Last Chance

Speaking of odd town names (we were just speaking of those, weren’t we?), what about Last Chance? Every place deserved a last chance, I supposed. The U.S. Geographic Names Information System listed more than three hundred of them. Many — no surprise — aligned with mining claims. Also they frequently referenced ditches, streams and gulches, probably running near those old mines. However that wasn’t always the case. A handful of populated places rose to the top of the list too. It took an unusual outlook on life, I figured, for someone to name a settlement Last Chance.

Last Chance, Colorado


Last Chance, CO (0)
Last Chance, CO. Photo by Michael Sauers on Flickr (cc).

Colorado’s Last Chance clung to life, just barely. It sat about 80 miles (130 kilometres) due east of Denver (map). Truly, a straight shot. Head straight north of Denver and hit Fort Collins, or straight south and hit Colorado Springs, or straight west and, well, hit a wall of mountains. Straight east should hit something more important than a hamlet on life support.

The original settlers of Last Chance probably felt the same way. Travelers driving through Colorado’s empty eastern plains to and from Denver took the straightest possible path during the early automotive period. Back then, Last Chance served as a literal last chance for motorists to refuel, grab a meal, or sleep in an actual bed anywhere between Denver and a vast nothingness. The town’s name became a marketing tool and a warning. Stop there or suffer the consequences.

The Ghost Town website summarized the rise and fall of Last Chance quite succinctly.

Last Chance was a town that grew up with the automobile and died when the interstate took the traffic south to I-70. It was a busy center for travelers in the 1940s and 1950s, and probably earlier than that.

Indeed, Interstate 70 heading east from Denver took a distinct southeastern curve about 30 miles (50 km) short of Last Chance before turning east again. Last Chance couldn’t survive that cruel routing.


Last Chance, Oklahoma


Last Chance Baptist Church
Last Chance Baptist Church
via Google Street View, July 2016

I couldn’t find any information about how the Last Chance in Oklahoma earned its name (map). The settlement seemed to simply vanish. It wouldn’t surprise me if the US Geological Survey dropped it from the database entirely someday. Only the Last Chance Baptist Church remained behind as a reminder. By the way, Last Chance might be the best church name ever. That choice positioned it perfectly as the final opportunity for redemption before banishment to the fiery pits of Hell. It gave sinners one last chance.

A post office didn’t exist in Last Chance as far as I could tell, if indeed one ever existed there. Addresses in Last Chance bore the postmark of nearby Okemah. Nothing much important happened in Last Chance although Okemah registered a minor brush with fame. Okemah had a famous native son, the legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie born there in 1912. An oil boom began around that time in the same general area, leading me to wonder if perhaps Last Chance got its name from the boom somehow?


Last Chance, Iowa



The Last Chance of Iowa fared about as well as its counterpart in Oklahoma. Here, the sole remaining sign of its existence was a cemetery. While I liked Last Chance as the name of a church I disliked it as a cemetery (map). A final resting place seemed to signify the end of any remaining chances. Last chance? More like no chance. At least I learned how it got its name, though. I found a website about cemeteries in Lucas County that offered a surprising amount of information. I was really impressed by the detail it presented about such an obscure location.

Last Chance is one of those Lucas County place names that, because of its oddity, generates stories. But the truth seems to be that its first storekeeper, William McDonald McHenry, named it offhandedly after it occurred to him that he was living in a place that didn’t yet have a name… he said, "Let’s call it Last Chance." And they called it so, more in a joke than in earnest…

Last Chance sat favorably along the Mormon Trail. Thousands of Mormon emigrants and many others walked the trail during the middle of the 19th Century. Some travelers moved their households without any pack animals, becoming a special category of Mormons called the Handcart Pioneers. Then the transcontinental railroad opened. Last Chance disappeared because of the railroads. The typical story prevailed. Railroads, long the lifeblood of small rural villages in the Heartland, all bypassed Last Chance. Decline later led to collapse.

I found additional Last Chance settlements in Idaho, California and North Carolina. However, even less information existed about any of them. It seemed that every Last Chance was down to its last chance if any of them ever had a chance at all.

Heartland, Part 6 (Americana)

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

Odds and Ends 13

Twelve Mile Circle occasionally features topics that don’t warrant an entire article. I collect these items in a spreadsheet and present them all together every once in awhile. However I hadn’t done one of those in awhile and the topics began to pile-up on my list. Odds and Ends 12 appeared all the way back in March 2016! That surprised me a little. I needed to do some spring cleaning so I hopped to it.


An Island Apart


Malabo
Malabo. Photo by Embassy of Equatorial Guinea on Flickr (cc)

The small African nation of Equatorial Guinea featured an odd geographic arrangement. Most of the nation occupied a rectangle of land bordering the western continental coastline. As well, it included an island quite a bit removed towards the northwest, directly off of the coast of Cameroon. Yet, Equatorial Guinea placed its capital on that island and not on the mainland. The island went by the name of Bioko and the city Malabo (map).

That arrangement existed as a relic of colonialism. Europeans first encountered this corner of Africa when Portuguese navigator Fernão do Pó landed on Bioko in 1472. That effort didn’t stick so Portugal traded the island to Spain in 1777. Spain didn’t do much with it either so the British came along and squatted on it in the 1820’s when they found nobody from Spain occupying it. Spain got around to reasserting sovereignty in 1844 and the island remained in Spanish control until Equatorial Guinea gained its independence in 1968. Malabo became the capital by default because it was the oldest and most developed city in the new nation.

Malobo won’t be the capital much longer, however. Equatorial Guinea plans a new capital deep within its mainland jungle interior. Construction began several years ago and government function started moving to the new city, Oyala (map), in February 2017. This completely planned community may someday hold up to two hundred thousand residents, nearly a quarter of the nation’s population. The BBC explained at least one motivation. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema survived several coup attempts and he wanted a more secure location. Oil revenues fund its construction.


What a Mistake


2007-09-10-16-08-59
Rainy Lake. Photo by d Wang on Flickr (cc)

An oddly named geographic feature appeared as I researched the Pub with No Beer. There, just to the northwest of Taylors Arm, I spotted Mistake State Forest (map). I never did find the mistake that led to its name. However, I did learn that it covered 5,638 hectares (~14,000 acres) managed by the Forestry Corporation of New South Wales. I think I made a mistake when I tried to investigate Mistake State Forest.

Fortunately I ran across something completely unexpected and infinitely more interesting. Minnesota’s Star Tribune covered a situation where an 80-year-old error in land records wiped out a popular state trail. Minnesota sold some surplus acreage to a private landowner near International Falls in 1935 and forgot to record its sale. "And the buyer, a prominent International Falls businessman, apparently lost track of the purchase amid all his wheeling and dealing." The spot subsequently became a popular recreational area (map) on Rainy Lake. It might have a generally happy ending though. The heirs seemed willing to gift much of the land back to the state, although retaining acreage with prime views.


A Literal Name


Colstrip Montana
Colstrip Montana. Photo by Spot Us on Flickr (cc)

I noticed that a user landed on 12MC from a remote corner of Montana, so I took a closer look. The spot said Colstrip (map), which I considered a rather strange name. Wouldn’t it be funny, I though, if the name came from an actual strip of coal. Well it did actually, as the city confirmed.

Colstrip was established by the Northern Pacific Railway in 1924 as a company town to provide coal for their steam locomotives. The mining is open pit strip mining, where draglines remove soil above the layer of bituminous coal from the Fort Union Formation.

The coal mining tradition continued to the present day, with the nearby Rosebud mine being one of the largest in the state. Later, a large power plant opened up nearby to generate electricity for a huge territory surrounding it. However, Colstrip residents face an uncertain future as pressures build on coal. Nearly everyone in town worked either at the mine or at the power plant. Meanwhile coal begins to fall out of favor. It probably won’t be worth renovating the plant to make it more efficient. It’s too outdated. The plant was built forty years ago and is now considered "the nation’s 15th-largest producer of greenhouse gases."


First Name, Last Name


Welcome to Clinton, Iowa
Welcome to Clinton, Iowa. Photo by J. Stephen Conn on Flickr (cc)

I discovered an additional example of First Name, Surname Symmetry recently. This one involved an historical figure named DeWitt Clinton. He dominated New York politics during the early part of the Nineteenth Century. His service included mayor of New York City and multiple terms as Governor. He nearly became President of the United States with a respectable showing against the eventual winner, James Madison. Clinton’s crowning achievement may have been his pivotal role in promoting and building the Erie Canal. This opened a vitally important trade route to the growing interior of the nation. This singular achievement led to dozens of places named in his honor throughout the American Midwest.

They must have really loved DeWitt Clinton in Iowa, though. The state (then a territory) named one of its counties Clinton in 1837 (map). However the county took it one step further. Two of the towns that formed within its boundaries became DeWitt and Clinton, located about 20 miles (32 kilometres) apart (map). That formed an excellent First Name, Surname Symmetry.

Some astute readers may have already figured out how I discovered this happy confluence, especially the people who follow my 12MC Twitter account. I was in Clinton, Iowa three days ago although I’m back home now. Take that as a little foreshadowing of articles soon to come.