Another Town Roundup

On October 29, 2017 · 1 Comments

I’ve collected unusual town names for awhile. They often came up as I researched Twelve Mile Circle articles or when I checked the daily log files. Generally they didn’t make those "weird names" lists found elsewhere on the Intertubes. I find them endlessly fascinating for some unknown reason. Then I make a note of them and promise to return. Occasionally I’ll post an article after I collect enough of them and I want to cut down my pile of unwritten topics.

Capitol Hill, Seattle, Washington


Downtown Seattle from Capitol Hill
Downtown Seattle from Capitol Hill. Photo by Matthew Rutledge on Flickr (cc)

Already on the very first entry I broke my rules for this article. Seattle’s Capitol Hill was a neighborhood not a town (map). Nonetheless, I wondered why Capitol Hill even existed as a name there. The Capitol Hill in another Washington came to mind, however, that one had an actual capitol on its hill. Nobody could claim the same for the Seattle version. Rather, the state capitol sat about sixty miles (100 kilometres) farther south in Olympia.

According to History Link, "the Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History," the name probably came from one of two (or both) alternatives. It happened in 1901, courtesy of a local land developer, James Moore. That was certain. By one theory he hoped to persuade the state government "to move its business from Olympia onto Prospect Street." By another, his wife came from Colorado and the name referenced Capitol Hill in Denver. The one in Denver, by the way, actually contained the state capitol. Sadly, Seattle’s Capitol Hill remained capitol-less.


Future City, Illinois


Future City Illinois
Future City Illinois. Photo by Joe on Flickr (cc)

I wanted to make a crack about Future City (map) not looking like it had much of a future. It looked completely desolate. Irony seemed cruel after I researched its history. Future City sat near the southern tip of Illinois, just north of Cairo and the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. African Americans founded it around the turn of the last century as a refuge from racism and lynchings in nearby Cairo. They created their own self-contained settlement and named it optimistically. It promised a better future. Several hundred people lived there a century ago. Now, only a handful remained.

I visited that river confluence a few years ago. It floods, a lot. Naturally, Future City flooded regularly even as early as the disastrous floods of 1912 and 1913. Three times the town needed to be rebuilt from scratch. Meanwhile, nearby Cairo went into a long, slow economic decline. River traffic decreased as rails and roads rose, and its geographic placement became increasingly irrelevant. People in Future City depended on jobs in Cairo so their dream declined with it.


Layman, Ohio



Layman, Ohio

Little Layman, Ohio barely qualified as a settlement, much less a town. Even so I liked the name so it made the list. The dictionary definition explained why. A layman is a "a person who does not belong to a particular profession or who is not expert in some field." What a lousy name, I thought. It implied nobody in town could do much of anything. There sat Layman at Tick Ridge Road with nothing but laymen living there. Actually, it appeared to be named for a 19th Century local newspaper editor, Amos Layman. That wasn’t nearly as much fun.


Bowbells, North Dakota


St Mary le Bow
St Mary le Bow. Photo on Flickr in the Public Domain

Doesn’t Bowbells sound a lot like Cowbells? I thought it did. Some random visitor from Bowbells (map) landed on the pages of 12MC. That in itself might be remarkable. Barely 300 people lived there at the last census. Nonetheless, it served as the seat of local government in Burke County. I saw small towns just like Bowbells with important government functions in many North Dakota counties during my Center of the Nation tour. So many settlements throughout the Great Plains suffered population declines in recent decades. Burke County itself dropped from about ten thousand residents to maybe two thousand since 1930.

That didn’t explain the name, though. A common source for names in these open spaces, the railroad companies, took care of that. As the city explained,

The city of Bowbells was founded in 1898 along the main line of the Soo Line Railroad and incorporated in 1906. The city was named by railroad officials after the famed Bow bells at St Mary-le-Bow in London, England.

Naturally I needed to tug that thread a little harder. So the town got its name from the bells of the church, St. Mary-le-Bow (map). I didn’t know about the "fame" of the famed church bells so I dug deeper. As the Daily Mail noted, "tradition dictates that only those born within earshot of the ‘Bow Bells’ can claim to be Cockneys." That still seemed like an odd name for a town in the middle of North Dakota. I couldn’t imagine waves of Cockneys rolling over the endless prairie.

Fire

On September 24, 2017 · 3 Comments

It seemed like wildfires burned all across the American West this summer, each one worse than the other. A fire in Montana burned so long and so intensely that many nearby towns experience perpetual nightfall for days. Amazingly, the fires of 2017 stripped an area as big as the state of Maryland. For the European audience, that equated to an area about the size of Belgium or Albania. All reduced to ashes.

Twelve Mile Circle featured a number of natural disasters previously (e.g., hurricanes, floods) so why not fire? I considered pinpointing the largest fires in recorded history. However I wanted something I could mark distinctly on my index map. Maybe I could shift my attention to famous city fires instead.

First I had to get this out of my system:



You know you wanted to see it. Or maybe that was just me. Fortunately it lasts only eight seconds.


Great Fire of London


The Monument
The Monument. Photo by Gabrielle Ludlow on Flickr (cc)

The Great Fire of London in 1666 may be the most well-known. It began in the bakery of Thomas Farriner/Farynor late at night. First it spread west and then north as winds shifted. Nearly all of the original medieval part of the city went up in flames. Firefighting techniques barely existed at the time and couldn’t contain it. The main defense involved fire breaks, literally removing anything combustible before flames arrived. However, officials didn’t move quickly enough to create breaks so the fire spread far-and-wide. Reputedly very few people died even though the fire covered a sizable portion of central London. That might have been because the city government didn’t keep good records of the poor and destitute. They may have simply been incinerated. The true death toll will never be known.

Anyone who studied English History of this time period probably remembered hearing about the fire in the diary of Samuel Pepys.

So I made myself ready presently, and walked to the Tower, and there got up upon one of the high places, Sir J. Robinson’s little son going up with me; and there I did see the houses at that end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side the end of the bridge…

The fire left an indelible impression. Five years later the city commissioned construction of a large Doric column near the site where the fire began on Pudding Lane. Christopher Wren designed the monument while he did the same for the reconstruction of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The column rose 62 metres (202 feet) upon completion and it still stands. Visitors can climb to the top of the Great Fire of London Monument for panoramic views of the city. (map)


Great Chicago Fire


Impact vs Chicago Fire
Impact vs Chicago Fire. Photo by abdallahh on Flickr (cc)

The most famous fire in the United States might be the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. According to popular legend — disproved long ago — the fire began when Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lamp. The disaster did indeed start near the O’Leary family’s barn on an alley behind DeKoven Street (map). However, nobody knew the true cause. The story of a clumsy cow sold a lot of newspapers so it stuck.

The fire created utter devastation in downtown Chicago, consuming more than three square miles of densely-populated neighborhoods. By the end, more than a hundred thousand people lost their homes and three hundred people lost their lives. The city’s business district laid in ruins. It might have been worse except for rain on the third day. The fire finally began to burn out as it approached more sparsely-settled areas farther away from the downtown core.

As in London, the people of Chicago created a lasting memorial near the site where the fire began. The Chicago remembrance took a much more practical turn. The city constructed a training facility for the Chicago Fire Academy on the site. Firefighters now learn how to combat blazes at the place where the city’s most horrific conflagration began.

Memories of the disaster remained strong even more than a century later. The local Major League Soccer team named itself the Chicago Fire.


Great Fire of Meireki


Meireki fire
Meireki fire via Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain

I’d never heard of the Great Fire of Meireki before I started researching this article although it certainly deserved a mention. Meireki referred to the Japanese imperial era when the fire took place, specifically its third year, 1657. That put it just a few years before the Great Fire of London. This one also brought a capital to its knees, the city of Edo, now known as Tokyo. Its legendary origin put the Chicago story to shame. Supposedly the blaze began when a priest attempted to burn a cursed kimono. Actually, nobody knew how it started although the spot traced to somewhere within the Hongo district (map).

Edo suffered through an extended drought leading up to the fire, leaving buildings tinderbox dry. Wooden homes clustered tightly along narrow streets became the perfect fuel. High winds that day fanned flames widely throughout the city. Up to seventy percent of the Edo burned before the fire finally subsided. Perhaps a hundred thousand people died.

Heartland, Part 6 (Americana)

On June 25, 2017 · 1 Comments

All things must come to an end and eventually the Heartland adventure approached its natural conclusion. I enjoyed my brief sojourn through the American Midwest, captured some new counties, ran a few races, viewed some sand dunes and canyons, and drove through more miles of farmland than I could count. I still had a few things to talk about though. They didn’t fit neatly into my other categories so I collected them here at the end.

Mid-America Windmill Museum


Mid-America Windmill Museum

I mentioned the lack of attractions in northern Indiana that led me to the East LaPorte Street Footbridge in Plymouth. My search also uncovered the Mid-America Windmill Museum. This prompted a stop in Kendallville (map), which the docent at the museum pronounced as Kendaville. The first set of double-l’s seemed optional.

I didn’t know quite what to expect. How fascinating could a bunch of antique water-pumping windmills be? Actually I rather enjoyed it. Premium models filled a restored barn. Others stood sentinel in a field behind the barn, whirling in the wind as they’d done on farms decades ago. It was both hypnotic and wonderful. Windmills manufactured by the Flint and Walling company dominated the collection. In fact, the museum preserved an example of every Flint and Walling model ever produced. This company started making its windmills in Kendallville in 1866 and sold them for nearly a century. Amazingly, the company still existed and celebrated its 150th anniversary recently. It anticipated the drop in demand for windmills and switched to electric pumps.


Speaking of Windmills


Heartland Marathon Series - Day 4

Two days later we came across another windmill, a more traditional version like ones seen in the Netherlands. I saw a different windmill called De Zwaan last year in Holland, Michigan — which made sense — after all, they called the city Holland. It seemed rather out of place in Fulton, Illinois. However, I learned afterwards that a lot of Dutch settlers came to Fulton in the latter half of the 19th Century. A windmill fit within that cultural heritage. By the way, just because I’ve seen a few windmills lately doesn’t mean I’ve found another object to count compulsively. I don’t need any more lists.

This one had a name too, De Immigrant. It differed from the windmill in Michigan because of its contemporary nature. While authentic, it wasn’t old at all, having been dedicated in 2000. Artisans crafted the windmill in the Netherlands and shipped it in pieces to Fulton. Then they assembled the windmill on-site, atop a levee overlooking the Mississippi River (map). De Immigrant ran exactly like a vintage windmill. Visitors could purchase flour ground by the windmill in a nearby visitors center.


Thriller!


Michael Jackson House

I try to visit at least one place mentioned in Twelve Mile Circle during every trip I take. One article, Where They Lived as Children, featured the home where Michael Jackson grew up. It fell directly along our route. I had to stop there.

Gary, Indiana might lag only behind Detroit for urban decay. The United States Steel Corporation founded Gary in 1906 as a home for its workers. Gary thrived for decades until the steel factories started closing in the 1960’s. Nearly 200,000 people lived there then. Only 75,000 people live there now. We drove into Gary and it looked like a disaster site, with abandoned buildings collapsed upon themselves, empty lots filled with weeds and trash, and car-rattling potholes on terribly rutted roads. Even so, it seemed perfectly safe to stop at Michael Jackson childhood home and pay my respects. I couldn’t imagine how the Jackson parents and their ten children fit into that tiny house (map).


Presidential



I noticed the Jackson house sat on Jackson Street. That seemed to be a fitting tribute, however it turned out to be just a coincidence. The Gary street grid aligned to Presidents of the United States in order of their administrations. This particular Jackson got its name from Andrew Jackson, not from Michael or any of the other musical Jacksons. Right around this same time I got an email from reader "Steve" curious about presidential street names so I took it as a good omen. He also wondered if any street had been named for Donald Trump yet. Oddly, I’d encountered a Trump Avenue in Canton, Ohio only a few days earlier even though I doubted it correlated directly to The Donald’s time as president. It seemed to predated his nascent Administration.


American Pickers


American Pickers

Do any 12MC readers watch American Pickers on the History Channel? The premise is pretty simple. Two guys drove around rural America from their home base in Le Claire, Iowa in search of antiques. They hunted through basements, barns, abandoned buildings, and any other place where valuables might be hiding within junk and debris. Gary, Indiana might be a good place to try. They haggled with owners over a price and hopefully got a few treasures to sell through their company, Antique Archaeology. I noticed we could get to Le Claire in about a half hour from Clinton, Iowa where we’d raced earlier that morning.

Those of you familiar with the show probably recognized the derelict Nash Statesman automobile and the shop behind it. Those appeared on the show fairly regularly. Of course we stopped for awhile (map); that’s how I got the photo. One thing surprised me. The magic of television made it seem like the shop must be located way outside of town all by itself, maybe surrounded by cornfields or something. That wasn’t the case. It sat right in the middle of Le Claire just a short block away from the main road. I could walk to a brewery, a distillery and at least a dozen shops in about two minutes from there.


Buffalo Bill


Buffalo Bill Cody

Le Claire included other surprises such as the Buffalo Bill Museum. I didn’t know that Buffalo Bill Cody hailed from Iowa. I figured he must have come from somewhere much further west. No, indeed, he came from Iowa. The museum included an exhibit on Buffalo Bill, as one would expect, although the largest space featured a ship called the Lone Star. This paddle-wheeled towboat operated under steam power on the Mississippi River for a century. The Coast Guard finally forced it out of service in 1968 when it couldn’t meet safety standards anymore. Fortunately preservationists managed to save the Lone Star and constructed an entire building to show it off.

Le Claire and surrounding Scott County thought highly of its most famous son. In addition to the museum, we visited the Buffalo Bill Homestead a few miles outside of town (map). He grew up there from the time of his birth in 1846 until about the age of seven.


Articles in the Heartland Series:

  1. Why, oh Why?
  2. How Not to See a City
  3. Foiled by Memorial Day
  4. Beyond Covered
  5. Not Just Farmland
  6. Americana

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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