First, a disclaimer. Twelve Mile Circle deals with geo-oddities, not politics. It doesn’t take sides. However, the timing of this post fell closest to the Presidential Inauguration and I thought it might be acceptable to poke a toe just up to the line in a nonpartisan fashion. Reader "Joe" sent me an idea, as he often does, and I decided to run with it. He referenced an article in his local newspaper about a town in a very conservative corner of Missouri that went by the name Liberal.
The story mentioned Liberal’s irony. As one resident proclaimed, "People are embarrassed… They are ashamed and don’t identify." I couldn’t determine how the town voted in the recent election, however the surrounding county (Barton) went for Donald Trump 84%. One might conclude somewhat reasonably that Liberal could actually be quite conservative, using modern euphemisms where liberal meant Democrat and conservative meant Republican. I decided to stick with that definition realizing that different interpretations could also be used.
Liberal began in 1880 as an atheist utopia founded by George Walser. He belonged to an organization called the Liberal League based in Lamar, Missouri about twenty miles to the east. This group fell within a larger philosophy of Freethinkers, who form "opinions about religion on the basis of reason, independently of tradition, authority, or established belief." Walser purchased two thousand acres and founded a town based upon his personal preferences. Christians then made it a mission to convert the town and eventually purchased land adjoining it. Apparently their strategy worked. Walser eventually converted and died a Christian.
Of course, I realized that there wasn’t necessarily a parallel between a particular word usage from the 1880’s and today. There are plenty of Christians who are Democrats and Republicans who are atheists, so word definitions evolve just as towns evolve.
Few signs of the failed experiment survived other than Darwin Street (map) — honoring Charles Darwin — and the name of the town itself.
12MC Visited Liberal, Kansas
I mentioned my visit to Liberal, Kansas when I replied to Joe’s suggestion. I went there a few years ago during my Dust Bowl Adventure. It included several sites like the Mid-America Air Museum, a giant book sculpture outside of the local library, and Kansas’ proxy for Dorothy’s House and the Land of Oz (map). I got to experience all three of them.
Was Liberal once liberal only to flip conservative like its Missouri namesake? It seemed to fit the definition of conservative today with 64% of Seward County going for Trump. I checked one popular search engine and came across an interesting discussion on that very topic. My favorite response was, "It’s like when you call a fat man ‘Slim’ or a bald man ‘Curly’. Yeah, ‘Liberal’ is like that!" I got that same perception when I visited there in person.
However this didn’t necessarily mean it was once "liberal." The town didn’t have a clearly-defined history. One local source said,
Mr. S.S. Rogers was the first homesteader in what would later become Liberal. Outside of the Cimarron River, water was very scarce in Southwestern Kansas and there was usually a charge for even a small amount; however Mr. Rogers always gave his water free to passing travelers. Quite often he would hear a reply of "that’s mighty Liberal of you" from the grateful recipients.
I wasn’t quite sure I believed that explanation although I didn’t find any hidden 19th Century atheist influences to compete with it either.
Not every Liberal settlement exhibited conservative tendencies in the modern era. The Liberal in Oregon (map) fell within the borders of Clackamas County. Clackamas went for Democrats in the last three Presidential elections, and five of the last seven. Hillary Clinton registered nearly 48% of votes in 2016, compared to 41% for Trump. This Liberal also had a murky history.
The exact origin of the name of the community is lost in the past. Some believe that it was named for Liberal, Missouri… However the prevailing belief, shared by many old-timers including the late Dee Wright, a local historian, was that is was named because of the liberal credit policies of the local store.
One more Liberal once thrived in Indiana, although no signs of it remained today. The county where it formerly existed (Spencer) went 66% for Trump. That made three Liberals conservative, and one Liberal at least leaning liberal.
I wondered if any towns went the other way, with conservative names applied to liberal enclaves. I didn’t find any. However, I recalled a local example where I knew that gradually changing political beliefs underwent a transition of that type. A specific recent incident drove the point home. The City of Alexandria, like much of the rest of Virginia, was once quite conservative. That hasn’t been the case in recent years. For instance, in September 2016 the city council voted to rename Jefferson Davis Highway. Jefferson Davis was once the President of the Confederacy and his name adorned many places in the Old South after the war. Times are changing in Alexandria, however. The city also wants to relocate it’s statue of a Confederate soldier, currently overlooking a prominent intersection (map), to someplace less conspicuous.
I freely admit to a bit of nervousness with this article after a bruising campaign fresh in everyone’s minds. 12MC is the only site where I read the comments anymore, where readers seem to actually respect the points of view of others. Let’s hope this article doesn’t devolve into splitting of hairs, wrangling over definitions, and hurtful words.
Twelve Mile Circle will now return to non-political topics. Maybe forever.
A random Twelve Mile Circle reader became an unwitting inspiration for this article simply because of where he or she lived. The little dot within Idaho on my Google Analytics dashboard mentioned State Line. That seemed too good to be true. I’ve done plenty of articles about border towns although I’d never noticed that one before. It sounded like a good excuse to peel things back a layer and take a closer look.
State Line didn’t cover much area and only 38 people lived there (map). It seemed an odd situation until I uncovered a bit of history in an old newspaper article. This creation sprang to life in 1947 and existed for a very specific reason. Quite simply, "the town was incorporated so it could sell liquor and have slot machines." End of story.
Those who incorporated the town leveraged the adjacent state border, just enough over the line to fall outside of the laws of Washington State. Residents of the region’s dominant city — Spokane, Washington — needed only a short drive to take advantage of the more liberal alcohol and gambling rules of Idaho. Apparently incorporated towns in Idaho had some legal leeway to provide these services so State Line filled that niche. The town didn’t have to worry about do-gooders interfering with its business either; it carefully corralled a sympathetic population. I’ve explored similar themes before, e.g., in Right Up to the Line.
A lot of separate sins packed into that tiny package, too. I drove down Seltice Way, the main road through State Line, vicariously using Google Street View. From the border heading into Idaho I noticed a smokeshop, a liquor store, several taverns including a biker bar, and a building with no windows advertising "Show Girls." I wonder what could possibly be going on inside there? This is a family-friendly website so I’ll leave it at that. I also found the residential area consisting of a small trailer park. Maybe the show girls lived there? If so then one of them visited 12MC and landed on the Thelma and Louise Route Map. Maybe someone was planning a weekend getaway?
Idaho didn’t contain the only town with that familiar name. Stateline existed in Nevada, too. I talked about that one briefly in the Loneliest Road in the USA and it appeared in reader comments from time-to-time as well. South Lake Tahoe, on the California side, seemed like the average ski resort town. A gondola led up to the slopes, part of the Heavenly Mountain Resort. Just down the street, however, marked Nevada. Five humongous casinos rose starkly from the pavement barely inches onto the Nevada side of the border. This grouping represented the same basic premise as its Idaho counterpart, bringing convenient "sinful" businesses closer to the masses.
A morbid geo-oddity of sorts existed in Stateline. The ski resort included trails on both sides of the border. Skiers crossed the state border on several of the runs. That was a worthwhile oddity by itself of course, although that wasn’t the morbid part. Something awful happened there in 1998. That’s when Sonny Bono, the lesser-known half of Sonny and Cher, slammed into a tree on the Orion slope (map). Bono died in Stateline on a border-crossing trail.
Stateline existed as one of thirteen townships in Sherman County, Kansas. The name went back historically to the 19th Century and simply represented its geographic placement next to Colorado. Stateline didn’t exist to entice people across the border and only 344 people lived there in the most recent Census. The township contained only one settlement of any size, Kanorado (map), the home of about half of Stateline’s residents. That still made it large enough to serve as Sherman County’s second largest town. My attention automatically focused on that spot because, as longtime readers know, I love a good portmanteau. The name combined and shortened Kansas and Colorado into Kanorado. It’s website noted that someone originally named it Lamborn. I preferred Kanorado. Excellent choice.
This one also existed in a bit of a geo-oddity. Only four counties recognized Kansas Mountain Time, including Sherman County. Of course that also included Stateline Township and the village of Kanorado. From my experience driving directly through there on Interstate 70 several years ago, I couldn’t determine why the area felt more aligned to Mountain Time. It seemed really remote, regardless. Either one should be fine. Nonetheless residents apparently felt otherwise and aligned chronologically with Colorado. Actually, as I thought about it more, Stateline should probably exist on the Colorado side instead. Colorado seemed to feature more sins than Kansas, particularly cannabis and perhaps alcohol too. The current Stateline alignment represented lost economic opportunities.
I found other State Lines and Statelines. For instance, check out State Line Pond in Connecticut. It also had its own website, believe it or not. From its description,
State Line Pond is an approximately 75 acre lake in Stafford Springs, Connecticut on the Massachusetts border at Monson, MA. The lake was formed when a stream running through a meadow was intentionally flooded approximately 150 years ago. For many years, the Stafford Ice House "harvested" ice by horse from the lake during the winter and delivered it to restaurants, homes and businesses as far away as Boston.
Even more obscure places existed in the form of State Line, Mississippi and State Line, Indiana. I couldn’t find much about either place other than their existence.
The Twelve Mile Circle "Complete Index Map" has enough entries on it now that my mind wandered to the spots not yet covered. These tended to be remote, empty places bereft of many people or dramatic topography. That would appear to be an accurate description of central Kansas in particular, seemingly flat as a pancake and lacking much of a population. Nonetheless I drilled down onto the map, spied Interstate 70 and saw a town called Hays. I wondered what might be there.
Actually there wasn’t much there although that didn’t surprise or bother me. Every spot has a story. Hays was the biggest town for miles around with more than twenty thousand residents so I figured I’d find something interesting. It also had a fairly sizable university with twelve thousand students making it quite the college town. Fort Hays University had a museum, The Sternberg Museum of Natural History, which featured numerous fossils from the time of dinosaurs all the way to the Ice Age. It seemed like a lot of these midsized towns of Middle America had fossil museums. I love that kind of stuff. I need to get out there and see a few.
Many readers probably figured from the name of the university that the town of Hays may have had a connection to Fort Hays. That assumption would be correct. It began as Fort Fletcher in 1865 to protect wagon trains. Soon thereafter government authorities renamed it Fort Hays and shifted its purpose, as part of an effort to protect the new railroads from attack by Native inhabitants as tracks began to crisscross the Great Plains. A town grew around the fort. The Fort Hays Historic Site now occupies the original site.
General Alexander Hays
Peeling back another layer of its etymological history, Fort Hays derived its name from General Alexander Hays. He displayed abundant courage during his distinguished military career in the Civil War until his death at the Battle of the Wilderness in central Virginia. Hays was the type of General who led from the front of his troops, within the thick of the battle. He suffered several wounds during various campaigns until his luck finally ran out in 1864. He was shot through the head, not quite yet forty-five years old.
Hays was largely forgotten by history despite his bravery, having been overshadowed by much more famous military commanders on both sides of the Civil War. Very little was named for Hays other than the small fort on an expanding frontier that later blossomed into a town. Other than that there were a couple of monuments placed on battlefields as memorials and one small bland suburban road named in his honor, and that was about it.
I noticed a town nearby to the east one level more obscure, called Wilson (map). It may be best known as the self-proclaimed “Czech Capital of Kansas.” I was amused by the title. How much Czech diaspora could be living in Kansas? It wasn’t like there would be an abundance of competition. Still, one needed to work with what had been granted in these remote places so Czech Capital of Kansas became its calling card. The story became more interesting as I checked into it. Apparently Czech immigrants arrived in Wilson from Bohemia in the 1870’s to help build the railroads. It must have been a welcoming place because they’ve remained in Wilson ever since. Residents even hold an annual Wilson After Harvest Czech Festival at the end of July (unfortunately 12MC just missed it this year; it was held July 23-25).
I couldn’t find the original Wilson who served as the namesake though. Clearly he was important person locally because Wilson was located in Wilson Township, which also had a Wilson Creek, Wilson Cemetery and an Old Wilson Cemetery.
I got an email recently from Vexillographer who had just completed a video about the Jeddito time zone anomaly on the Navajo reservation in Arizona. I had discussed this awhile ago in USA Time Zone Anomalies, Part I
Vexillographer actually visited the anomaly in person and made this video about his experiences. Do check it out — the time zone weirdness found there is amazing. It also includes a nice shout-out to 12MC at the end. Thanks Vexillographer!