Article research doesn’t always go as smoothly or as cleanly as one might imagine. I fall headlong into rabbit holes, sometimes finding inspiration for future articles that continue the cycle. Rarely, however, do I find the sheer volume of factual oddities I encountered while investigating places "Outside of California." I supposed it was enough to create a nice entry for the ongoing series of Odds and Ends that appear sporadically on Twelve Mile Circle, however I decided to call it California Tangential to honor its source instead.
Hooray for Hollywood
California was notable for so many things although perhaps best known for Hollywood, at least from a worldwide cultural perspective. Appropriately, the California locality in southern Maryland referenced in the previous article practically abutted another settlement named Hollywood. Only 6.3 miles (10 kilometers) separated Hollywood from California. This happy juxtaposition was completely coincidental:
It was named in 1867, when a storeowner at Thompson’s General Store near the Uniontown section of Hollywood required a name for the post office inside the store. The storeowner was inspired by the gigantic holly tree planted in front of the store and named the post office Hollywood.
The Hollywood in Maryland (map) predated it’s California cousin by more than twenty years as well as the movie industry’s establishment on the west coast by nearly half a century. Still, it put a smile on my face to imagine the possibility of a Patuxent River Walk of Fame.
I found another bait-and-switch at the California neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio. It seemed strange that they select a name from the west coast. A later entrepreneur drew his inspiration from the opposite coast in an attempt to recreate New York’s Coney Island.
In time for the opening on June 21, 1886, the name was officially changed to "Ohio Grove, The Coney Island of the West" in an effort to link the park with the famous New York destination. Fortunate enough to be on a riverfront location, riverboat soon became the most popular method of transportation for park visitors. In 1887, "Ohio Grove" was completely dropped from the name as the park became known simply as "Coney Island."
The attraction still exists. However, just as California, Ohio fell short of its original namesake, so too did its Coney Island (map).
I’m too easily amused. I smirked when I spied Jackass Flat adjacent to California Gully in Victoria, Australia. Jackass Flat simply sounded silly because I lacked decorum and maturity. At least people elsewhere had the good sense to change their Jackass to something slightly more sensible. Pity the 224 people who lived in Jackass Flat. Still it could have been a lot worse as I was reminded by an 1860 book I uncovered, Two Years in Victoria
In our walk through the diggings, we could not help noting the names of places and signs as indications of the character of mind of the people who give such names — Jackass Flat, Donkey Gully, Dead horse Gully, Sheepshead Gully, Tinpot Gully, Job’s Gully, Poverty Gully, and Piccaninny Gullies without end. These however are not quite so bad as Murderer’s Flat and Chokem Gully.
I agreed that Murderer’s Flat would have been dreadful. Chokem Gully had a nice ring to it though, ignoring what it actually referenced.
I found a California Avenue in Chicago. Actually I’d known about the California station (map) on the Chicago Transit Authority’s Blue Line for many years because I’d passed it many times taking the train from O’Hare International Airport. I didn’t realize that the station was named for a street until now, though. Conversely there was a Chicago (actually several of them) in California. The most well known may have been Port Chicago, on Suisun Bay northeast of San Francisco (map). It was the site of the horrific "Port Chicago Disaster"
Port Chicago… was developed into a munitions facility when the Naval Ammunition Depot at Mare Island, California, could not fully supply the war effort. By the summer of 1944, expansion of the Port Chicago facility allowed for loading two ships at once around the clock. The Navy units assigned to the dangerous loading operations were generally segregated African-American units…. Approximately 320 workers were on or near the pier when, at 10:18 p.m., a series of massive explosions over several seconds destroyed everything and everyone in the vicinity.
These events exposed racial inequalities in the U.S. Navy although reforms took many more years. Port Chicago also no longer exists. The government declared eminent domain in 1968 and tore it down to create a safety buffer zone.
Back to the United Kingdom
I’d forgotten about an English California featured previously on 12MC in Wrong Side of the Atlantic. Then another California appeared in Ipswich (map) courtesy of a comment posted by reader Mark. He also provided a document link with much more information about the Ipswich California. That led me to examine the Gazetteer of British Place Names for more California locations. It included several; five in England and one in Scotland. I was surprised by the prevalence.
There was a town in Maryland I spotted named California. I’d known about it for awhile. It always seemed odd to have a town in one state named for another, especially one located an entire continent away. I figured there was a connection and further speculated that it had its roots in the California Gold Rush that captured the imagination of the nation in 1849 and thereafter.
First I needed to examine the etymology of California to understand if the name might have arisen independently. However, nobody was completely sure what influenced the original California name. Most sources tended to speculate that it derived from a romantic novel published in Spain in the early Sixteenth Century, "Las Sergas de Esplandián." The book described a fictional island found east of Asia. Early Spanish explorers, mistaking Mexico’s Baja Peninsula for an island, noticed a similarity and applied California both to the peninsula and to lands farther north. The theory seemed plausible although plenty of other ideas existed too.
The name spread throughout parts of the New World. However, I was interested specifically in places named because of the Gold Rush influence. Therefore I declined to examine places named California in Central and South America. Those would have likely traced back to the Spanish colonial era. I stuck to English-speaking areas.
I didn’t resolve the mystery in Maryland completely. Indeed, the California (map) in St. Mary’s County was named for the west coast state of the same name. However I never discovered what year that happened. I also learned that this once sleepy hamlet had been growing rapidly in recent years due to its proximity to adjacent Naval Air Station Patuxent River while also becoming popular with commuters to Washington, DC. It experienced an explosive 25% population growth in the previous decade, now approaching twelve thousand residents. That recent surge probably made it the largest U.S. California outside of the state of California.
This same general area made an appearance in Twelve Mile Circle about three years ago in Three Notches for an entirely different reason.
The California in Pennsylvania (map) sparked similar déjà vu. I knew I’d encountered the place previously. Sure enough, the university located in town — California University of Pennsylvania — appeared in a 12MC article called Résumé Bait and Switch a couple of years ago. I’d even speculated on the potential Gold Rush nature of its name. The conjecture was well founded since the borough of California confirmed it:
California Borough is a community of approximately 5200 people that covers nearly 13 square miles of land. California was founded in 1849 and incorporated as a Borough in 1853. It is named after the state of California because the town’s founding coincided with the California Gold Rush of 1849. Naming the town after the state was meant to symbolize our town’s future growth and prosperity.
The third largest non-California California seemed to be a town so named in Missouri (map). It also had the distinction of being the seat of local government for Moniteau County. This California was named for its west coast cousin although I’d have to call it a near-miss on the Gold Rush connection. It actually predated the Gold Rush by a couple of years.
California, county seat of Moniteau county, …was first called Boonsborough but by act January 25, 1847, changed to California. The new country on the Pacific Coast was just then attracting attention and the overland railroad was being agitated and during this agitation the name was given for the state of California
The name change may have had something to do with a Post Office issue; the original name already having been applied to another Missouri town.
Most of the other towns of California were nothing more than flyspecks. There was one former town however, now a neighborhood within Cincinnati, that seemed to have some significance (map). The village claimed a Gold Rush derivation, albeit indirectly.
In the year of the Gold Rush, three friends… shook off the desire to become gold miners and decided instead to make money in an "easier" way. Their idea was to lay off a town that would become one of the greatest industrial cities along the Ohio River… Unfortunately, their dreams were never fully realized and California was to remain a small rivertown until it was later annexed by Cincinnati in 1909.
California eventually packed a lot of activities within its tiny neighborhood boundaries including a golf course, a nature preserve and an amusement park. It was also the city of Cincinnati’s southernmost point.
I did discover a couple of California place names in English-speaking countries outside of the United States with potential Gold Rush connections. The larger was California Gulley (map), a suburb near Bendigo in Victoria, Australia. Bindigo was noted for its goldfield.
People came from across the world to seek their fortune in Bendigo in the mid to late 1800’s. Alluvial gold was discovered along the banks of the Bendigo Creek in 1851 and resulted in a major gold rush… In Christmas 1851 there were 800 people on the field and by the following June, 20,000 diggers had arrived in the alluvial field. Alluvial gold production was dominant in the first ten years of the field to 1860 and is estimated to account for up to four million ounces or almost one fifth of the total gold won from the Bendigo goldfield.
It didn’t seem surprising that an area on the outskirts of Bendigo came to be known as California Gully given the timing of the Bendigo Gold Rush, just a couple of years after the similar rush in the United States.
There was also a California in England, an area within Derby (map) in Derbyshire. The etymology was unclear although speculation existed that it may have had ties somehow to the California Gold Rush.
My search showed that many California place names did seem draw their influence from the state of California in the United States. Connections to the Gold Rush often existed, although not ubiquitously.
I enjoyed reading Wikipedia’s List of U.S. State Nicknames recently. My amusement didn’t come from the familiar nicknames I already knew, rather it derived from the nicknames I never knew existed. Alabama was the Lizard State? Really? Did anyone else know that? Then I noticed that several of the states featured nicknames that compared them to other geographic locations.
I went ahead and researched all of them because that’s what happens on a geo-oddity blog and apparently I didn’t have anything better to do. I have issues.
A few of the geographic nicknames seemed relatively plausible. Others seemed strange. Still others were so ancient and obscure that I’d guessed they hadn’t been uttered seriously in at least a century. Wikipedia should be embarrassed to print that last batch. They should be stricken.
Arizona: Italy of America
The Grand Canyon State would resonate as a valid nickname for Arizona for many readers while the Italy of America seemed to be a vastly inferior option. I didn’t really understand the comparison and neither did the major Intertubes search engines. I did find links to the Italian Association of Arizona and the Arizona American Italian Club although I didn’t think either of those would explain the nickname. I dug deeper and went into Google’s book search — a recurring theme for this article — and finally found an obscure reference. It came from a Report of the Governor of Arizona (1879):
These considerations of the sensible and shade temperature will account for the absence of any detrimental effect from the extreme heat of Arizona. It is the long period of hot days that becomes tiresome, but this is balanced by the delightful cool nights and enjoyable season from October to May, inclusive, during which no better climate can be found, and may be termed a veritable Italy of America.
Back in the 1870s, when American travelers imagined the West, they didn’t picture the desolate plains and cactus-strewn mesas so beloved by John Ford. They thought of somewhere far more sedate and manicured — a place, in fact, that looked surprisingly like Switzerland. For the restless city slickers of the Gilded Age, the dream destination was Colorado, where the high valleys of the Rocky Mountains, adorned with glacial lakes, meadows and forests as if by an artist’s hand, were reported to be the New World’s answer to the Alps. This unlikely connection with Europe’s most romantic landscape was first conjured in 1869 by a PR-savvy journalist named Samuel Bowles, whose guidebook to Colorado, The Switzerland of America extolled the natural delights of the territory…
The town of Ouray, Colorado (map) adopted the nickname and continues to use it.
Verdict: Ouray can continue to use it; retire it for the rest of the state.
I knew why this one existed. Twelve Mile Circle featured Delaware’s Swedish connection in an article called "New Sweden." I even created a map, reproduced above. The New Sweden colony functioned for decades during the Seventeen Century in northern parts of future Delaware and beyond.
Verdict: Accurate although I’m not sure anyone would commonly use the nickname today. I’ll defer to the opinion of 12MC’s Delaware readers.
Georgia: Empire State of the South
There were plenty of references that tied Georgia to the Empire State of the South, as exemplified by the New Georgia Encyclopedia Georgia History Overview: "By 1860 the "Empire State of the South," as an increasingly industrialized Georgia had come to be known, was the second-largest state in area east of the Mississippi River." The reference generally applied to the mid-Nineteenth Century. I can’t imagine anyone in Georgia or any other Southern state wanting to be compared to Yankees from the Empire State (New York) today.
Verdict: Retire the nickname.
Louisiana: Holland of America
I found plenty of information on the Holland America Cruise Line and precious little on Louisiana as a supposed Holland of America. It made some sense though. Both had extensive canals, dikes and levies designed to keep water from flooding their low-lying terrain. Finally I discovered an obscure reference from 1905, an article from the Meridional newspaper based in Abbeville, Louisiana that had been cataloged by the Library of Congress. I also found a few old books with similar references. The trail led back to the first quarter of the Twentieth Century.
Verdict: Retire the nickname.
Maryland: America in Miniature
I don’t live in Maryland although I’ve lived near Maryland’s border with Virginia for most of my life. I’d never heard anyone call it America in Miniature. Yet, I found numerous contemporary references to the nickname. This even included Maryland’s tourism website, Visit Maryland, on its Maryland Facts page: "Maryland has been called "America in Miniature" because so much is packed into its 10,460 square miles of land and water. You can find just about any kind of natural feature here, except a desert."
Verdict: I guess people still use it.
Minnesota: New England of the West
Numerous references existed, both outdated and contemporary. However, uniformly, they all pointed to a single period of Minnesota history circa 1850-1870. For example, the Library of Congress referenced Pioneering the Upper Midwest:
Early migration to Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota from the east came disproportionately from New England and New York. That pattern was mightily reinforced by the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, which funneled Yankees and ex-Yankees from New York into the southern portions of the Upper Midwest. Each state in turn for a time dubbed itself "the New England of the West."
I had ancestors who made that same journey, traveling from Maine to Wisconsin initially and then onward to Minnesota during its so-called New England of the West period. I found it interesting that the phrase also contained a double geographic reference, first to the New England region of the United States, and then farther back to England. That was a curious aside although it did nothing to legitimize the nickname for current usage.
Using New Andalusia as a nickname for New Mexico held little water. I found a vague reference to New Andalusia being used an early name for New Mexico. That was back in 1583. Yes, 1583. There was a tiny Andalusia Court in Cloudcroft, New Mexico although I doubted there was any connection to the so-called nickname.