Last Place in the United States

On July 10, 2016 · 1 Comments

I decided to wrap-up the series of "Last Places" with the United States, after previously exploring England, Asia and various members of the Commonwealth of Nations. The premise remained the same, to find the last places in the nation where something once happened or where anachronisms still remained.

The Last Arabbers

18 - Donald 'Manboy' Savoy
Donald 'Manboy' Savoy – a patriarch of the Arabbers by Cultural Documentation on Flickr (cc)

Men known as arabbers once commonly walked beside horse-drawn carts through city streets of the northeastern United States selling fresh fruits and vegetables. They shouted distinctive chants to identify themselves and their wares. Residents came outdoors when they heard items they wanted to buy. Many African American men pursued this entrepreneurial opportunity, a means of steady self-employment free from discrimination in the years after the Civil War. The practice gradually faded after the advent of motorized vehicles. Cities became increasingly hostile to horses and people switched their shopping allegiance to grocery stores. Arabbing disappeared everywhere except for tiny pockets of Baltimore, Maryland.

The term Arabbing seemed unusual. It derived from A-rab (pronounced Ay-Rab), which earned a special explanation from the Baltimore Sun when it described the practice in 2007. The etymology extended back to London in the mid-Nineteenth Century, referring to "a homeless little wanderer, a child of the street." In turn, that "likely reflects the sense of the nomadic life historically led by the peoples on the Arabian Peninsula." In other words it derived from a stereotype.

The profession could disappear soon even in Baltimore. Only a few arabber continued to exist. Animal rights activities derided the practice, lobbying Government officials to end the tradition in other cities such as Philadelphia and New York. Baltimore officials raided one of the last stables, the old South Carlton Street stables near Hollins Market (map) in 2015. All charges were dropped in March 2016 in a case described as "laughably weak." However by that time officials found replacement homes for all of the horses. The city effectively put the rightful owners out of business. Now arabbing in Baltimore hangs by the weakest of threads.

Last Place to Fly the Bourbon flag of France

Fort de Chartres Wall
Fort de Chartres Wall by henskechristine on Flickr (cc)

I struggled with this one. Did Fort de Chartres fly the Bourbon flag of France longer than anywhere else in territory later part of United States, as claimed? Maybe.

France controlled inland North America for much of the Eighteenth Century. This including a preponderance of the Mississippi River and its watershed. It established a series of forts along these waterways to enforce its domain. Fort de Chartres (map) on the east bank of the Mississippi in modern-day Illinois, played a central role. The initial fort dated to 1720. It washed away as did its replacement, a predictable fate for wooden structures built in a floodplain. The French decided on something more permanent after that. They rebuilt Fort de Chartres in thick limestone in 1753. This served as their main military outpost and government center for all of Upper Louisiana until 1765.

France and Britain battled in the Seven Years’ War during this period, a conflict called the French and Indian War in North America. Britain eventually won. The resulting 1763 Treaty of Paris forced France to cede all land east of the Mississippi to Britain and all land west of the Mississippi to Spain. It took another two years before British forces occupied Fort de Chartres.

Then the white banner of old France, with its royal fleur de lis, was drawn down from its staff, and in its place was displayed the red cross of St, George. Thus was ended the splendid dream of French conquest and dominion in North America. After the performance of this sad act, St. Ange took his departure by boat, with his little company of 30 officers and men, and proceeded up and across the Mississippi river to the new French trading post of St. Louis, which was then in Spanish territory.

Napoleon Bonaparte briefly claimed Louisiana from Spain before selling it to the fledgling United States in 1803. However Bonaparte did not fly the Bourbon flag so the assertion might be true.

The Last Indentured Servants

Haleakala Cane Fields
Haleakala Cane Fields by bradmcs on Fickr (cc)

Indentured servitude seemed like something out of the colonial era of American history. People received passage to the New World and in turn they agreed to work for someone for a number of years. The practice disappeared soon after the American Revolution. However, the United States annexed Hawaii in 1898. Hawaii had been an independent nation that allowed indentured servitude so the US had to abolish the practice again.

The Organic Act, bringing US law to bear in the newly-annexed Territory of Hawaii took effect 111 years ago–June 14, 1900. As a result, US laws prohibiting contracts of indentured servitude replaced the 1850 Masters and Servants Act which had been in effect under the Hawaiian Kingdom and Hawaii Republic. Tens of thousands of plantation laborers were freed from contract slavery by the Organic Act.

Sugar drove both freedom for indentured servants and a loss of sovereignty for the Hawaiian nation. Immigrants from the United States built large estates like the 1864 Grove Farm Sugar Plantation on Kauai, now a museum (map). These super-wealthy capitalists demanded more influence in Hawaiian politics. Their power came from the other side of the Pacific and they seized control. Ironically they also lost their cheap supply of Chinese and Japanese indentured servants once the United States took over.

Last Place Where Oysters are Harvested with Tongs from Small Boats

oyster shells in tong heads
oyster shells in tong heads by Southern Foodways Alliance on Flickr (cc)

Machinery changed many practices of people who made their living from the land or the sea. Oystermen generally abandoned traditional labor-intensive techniques in favor of motorized dredges once they became available. Only in Florida’s Apalachicola Bay did harvesters continue to scrape oysters from their beds using hand-powered tongs (map). The water was so shallow and the oysters so abundant that the traditional method actually allowed watermen to make a decent living. This reminded me of another anachronism, the skipjack sailors of Chesapeake Bay. They used small sailboats to harvest oysters. A quirk in Maryland law allowed them to harvest during times of the year that those using motorized boats could not, a means to prevent over-harvesting.

Last Stand

On June 15, 2016 · 4 Comments

I came across the escape route used by John Wilkes Booth in the immediate aftermath of the Abraham Lincoln assassination while I researched By George. Every student in the United States likely learned all about the assassination multiple times starting from elementary school and every year thereafter. Fewer probably knew much about the attempted escape. I confess to understanding no more than a few basic details of Booth’s brief flight from justice. Then I started to wonder if I could find the exact spot where Booth died, a rather macabre subject for sure, although certainly a legitimate topic for a geo-oddity blog.

John Wilkes Booth’s Foiled Escape

Garrett Farm
Garrett Farm on Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain

For example, I knew all about Ford’s Theater where Booth shot Lincoln. It’s still there, an active home to the performing arts, and I’ve been to it a bunch of times. I’d never heard of Richard H. Garrett’s farm, though. That’s where Booth died.

John Wilkes Booth fled south from the city into Maryland after he committed his horrendous crime. He stopped at Surratt’s Tavern for guns and supplies he’d stashed there earlier. Then he traveled to to the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd who set his broken leg. Mudd later went to prison for four years at remote Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas for doing that (I saw his jail cell!).

Booth then stayed with various Confederate sympathizers, hid in the woods, and crossed the Potomac River into Virginia. Eventually he found his way to Garrett’s farm. Garrett apparently had no idea who he was dealing with and in fact hadn’t even heard about Lincoln’s assassination. Lines of communication had been decimated in Virginia during those final months of the war and word hadn’t spread that far yet.

Union soldiers tracked Booth down to the farm and trapped him in a tobacco barn on Garrett’s property. Booth refused to surrender so they set the barn on fire. One of the soldiers shot Booth — some say in cold blood — and Booth was carried to Garrett’s front porch where he died several hours later. That would seem to be a rather historic spot yet it no longer exists. The house fell into disrepair in spite of its notoriety, eventually collapsing upon itself.

The place where Booth died is as unsung as modernity can make it, a forgotten median, sandwiched between the north and southbound lanes of a divided, four-lane highway. Commuters and truckers speed by, wholly unaware that they’ve passed the location where the most famous manhunt in United States history came to a violent end.

The road that passed by Garrett’s home eventually became U.S. Route 301, later expanded to four lanes (map), obliterating what little was left of the farm.

Fort A.P. Hill

Va. Guard aviators support Marines at Fort A.P. Hill.
Va. Guard aviators support Marines at Fort A.P. Hill by Virginia Guard Public Affairs on Flickr (cc)

That wasn’t the only indignity. The United States Army began to expand rapidly in the years leading up to World War II. It searched around the country for out-of-the-way spaces suitable for stashing military functions away from prying eyes. Eastern Virginia looked particularly good, a quite rural hideaway just steps from the nation’s capital, with sixty thousand acres available for the government to seize.

Fort A.P. Hill was established as an Army training facility on June 11, 1941, pursuant to War Department General Order No. 5. In its 1st year, the installation was used as a maneuver area for the II Army Corps and for three activated National Guard divisions from Mid-Atlantic states. In the autumn of 1942, Fort A.P. Hill was the staging area for the headquarters and corps troops of Major General Patton’s Task Force A, which invaded French Morocco in North Africa.

The old Garrett farm fell within the original northern boundary of Fort A.P. Hill. Who exactly was A.P. Hill? He was a Confederate general who fought the Union armies of Abraham Lincoln and died in combat during the Third Battle of Petersburg. It seemed a little ironic that the US Army named a fort for someone who fought against it. Similarly, it seemed strange that the place where Lincoln’s assassin died happened on land that would later be named for a Confederate officer. Yet there it was, and largely forgotten.

Minor League

On February 17, 2016 · 9 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle examined piles of sports teams while researching Other State Nickname Thingies. Generally I stuck with university teams although professional basketball’s Golden State Warriors provided the best example. Then I gazed at other sports and fell into the weirdness that could only be described as the names of minor league baseball teams. I wasn’t the first one to notice these unusual designations. The Intertubes were filled with articles about the strangest team names so I decided to take a slightly different tack.

The team volatility also surprised me. They changed names, affiliations, and cities with abandon. I examined a minor league team closest to me geographically, the Potomac Nationals. There wasn’t anything particularly creative about the name for this High-A farm team for the Washington Nationals. However, in less than forty year of it existence it had gone by Alexandria Dukes, Prince William Yankees, Prince William Cannons, Potomac Cannons, and then Potomac Nationals. It also changed affiliations between the Seattle Mariners, Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and currently the Washington Nationals. I noticed this wasn’t unusual as I examined other teams.

Frederick Keys

Frederick Keys vs. Myrtle Beach Pelicans
Frederick Keys vs. Myrtle Beach Pelicans by Mark Poblete on Flickr (cc)

The nearest team to me while I grew up was the Frederick Keys, a High-A team affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles, based in Frederick, Maryland (map). The name "Keys" certainly qualified as an odd choice, in this case honoring historical resident Francis Scott Key, of Star Spangled Banner fame. I’d attended many games over the years when, completely by change, I happened to enter the ballpark on August 14, 1992. It was a Friday. I knew that only because I found a record of game online. Something piqued my curiosity as we approached the stadium gate. I never had to walk through magnetometers like I were entering an airport before, although I suspected what might be brewing. Sure enough, two military helicopters landed next to the field and out walked President George H. W. Bush and family into the stadium. They’d been vacationing at nearby Camp David. Presidential sightings in the Washington, DC area weren’t particularly unusual, however it was still pretty cool.

There was a long tradition with the Frederick Keys at the 7th inning stretch. The team’s theme song always played over the stadium speakers, a hokey event involving everyone shakes their keys, because this was the Keys. A bad pun, I know. Anyway, here was the best part — President Bush didn’t have any keys! He had to borrow a set of keys from someone in his party so he could play along. That notion stuck with me ever since — an amazing realization that the presidency was so powerful that no door ever locked in its path.

Classic Match-Ups

Monty by Chris Murphy on Flickr (cc)

The bizarre variety of minor league baseball team names offered plenty of fodder for fictional match-ups. I didn’t consider whether they made any sense from a competitive standpoint because it hardly mattered, although I’d still love to see some of these games fielded. For instance, how about the Montgomery Biscuits (map) vs. the Kansas City T-Bones? A lump of dough battling a hunk of meat. Nice.

The most laid-back game would have to be the Traverse City Beach Bums vs. the Asheville Tourists. I almost went to an Asheville Tourists game when I was in Asheville last summer. I gave it up after spending most of the day hiking and driving, just too tired from being a real tourist to see the baseball Tourists.

A battle of crustaceans might also be amusing. I’m not sure which team would come out on top in a tournament between the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, the Charlotte Stone Crabs or the Lakewood BlueClaws. Maybe the two teams named for Blue Crabs would gang up on the Stone Crabs. It’s hard to tell.

Beaks and talons would fly if the Nuevo Laredo Owls ever played the Orem Owlz. And no, I didn’t understand why it was Orem Owlz instead of Owls. Maybe the team was trying to connect with a younger demographic although trying a little too hard to be edgy. If that was the case then it fell miserably short when the team announced Caucasian Heritage Night in 2015: "Our night was to include Wonder Bread on burgers with mayonnaise, clips from shows like ‘Friends’ and ‘Seinfeld’ and trying to solve the vertical leaping challenge." The Owlz canceled its plans after the inevitable uproar. The Director of Media and Communications resigned.

Talk about nuts, what if the Modesto Nuts, Lansing Lugnuts and Wichita Wingnuts all got a chance to play each other? Games could take place at Dunkin’ Donuts Park (the future home of the Hartford Yard Goats — another ridiculously named team).

A good dogfight might include any combination of the Portland Sea Dogs, Charleston RiverDogs, Batavia Muckdogs, Glendale Desert Dogs, Lincoln Saltdogs, El Paso Chihuahuas, Erie SeaWolves, Midland RockHounds, or New Jersey Jackals. And a good catfight could include the Carolina Mudcats, Gary SouthShore RailCats, Lynchburg Hillcats, New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Sacramento River Cats, Tri-City ValleyCats, Connecticut Tigers, Kane County Cougars, Lakeland Flying Tigers, Quintana Roo Tigers, or Yucatán Lions.

My Favorite

Hillsboro Hops opening game, with rainbow
Hillsboro Hops opening game, with rainbow by ryan harvey on Flickr (cc)

There could be only one favorite. Regular 12MC readers wouldn’t be surprised to hear that I preferred the Hillsboro Hops. This was a Single-A team in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon (map) affiliated with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Its physical placement on the northern fringe of the Willamette Valley and its location outside of Portland made the name a perfect choice. Portland was famous for its heavy concentration of breweries and hops were an essential brewing ingredient grown right in the valley. The team’s logo literally featured a hop cone wearing a baseball cap.

Go Hops!

12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
Don't miss an article -
Subscribe to the feed!

RSS G+ Twitter
RSS Twelve Mile Circle Google Plus Twitter
Monthly Archives
Days with Posts
October 2016
« Sep