Noble Layers

Washington State provided a nice example of presidential layering down to a county, a community and ultimately to a body of water. I couldn’t find any better example. However, I wondered whether I might be able to do something similar on a different tack. Many eastern states reflected another set of leaders, the noble men and women who ruled the mother homeland as the North American colonies arose.

Potentially, it might be an easier investigation too. Several states gained their names from nobility. These included Delaware (Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr), Georgia (King George II), Louisiana (Louis XIV of France), Maryland (Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I), New York (Duke of York, later King James II of England), Virginia (Elizabeth I of England, the Virgin Queen) and West Virginia (also Elizabeth I). I checked them all. The best example I could find came from the Carolinas, from North Carolina specifically (map).

North Carolina

North Carolina State Capitol
North Carolina State Capitol. Photo by Bill Dickinson on Flickr (cc)

North and South Carolina derived their names from the same monarch, King Charles II. I consulted one of my favorite sources, the Online Etymology Dictionary. It explained that the name Charles began as Karl in Middle High German, meaning "man" or "husband." In Medieval Latin this became Carolus, then Charles in French and then English adopted it. Early explorers and settlers used the Medieval Latin variant when naming the Carolina colonies.

Mecklenburg County

Mecklenburg County Court House
Mecklenburg County Court House. Photo by Jimmy Emerson, DVM on Flickr (cc)

Naturally, noble names extended downward to the county level although not necessarily in recognition of a reigning monarch. North Carolina’s Mecklenburg County (map) offered an excellent example. This county grew in importance in recent decades as a financial and banking center, recently achieving a population of more than a million residents. However it began humbly on the Piedmont frontier, carved from an earlier existing county. Mecklenburg recognized Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz who married King George III just before the county formed.

Charlotte seemed an odd choice as a wife for one of the most powerful men in the world. She came from a minor German duchy far removed from Europe’s powerful families and she spoke no English. Royal Central explained,

As a young woman, Charlotte received a very meager education, and what few opinions she had, she kept to herself. This quality of hers appealed to the young King George III, who desired a wife who had no experience of power politics and party intrigue.

George III married his German fiancée site unseen. She undertook the journey from her home duchy and the marriage took place six hours after she arrived at St. James’s Palace in London. That’s how they did things in royal circles back in the day with those arranged marriages. It was more important for George to start expanding his royal lineage than worry about niceties like getting to know his prospective bride. Apparently they got to know each other pretty well because Charlotte bore fifteen little princes and princesses.


Charlotte skyline
Charlotte skyline. Photo by James Willamor on Flickr (cc)

I cheated a little. I already understood that the city of Charlotte (map) in Mecklenburg County also got its name from Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. That little peculiarity served as a minor footnote in an earlier Twelve Mile Circle article, Ten Seats in North Carolina. A better example would avoid repetition, however I didn’t find any of those. Maybe someone in the audience can enlighten us with a different set of layering.

It surprised me that the places named Charlotte and Mecklenburg survived the Revolutionary War. The county formed in 1762 and the city in 1768, just a few years before the United States declared its independence. The Revolutionaries hated King George III and everything he represented. They had a perfect opportunity to dump his wife’s name and yet it persisted.

Albemarle Road

Albemarle Road

Then I started stretching the layers, maybe past their natural breaking points on North Carolina’s Highway 27. NC 27 "has had a tumultuous history through Charlotte. It has always served as a major east–west route through the city, but it has been rerouted numerous times on different city streets as traffic patterns changed." Since 1924, the route included Albemarle Road. Various Dukes and Earls of Albemarle existed as a peerage of England and the name reflected in several places on the colonial landscape.

The most significant usage in North Carolina happened on the body of water separating its string of barrier islands from the mainland. It became Albemarle Sound. This recognized George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle. I found no evidence although I suspected Albemarle Road derived its name from Albemarle Sound. Even if it didn’t it must have come somehow from the extended family of Albemarle nobility. An odd name like Albemarle wouldn’t crop up completely by chance.

Albemarle Road Park & Recreation Center

Albemarle Road Playground

I carried the layering ever more tenuously to the Albemarle Road Playground. It seemed to be a nice place. The city of Charlotte described it as 21 acres of "picnic shelter, playground, recreation center and multi-purpose field." However, I noticed it didn’t abut Albemarle Road. On the other hand it did seem contiguous with Albemarle Road Elementary School and Albemarle Road Middle School. They sat at the end of an access road that did in fact connect to Albemarle Road.

Thus, North Carolina contained a county of Mecklenburg with a city of Charlotte bisected by Albemarle Road featuring an Albemarle School complex and a playground.

Can anyone do better? I didn’t check Canadian provinces. That could be a possibility.

By George

What were the odds of seeing Twelve Mile Circle visitors from George, South Africa and George, Washington, USA on the same day? I found the coincidence fascinating. The city of George in Washington was, of course, named for George Washington. That other George in South Africa’s Western Cape Province, I suspected, must have been named for one of the several King Georges who ruled Great Britain. Which one though? There were six such kings over a span of more than two centuries. That led me to wonder if I could find a geographic place named for each one of them. I uncovered more than I expected so I had to split the topic into two articles. This post will cover George I, II and III. The next one will discuss George IV, V and VI.

George I (reigned 1714-1727)

King George County Court House
King George County Court House by Jimmy Emerson, DVM on Flickr (cc)

George didn’t become King until he was well into his 50’s upon the death of Queen Anne. He’d been born in Hanover and spent his time as Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg growing up. There were numerous members of the extended royal family more closely related to Anne that George, however they were all Catholic so they didn’t qualify to succeed her. Being of Protestant faith, the throne came to George, the first king of the House of Hanover. His age pretty much guaranteed that he wouldn’t reign long and it limited the opportunity for places to be named in his honor.

A section of Richmond County in Virginia (referenced in Not the City) became King George County (map) in 1720. The county website confirmed that it was named for George I. That would make sense because its founding happened right in the middle of his reign.

Not much happened in King George County although a future President of the United States, James Madison was born there in 1751. That was impressive although I discovered another person born in the county that interested me even more, a man with the unusual nickname William "Extra Billy" Smith. He had quite a distinguished career, serving in the United States Congress, the Confederate State Congress, the Governor of Virginia both for the United States and for the Confederacy, and as a Major General in the Confederate Army. He tried his luck in California during the Gold Rush and he operated a postal service that ran from Virginia to Georgia. The postal operation earned him his unusual nickname. It seemed that he created a bunch of unnecessary side routes to collect additional fees. Friends and foes alike began to call him "Extra Billy" after authorities discovered his scheme, a name that followed him for life.

I noticed that there’s an Extra Billy’s Smokehouse and Brewery in Midlothian, Virginia. I’ll have to put that on my list of places to visit.

George II (reigned 1727-1760)

Welcome to Georgia
Welcome to Georgia by Paul Hamilton on Flickr (cc)

Next came George II, son of George I, who ruled for a much longer period. A longer reign equaled more opportunities for places named for him, and that’s exactly what I found. The state of Georgia (map) in the United States may have been the most significant. James Oglethorpe founded the Georgia colony in 1733 under a royal charter issued by George II, and it was always a good idea to flatter one’s patron. A beautiful lake in the Adirondacks of New York, sometimes called the Queen of American Lakes, also took his name: Lake George (map). The lake got its name during the era of the French and Indian War when Sir William Johnson occupied the territory and won the Battle of Lake George. The Georgetown neighborhood (map) of Washington, DC, however, may or may may not have been named for George II. It’s founding certainly dated to his reign. Nonetheless the founders and primary land owners were George Beall and George Gordon so those could have inspired the named too.

George II also had a war named for him: King George’s War, (1744–48), the North American campaign of the War of the Austrian Succession.

George III (reigned 1760-1820)

Suite Balcony at Hyatt Regency Oubaii - George, South Africa
Hyatt Regency Oubaii – George, South Africa by TravelingOtter on Flickr (cc)

George II’s son Frederick died before him so the succession went to his grandson, George III who was only 22 years old. George III also lived a very long time. He reigned for nearly sixty years so his name got affixed to lots of places although few of them existed in the United States. He was viewed as an oppressor when the nation fought for its independence so his name may have been expunged. I couldn’t find a single instance although I’m sure some must have survived somewhere.

Elsewhere, however, his named flourished in places across the British Empire. George, the South African city referenced previously was a shining example. George became quite a lovely tourist destination in the Garden Route, wedged between the Outeniqua Mountains and the Indian Ocean. More unlikely was George Town (map), the capital city of the state of Penang in Malaysia. The naming traced to Captain Francis Light who founded a settlement there in 1786 on behalf of the British East India Company.

Other places named for George III included: George Town, Tasmania, Australia; South Georgia Island; Prince George, British Columbia, Canada; Georgetown, Guyana, and undoubtedly many other places too numerous to mention.

Bowling Greener

I work from my home most days and I have an IP Phone on my laptop that communicates with our Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) system back at our physical office. Anyway the telephone rang — well I’m not sure those are even the right words anymore; let me try again — so the laptop opened a popup screen in front of me displaying the ANI of an unfamiliar NPA-NXX. Alright, once more using English this time: so the Caller ID displayed an unfamiliar telephone area code and exchange.

Just scratch that whole first paragraph. I got a phone call from someone in Bowling Green, Virginia. "Gee," I thought, "I wonder if the place was named for an actual bowling green." It appears that it was although it took me awhile to meander back to the point.

Admittedly I knew very little about the sport of Bowls or Lawn Bowls other than it had an ancient origin. In its modern incarnation, it involves players rolling balls towards a smaller ball called the "jack." Each ball from a player (or team) placed closer to the jack than all balls from another player receives a point. It gets considerably more complicated from there although that’s the essence. Bowls has little similarity to bowling in a bowling alley except they both involve rolling a ball with precision. However, the only salient point that 12MC readers need to remember for the moment is that bowls has been played traditionally on a "green," a designated area of closely-cropped grass.

My mind jumped to a recent trip to Kentucky where my path brought me close to another Bowling Green. It may be the largest and best known instance with a couple of hundred thousand residents in its larger metropolitan area. Where was its ancestral bowling green, though?

Bowling Green, Kentucky, USA

Bowling Green, Kentucky, USA

Bowling Green, Kentucky does not have a sanctioned bowling green today. Paradoxically the bowling green that provided inspiration may not have existed anywhere nearby at all. The city itself explained that the name came from "Bowling Green Square in New York City" as a result of events that took place there during the American Revolution.

Competing theories existed. Robert M. Rennick, a chairman of the Kentucky Geographic Names Committee offered alternate points of view in How Did Kentucky’s Bowling Green Get Its Name? (1997). He discussed and largely dismissed several explanations including a supposed nearby bowling green used by an early settler as well as the possible conveyance of name from other Bowling Green towns in Virginia and elsewhere. He concluded that, "in short, we really do not know how Bowling Green, Kentucky, got its name."

Fair enough.

Bowling Green Park, New York City, New York, USA

Built Manhattan 1733: Bowling Green by Michael Daddino on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

I decided to examine the story behind the New York City occurrence. Bowling Green Park had been a public property since 1686 and became the city’s first park in 1733, complete with a bowling green among its original amenities. The park still exists today at the southern tip of Manhattan and is the home of the famous Charging Bull statue often used by news media to represent Wall Street (street view). You’d probably recognize the image instantly. The Bull even has its own website.

A site I’ve enjoyed over the years, Forgotten New York, also noted that Bowling Green Park was the home of the Pietro Alberti monument. He wasn’t exactly a household name although he did hold the distinction of becoming the very first of probably millions of Italians to live in New York City. He arrived in 1635.

More germane to the story and with potential connections to Kentucky’s Bowling Green were events that took place immediately after the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence to residents of New York in 1776. Bowling Green Park had already become a lightning rod for discontent because of a large statue of King George III that had been erected there. Colonial rulers had to construct a cast-iron fence around the park perimeter to discourage vandalism — the same fence that circles the park today. Continental soldiers and local citizens stormed the park, pulled down the statue and destroyed it immediately. The story of their open defiance spread quickly throughout the colonies.

Bowling Green, Virginia, USA

Bowling Green Plantation, Bowling Green, Virginia, USA

Finally I returned to the Bowling Green that began this entire conversation, the one in Virginia. It’s the seat of government in Caroline County although the name predated the town, coming from the The Bowling Green plantation located nearby (map and photos). Major Thomas Hoomes donated land to form the town in 1803. The town then took the name of his estate, Bowling Green and his estate became the Old Mansion.

Hoomes’ plantation may have included a bowling green on the large lawn, a theory advanced in its National Register of Historic Places nomination form — it definitely had one of the first horse tracks in America so it didn’t lack for patrician flourishes — although the nomination did not include detailed source information. There was also a legend that it may have derived from something even earlier, Hoomes’ supposed ancestral home in England called Bolling Green.

The current (2012) owner of the Old Mansion added clarity,

My research of primary documents revealed the following: The property was named “The Bowling Green” — it was never named “Bolling Green.” There is no genealogical evidence that the Hoomes family even owned an ancestral home in England called “Bolling Green.” Architectural and landscape historians believe it was named “The Bowling Green” after the two-acre green sward in front of the manor house.

Now let’s roll the ball towards the jack.