I noticed that Prince George’s County, Queen Anne’s County and St. Mary’s County — all in Maryland — included the genitive apostrophe to form their possessive constructions. I’d always taken it on faith that the United States Board on Geographic Names disallowed apostrophes for that specific purpose. That’s how we ended-up with Harpers Ferry and other odd conglomerations. The possessive remained albeit awkwardly without an apostrophe. I wondered how Maryland got away with it.
A little checking revealed a probable answer in the Board’s Frequently Asked Questions page: "certain categories—broadly determined to be ‘administrative’—are best left to the organization that administers them. Examples include schools, churches, cemeteries, hospitals, airports, shopping centers, etc." In those cases (and apparently counties were considered part of "etc."), possessives formed by an apostrophe-s were allowed although discouraged. Maryland felt that a prince, a queen and a saint would all deserve an apostrophe.
For names not considered broadly administrative, however, exceptions with the genitive apostrophe were extremely rare. The Board authorized apostrophes for that specific purpose only five times since its creation in 1890. Lots of theories and folklore attempted to explain that odd disdain for apostrophes although the FAQ proclaimed: "The Board’s archives contain no indication of the reason for this policy." Someone a century ago apparently had a preference, made a bold decision and it stuck.
Each of the five exceptions merited further examination. Most were obscure. Fortunately the Geographic Names Information System included additional justification for these deviations and I could use them to tell their stories.
Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts (approved 1933)
Martha's Vineyard, Aquinnah Cliffs by Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Martha’s Vineyard (map) would be the prime example. I won’t spend any time talking about it because I’d like to save that for another day. Maybe it’s wishful thinking or maybe it’s foreshadowing. I’ll simply note that if I ever want to tally Dukes County on my county-counting list I’ll need to travel to Martha’s Vineyard (or one of several smaller islands nearby).
Ike’s Point, New Jersey (approved 1944)
GNIS described Ike’s Point as "a swamp point on the western side of Jenkins Sound about 0.4 km (0.25 mi) south of Shellbed Landing." It was named for a local family and it had been in common usage for at least 60 years when evaluated in the 1940’s. The Board decided to keep the apostrophe to clarify pronunciation. Otherwise it would have been Ikes Point and subject to interpretation. Surprisingly, Google Street View coverage went all the way to Shellbed Landing. It’s possible to sort-of see Ike’s Point.
John E’s Pond, Rhode Island (approved 1963)
Block Island Southeast Lighthouse by Heather Katsoulis, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)
The same issue pertained to John E’s Pond on Block Island, RI, not far from the Southeast Lighthouse (map). Otherwise it would have been John Es Pond. Originally the Board named this tiny pool of water something else, Milliken Pond. The decision was reversed in 1963 citing "apparent persistence in local usage, recently verified by GS field workers" that dated back to 1886. Actually, further statements in the record implied that another variation may have been more common, John E’s Tug Hole. Some 12MC Intertubes sleuthing found several other "tug holes" on Block Island: Dees Tug Hole (included in GNIS – map); Ames Tug Hole and Elija Tug Hole. Tug hole appeared to be a very localized term for a pond.
Carlos Elmer’s Joshua View, Arizona (approved 1995)
Joshua Trees by Melanie J Watts, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Carlos Elmer’s Joshua View (map) certainly seemed to be a mouthful for an isolated slope in Arizona. The problem was that Carlos, Elmer and Joshua might confuse readers because all of them could be construed as first names. The place wouldn’t make any sense without the apostrophe. From the minutes of the Arizona State Board on Geographic and Historic Names, January 11, 1995:
Booth, Arizona Board member and proposer of the name, provided a brief biographical sketch of Carlos Elmer, long time Arizona photographer published in Arizona Highways Magazine. Booth commented that he had consulted with Elmer’s widow in trying to locate an area that he loved and to establish a name in memory of him, and together they pinpointed a mountain slope that is very dense with Joshua trees, a subject of many of Elmer’s photos… removing the word Joshua from the title would be inappropriate, because Joshua trees were the subject of the area that Carlos Elmer photographed.
The United States Board on Geographic Names concurred with the Arizona Board’s recommendation.
Clark’s Mountain, Oregon (approved 2002)
Clark’s Mountain retained its apostrophe for historical reasons. The name came about as part of events commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. William Clark likely admired the view from this eponymous mountain as told in the journal of Meriwether Lewis on January 10th, 1806.
Capt. C. found the road along the coast extreemly difficult of axcess, lying over some high rough and stoney hills, one of which he discribes as being much higher than the others, having it’s base washed by the Ocea[n] over which it rares it’s towering summit perpendicularly to the hight of 1500 feet; from this summit Capt. C. informed me that there was a delightfull and most extensive view of the Ocean, the coast and adjacent country; this Mout. I have taken the liberty of naming Clark’s Mountain and point of view; it is situated about 30 M. S. E. of Point (Adams) and projects about 2 1/2 miles into the Ocean…
Meriwether Lewis named the vantage point Clark’s Mountain — with an apostrophe — for his co-leader while the famed Corps of Discovery explored overland to the Pacific Ocean and back. The Board decided to honor his choice.
I’m not sure why I began to think about the birthplaces of every President of the United States. Maybe this might interest people, I considered. I wasn’t fooling myself though — I did it for me. Theoretically I could pass through one of these areas someday in the future and I might want to stop if it were close enough to my intended track. So I created a map.
View Presidential Birthplaces in a larger map
I gathered all of the locations in a shared spreadsheet. Twelve Mile Circle readers should feel free to consult the spreadsheet for exact latitude/longitude coordinates and links to additional information about each site. This could be a handy little reference for anyone wishing to visit these birthplaces — and there are people who do that! I don’t know why I’m surprised. After all, it’s not that much different from my county counting.
Trends began to reveal themselves as I plotted each location. For instance, notice the concentration of sites in the eastern half of the United States, particularly the northeast. That would be expected to a degree because of population and settlement patterns. However I didn’t expect it to be quite that stark. Nixon and Obama(¹) stood far apart as obvious outliers, considerably removed from everyone else.
The Adams Family
John Adams' Birthplace by James Walsh, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license
The original father-son presidential duo, John Adams and John Quincy Adams should win an award for proximity. They were born in adjacent houses (map) in the north precinct of Braintree, now Quincy, Massachusetts. Both are open the public as part of the Adams National Historical Park. That would be an easy visit.
The National Park Service estimated the distance between birthplaces at 75 feet (23 metres).
James Monroe Birthplace, Monroe Hall, Westmoreland Co., Virginia
I noticed a couple of particularly tight birthplace clusters, one in Virginia and one in Ohio. These two states dominated presidential politics during different eras, creating opportunities for statistical anomalies. The Virginia cluster occurred on the Northern Neck with the births of some of the earliest presidents and "founding fathers," George Washington, James Madison and James Monroe.
Ohio dominated the presidency in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with a string of Republican victories. As explained by the Columbus Dispatch,
Ohio’s dominance of the presidency around the time the 19th century became the 20th was no accident: Ohio was the third-largest state, behind New York and Pennsylvania, and it was the economic engine of America. Ohioans were the inventors and operators of the industrial age. With economic might came political power, including dominant influence in the political parties, especially the GOP, from whence seven of Ohio’s eight presidents came.
A particularly remarkable clustering centered near Cincinnati, with the birthplaces of Ulysses Grant, Benjamin Harrison and William Taft.
Close to the Border
Chester Alan Arthur State Historic Site – Vermont by Doug Kerr, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license
The Chester Arthur birthplace in Fairfield, Vermont fell remarkably close to Canada, about 20 miles (32 kilometres) from the border (map). His father immigrated from Ireland to Canada, settling in Dunham, Lower Canada, which is now part of Québec. His mother was an American born in Vermont. The couple wed in Canada and their first child was born in Canada. Arthur was born in the United States. The family moved regularly as Chester’s father taught at various schools and later served as a minister of the Free Will Baptist church.
Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution of the United States said,
No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President
Arthur’s political opponents conducted a smear campaign focused on the Constitution’s natural-born-citizen clause. His father’s immigration to Canada, his birth near the border, and his family’s frequent relocation were all used as "evidence" of non-citizenship in an attempt to disqualify Arthur from office.
Bill Clinton Birthplace, Hope, Arkansas
Most presidential birthplaces earned landmark status. Many can be visited by the public. That might not be possible for future presidents. Increasingly, the more recent presidents traced their births to hospitals. Jimmy Carter came first, then Bill Clinton, then George W. Bush and most recently Barack Obama.
Bill Clinton provided a case in point in Hope Arkansas. The Julia Chester Hospital of his birth no longer existed. It was torn down. The Brazzel-Oakcrest Funeral Home occupies its former site. In commemoration the funeral home placed a flagpole and a marker to signify Clinton’s birthplace. Street View provided decent coverage although a view from inside of the funeral home actually offered a better image. In addition his childhood home became a museum. Likely, that’s what will happen in the future. The hospital might deserve a simple plaque while the president’s initial home will replace the typical "birthplace" museum of the past.
Odd Men Out
I won’t bother to discuss all of the presidential birth sites. Maybe I’ll provide more information if I ever visit them. I’ll wrap this up with two more examples.
Andrew Jackson’s birthplace remained an historical mystery. It was somewhere in the Waxhaws Region:
Andrew Jackson, Sr., died in late February, 1767. Betty traveled south to the Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church to bury her husband. On the return trip, she gave birth to Andrew Jackson, the future president of the United States. Although stories abound as to the events surrounding the birth, as of yet no definitive evidence has arisen to authenticate the exact location of Andrew Jackson’s birth on March 15, 1767.
He may have been born in North Carolina. He may have been born in South Carolina. Both have claimed him.
Finally, pity poor Warren Harding. Many historians considered Harding the worst or amongst the worst of all U.S. presidents. Nobody built a Warren Harding Birthplace museum. He barely earned a marker.
Watch @TheReal12MC Twitter account over the next few days and you might be able to figure out the topic of several upcoming articles
(¹) I’ve listed Obama’s birthplace as Kapi’olani Maternity & Gynecological Hospital, Honolulu, Hawaii. I don’t put much credence in Birther conspiracies. I don’t think Donald Trump reads 12MC so we’re probably fine.
When I mentioned The Bloodshot Eye recently I hadn’t realized that I’d stumbled upon a "thing," a long history of annual Camp Meetings held by the Methodist Church.
Pitman Grove, New Jersey, USA
I featured the unusual circle-and-spokes streets of Pitman Grove, New Jersey, and the tiny Victorian-era cottages that lined them. Further research uncovered Pitman Grove’s origins as a Camp Meeting spot first used in the 1870’s that had since evolved into a distinct neighborhood listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
A "long time reader, first time caller" who preferred to remain anonymous brought a similar place to my attention in North Merrick, New York. It was known colloquially as Tiny Town.
Tiny Town, Merrick, New York, USA
As described by Long Island Newsday,
The neighborhood, known as Campgrounds or Tiny Town, arose from Methodist summer revival camp meetings held by the Long Island Camp Meeting Association beginning in 1869… There was a large population of Methodists in Brooklyn and Queens, but not a lot of land there… During the first summers, the campground consisted of the tabernacle in the open field in the center encircled by two rows where tents were pitched and carriages parked for 10 days of services.
Camp Meetings were popularized by several Protestant denominations in the nascent United States beginning in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. People on the frontier didn’t cluster close enough together in the early years to justify enough physical churches to meet the religious needs of a widely scattered population. Itinerant preachers migrated across the countryside, erecting tents in convenient places and holding camp for a week or more at a time as the seasons permitted. Local residents didn’t live close enough to attend these services in a single day so they brought their wagons and tents and camped for awhile. This might be their only contact with friends and family for an entire year so camp meetings met social needs as well as spiritual. There were hundreds of such campgrounds. Dozens have survived into the modern era where people continue to gather each year as they’ve done for a century and a half or longer.
The Methodist variation — the one I’d stumbled upon — entrenched solidly within the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. The Methodist church and its camps were based upon the teachings of John Wesley. Invariably one will find a road or a street named Wesley near many of the campgrounds mentioned in this article.
The Mid-Atlantic wasn’t quite as "frontier" as the expanding areas of the nation. Campgrounds tended to cluster near the seashore. They provided respite from city living, a means to separate oneself from the daily hassles of densely-packed tenements and allowed oneself to immerse and rejuvenate spiritually in an attractive holiday-like setting.
I found way too many examples of Methodist campgrounds that later became towns to attempt to discuss them all. Instead I selected a few representative places to show the transition from camp to town as well as to highlight the geographic spread within and beyond the periphery of the Mid-Atlantic.
Denver, North Carolina, USA
Rock Springs, Denver, North Carolina, USA
The Rock Springs Campmeeting has gathered at the same spot outside of Denver, NC since at least 1830, and at earlier incarnations as far back as 1794.
For over two centuries, God has called the people together in worship and community under the Rock Springs’ arbor… People would travel many miles to attend the annual event, camping in tents, covered wagons, and makeshift shelters of brush. They’d cook over open fires and attend the religious services throughout the morning, afternoon and evening… The camp is incorporated after the style of a town, and governed much the same way. There is a central meeting pavilion, called the Arbor, which is surrounded by some 258+ “tents”. The tents, as they are called, are small; roughly built cabins… Most all of the tents have been passed down from one generation to the next.
Rock Springs Campground, Denver, NC, USA
via Google Street View, May 2013
Rock Springs is the sole surviving Methodist Camp Meeting in North Carolina. It represented a good example of the initial step from camp to town with its rough, weather-beaten structures. They are permanent structures, however, probably suitable only for seasonal use.
Lancaster, Ohio, USA
Lancaster, Ohio, USA
The Lancaster Camp Ground traced back to 1878 at its current location, and first began in 1872.
For its first twenty years or so, the Camp Ground stressed a strictly evangelism oriented “Camp Meeting”. Around 1892, however, the Chautauqua Movement was introduced into the program… thousands of people came by way of the railroad and horses and buggies to the Lancaster Camp Ground. They came to hear speakers like Billy Sunday, William Jennings Bryan, and President William McKinley…
To accommodate crowds, an auditorium followed, then a hotel, then a grocery, then streets, then cottages, and then year-round residents. Today approximately 240 cottages remain within the National Historic District. Many structures house permanent residents and many others can be purchased or rented for seasonal use.
The Lancaster Camp Ground continues to remain very active in pursuit of its original purpose. The "town" that formed around it focuses clearly on religion and learning.
Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts, USA
Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts, USA
The Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association was "created in 1835, to conduct religious meetings on Martha’s Vineyard, during the summer." Today "there are just over 300" cottages in Oak Bluffs in an area known as Cottage City.
The tiny Gingerbread Houses of Oak Bluffs by vbecker on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
Many of these buildings are elaborate albeit diminutive structures often described as "gingerbread cottages." The Camp Meeting Association remains active although the surrounding area has become rather more secular. The neighborhood of dollhouse cottages has also become somewhat of a tourist attraction.
Along with the hordes of people making the pilgrimage to Cottage City, as the town was then called, came commerce. Though attracted by the spectacle of the campmeeting, the beauty of the area soon became a draw on its own and developers started buying up the area around the campground. Businesses sprouted and the resort town of Oak Bluffs was born.
The final step of the evolution would be those Methodist Camp Meetings that evolved into completely secular towns with little meaningful connection to their original religious purpose. Pitman Grove might be close to that point even though events are still held in its tabernacle. Tiny Town in New York may have also reached that point. I found occasional if minor contemporary references to the Long Island Camp Meeting Association. Other places completed the transition. For instance, I go to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware regularly. I had no idea until I researched this article that the town originated from the Rehoboth Beach Camp Meeting Association.
What Might the Future Bring?
Black Rock City, Nevada, USA
I couldn’t help thinking, as I continued to research the Camp Meeting phenomenon further, of certain similarities to the Burning Man festival. While not a Christian religious gathering, Burning Man also occurs annually, creates a sense of community, and demonstrates a level of devotion and fervor through its participants. It seemed to be a modern incarnation of the Camp Meeting phenomenon. While Black Rock City follows the precepts of "leave no trace" each year, what will the playa look like after another 150 years of gatherings? Will we ever witness the germination of a Tiny Town on the Black Rock Desert?