several stressful episodes during its history. It burned twice. It also survived Russian and Soviet occupations. It then nearly fell during Georgia’s 1991 civil war:
"One day a group of paramilitaries gunned down the front door, telling us they needed the opera for shelter," he remembers. "After the gunmen left we had no front door and a wall riddled with bullets. When we opened again after the fighting, I wanted to cover that wall in glass and put up a big sign saying: ‘This is not how you treat culture."
The opera house underwent an extensive multi-year renovation recently, reopening in January 2016.
Great Synagogue of Stockholm
Great Synagogue of Stockholm. Photo by Erin on Flickr (cc)
I wondered why so many of the notable synagogues built in the 1800’s adopted Moorish Revival designs. The Museum of the Jewish People provided an explanation.
The style of these synagogues, inspired from the oriental architecture, especially Moorish, was intended to evocate the glorious past of the Jewish people in the land of Israel and in medieval Spain, while the size and location of the synagogues in the city centers expressed the newly acquired legal status and social respectability of the Jewish community.
The Great Synagogue of Stockholm (map) offered an excellent case study. The building held 900 people at a time when "the entire Jewish community of Stockholm had less than two thousands members." The year of its completion, 1870, also coincided with the lifting of the last legal restriction placed on Sweden’s Jews.
Tripoli Shrine Temple
Milwaukee Tripoli Shrine Center. Photo by Nels Olsen on Flickr (cc)
Masonic organizations — branches of the Freemasons — came in many different forms and affiliations. The Shriners offshoot began in the 1870’s in New York City. This happened during a height of fascination with Middle Eastern themes.
Billy Florence had been on tour in France, and had been invited to a party given by an Arabian diplomat. The exotic style, flavors and music of the Arabian-themed party inspired him to suggest this as a theme for the new fraternity. Walter Fleming, a devoted fraternity brother, built on Fleming’s ideas and used his knowledge of fraternal ritual to transform the Arabian theme into the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (A.A.O.N.M.S.).
They adopted Moorish trappings, most famously the red fezzes they wore on their heads. Their logo also featured a scimitar and crescent. Their fraternal meeting places became Neo-Moorish monuments they called temples. The Tripoli Shrine Temple in Milwaukee, Wisconsin followed these principals upon its construction in 1928 (map). It attempted to emulate the Taj Mahal. Oddly while the Taj Mahal was Mughal not Moorish, I guess it was considered "close enough" to be lumped in with Neo-Moorish when adapted in the US.
Opa Locka City Hall. Photo by Adrian Salgado on Flickr (cc)
If 12MC had to pick a place that went most completely overboard with Moorish Revival themes, I would respectfully bestow the title upon Opa-locka, Florida (map). Glenn Curtiss, its founder, had already been a successful aviation pioneer and entrepreneur. He then developed several towns in Florida during the latter part of his career.
Curtiss’s interests were not restricted just to vehicles of transportation. In 1921, he essentially left the aviation business and moved to Florida to become a highly-successful land developer. With friends, he developed the Florida cities of Hialeah, Miami Springs, and Opa-Locka. Opa-Locka was intended to be his crowning achievement, a planned community resembling something from the Arabian Nights.
Curtis built his Opa-locka dream world north of Miami. It even reflected his passion in street names such as Sinbad Avenue, Caliph Street, Ali Baba Avenue and Aladdin Street. Municipal buildings, shopping centers and residences alike adopted a Neo-Moorish style unrivaled anywhere outside of the Middle East. They were all thoroughly Americanized of course. Oddly the name of the town itself came from its earlier Native American inhabitants, from a Seminole phrase meaning "a big island covered with many trees and swamps."
The city fell into a long, steady decline after an adjacent Naval Air Station closed in the 1950’s. NPR reported in June 2016 that the state took control of Opa-locka’s finances and targeted city officials for corruption investigations. Many of its residents lived in poverty in those Arabian Nights houses. What a shame.