Another Town Roundup

I’ve collected unusual town names for awhile. They often came up as I researched Twelve Mile Circle articles or when I checked the daily log files. Generally they didn’t make those "weird names" lists found elsewhere on the Intertubes. I find them endlessly fascinating for some unknown reason. Then I make a note of them and promise to return. Occasionally I’ll post an article after I collect enough of them and I want to cut down my pile of unwritten topics.

Capitol Hill, Seattle, Washington

Downtown Seattle from Capitol Hill
Downtown Seattle from Capitol Hill. Photo by Matthew Rutledge on Flickr (cc)

Already on the very first entry I broke my rules for this article. Seattle’s Capitol Hill was a neighborhood not a town (map). Nonetheless, I wondered why Capitol Hill even existed as a name there. The Capitol Hill in another Washington came to mind, however, that one had an actual capitol on its hill. Nobody could claim the same for the Seattle version. Rather, the state capitol sat about sixty miles (100 kilometres) farther south in Olympia.

According to History Link, "the Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History," the name probably came from one of two (or both) alternatives. It happened in 1901, courtesy of a local land developer, James Moore. That was certain. By one theory he hoped to persuade the state government "to move its business from Olympia onto Prospect Street." By another, his wife came from Colorado and the name referenced Capitol Hill in Denver. The one in Denver, by the way, actually contained the state capitol. Sadly, Seattle’s Capitol Hill remained capitol-less.

Future City, Illinois

Future City Illinois
Future City Illinois. Photo by Joe on Flickr (cc)

I wanted to make a crack about Future City (map) not looking like it had much of a future. It looked completely desolate. Irony seemed cruel after I researched its history. Future City sat near the southern tip of Illinois, just north of Cairo and the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. African Americans founded it around the turn of the last century as a refuge from racism and lynchings in nearby Cairo. They created their own self-contained settlement and named it optimistically. It promised a better future. Several hundred people lived there a century ago. Now, only a handful remained.

I visited that river confluence a few years ago. It floods, a lot. Naturally, Future City flooded regularly even as early as the disastrous floods of 1912 and 1913. Three times the town needed to be rebuilt from scratch. Meanwhile, nearby Cairo went into a long, slow economic decline. River traffic decreased as rails and roads rose, and its geographic placement became increasingly irrelevant. People in Future City depended on jobs in Cairo so their dream declined with it.

Layman, Ohio

Layman, Ohio

Little Layman, Ohio barely qualified as a settlement, much less a town. Even so I liked the name so it made the list. The dictionary definition explained why. A layman is a "a person who does not belong to a particular profession or who is not expert in some field." What a lousy name, I thought. It implied nobody in town could do much of anything. There sat Layman at Tick Ridge Road with nothing but laymen living there. Actually, it appeared to be named for a 19th Century local newspaper editor, Amos Layman. That wasn’t nearly as much fun.

Bowbells, North Dakota

St Mary le Bow
St Mary le Bow. Photo on Flickr in the Public Domain

Doesn’t Bowbells sound a lot like Cowbells? I thought it did. Some random visitor from Bowbells (map) landed on the pages of 12MC. That in itself might be remarkable. Barely 300 people lived there at the last census. Nonetheless, it served as the seat of local government in Burke County. I saw small towns just like Bowbells with important government functions in many North Dakota counties during my Center of the Nation tour. So many settlements throughout the Great Plains suffered population declines in recent decades. Burke County itself dropped from about ten thousand residents to maybe two thousand since 1930.

That didn’t explain the name, though. A common source for names in these open spaces, the railroad companies, took care of that. As the city explained,

The city of Bowbells was founded in 1898 along the main line of the Soo Line Railroad and incorporated in 1906. The city was named by railroad officials after the famed Bow bells at St Mary-le-Bow in London, England.

Naturally I needed to tug that thread a little harder. So the town got its name from the bells of the church, St. Mary-le-Bow (map). I didn’t know about the "fame" of the famed church bells so I dug deeper. As the Daily Mail noted, "tradition dictates that only those born within earshot of the ‘Bow Bells’ can claim to be Cockneys." That still seemed like an odd name for a town in the middle of North Dakota. I couldn’t imagine waves of Cockneys rolling over the endless prairie.

Heartland, Part 5 (Not Just Farmland)

A previous article in this series noted the abundance of farmland with little else to be seen during my Heartland excursion. That didn’t provide a completely accurate picture. Variations appeared in unexpected ways although I needed to travel to the margins to find them. We charted our course purposefully. It allowed us to experience a few geological features that maybe didn’t fit cleanly into notional images of the American Midwest. Not everything out there fell within endless fields to the horizon.

Lots of Farmland, Of Course

Rural Iowa

Even the endless farmland offered scenic beauty although its prevalence sometimes made me wish for something else. I began to take it for granted. At some point towards the end of the trip I realized I hadn’t done much to capture its simple elegance. Then I had trouble finding a good subject. Suddenly this barn appeared along a quiet rural byway. It embodied what I’d been sensing all along in thousands of different places throughout the journey. The architecture seemed peculiar to eastern Iowa where I spotted it, and to adjoining western Illinois. The barn itself appeared fairly standard. However I couldn’t recall seeing a similar cupola — or whatever one might call it — quite like it in other parts of the country. I guessed it helped lift hay bales into the loft.

The Beach

Michigan City

Our journey reminded me once again of the magnificent sand dunes on the eastern and southern flanks of Lake Michigan. I recounted the geology last summer when I explored outside of Grand Rapids. Essentially, glaciers melting at the end of the last Ice Age left a lot of debris behind. Winds and waves pushed glacial drift eastward, forming those wonderful sandy beaches of Indiana and Michigan.

Back home, I would never try to drive to the beach during Memorial Day weekend even though the Atlantic Ocean beckoned only a couple of hours away. I’d pick a more obscure day to miss the crowds and traffic. Somehow, even though I should have known better, I failed to grasp that Lake Michigan served a similar purpose for ten million people living in the Chicago metropolitan area. The lake, with its massive size, looked a lot like an ocean with smaller waves and fresh water. Throw in sand dunes and pristine beaches, and it completed the illusion. Feel free to insert sarcastic remarks about Easterners and their ignorance of places beyond their noses if you like.

Thank goodness for Waze. It took us around the worst of the traffic heading into Michigan City, Indiana and saved us at least an hour. I still carried my trusty paper map as a backup although technology certainly saved the day this time. It allowed us to visit the beach at Washington Park (map).


Michigan City Lighthouse

Actually, I targeted Michigan City for its lighthouses. The combination of Indiana and lighthouses seemed odd, and yet a few lighthouses actually existed along its Lake Michigan shoreline. I collected lighthouse visits, another one of those things I counted compulsively, so it led us that way. Michigan City included two lighthouses, one a museum and one a functioning navigational aid. The beach was just a nice bonus.

A land speculator wanted to create Indiana’s first harbor in the 1830’s. He purchased a site where Trail Creek fed into the lake and he platted a town there. A proper harbor needed a lighthouse to guide ships into its port so he set aside room for that too. The first one didn’t work out as planned so another one came along in 1858 (map) and it came to be known as the Michigan City Lighthouse.

As shipping in Michigan City increased, primarily grain and lumber, a brighter light was needed to guide ships into the busy port. In 1858, the U.S. Government constructed a lighthouse using Joliet stone for the foundation and Milwaukee or "Cream City" bricks for the superstructure.

That’s the one in the photograph, above, the current home of the Michigan City Historical Society’s Old Lighthouse Museum.

East Pierhead Lighthouse

Then came the East Pierhead Lighthouse (map), also known as the Michigan City Breakwater lighthouse, built in 1904. The lens and lantern moved from the old lighthouse to the new one at that time, too. Lighthouse keepers continued to live in the earlier structure while tending the light at the end of the pier. Sometimes ferocious storms pummeled the lake. I imagined what it must have been like trying to scoot along that narrow catwalk from shore to tower as icy waves crashed across the pier. We visited on a day with a light chop and even then a little water pushed onto the concrete.


Starved Rock

Canyons seemed unlikely as we drove across the flatness of central Illinois. Yet, Starved Rock State Park included them with abundance. Many features resulted from a cataclysmic event and an unusual geology. The Illinois River ran along the park’s northern edge. A great flood tore through there sometime around 15,000 years ago, an event called the Kankakee Torrent. Melting glaciers had formed a lake and it burst, scouring limestone along the riverbank. It carved huge bluffs in a matter of days. Wonderful scenic vistas crowned those same bluffs today (photo).

The park got its name from one of those bluffs. The explanation tied back to a legend, probably untrue although the story persisted. Supposedly, in some sort of dispute, a tribe of Native Americans besieged members of the Illini tribe who then sought refuge on a bluff. Surrounded, and unwilling to surrender, they died of starvation. The place became Starved Rock.

The park also contained several canyons behind the bluffs. Small streams carved into the limestone in wonderful terraces accompanied by waterfalls. French Canyon, named for the early European explorers of this area, became its most iconic feature (map). That’s the one in the photograph, above. Lots of people traveled to the park just to see that one attraction. It wasn’t much more than an hour away from Chicago, making Starved Rock the most visited state park in Illinois, with two million visitors per year.

Mighty Rivers

Heartland Marathon Series - Day 4

Of course I couldn’t fail to mention the Mississippi River, and the Illinois River was pretty impressive too. I’ve visited the Mississippi several different times in recent years including just a little farther downstream in April. I won’t bother to elaborate on its power again although I’ll note that I’ve always enjoy gazing upon it. Two of our races happened along the river on opposite banks. On one day the course went along a levee in Fulton, Illinois and the next day it did the same in Clinton, Iowa. I took this photo from the Illinois side (map).

Articles in the Heartland Series:

  1. Why, oh Why?
  2. How Not to See a City
  3. Foiled by Memorial Day
  4. Beyond Covered
  5. Not Just Farmland
  6. Americana

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Any Excuse for a Road Trip, Part 2 (Short Haul)

Now I needed to execute my ambitious plan, a long weekend drive that would result in my capture of 24 previously unvisited counties. Friday, the first day, covered fewer miles than Saturday or Sunday. However, I made up for that shorter distance with plenty of sightseeing activities. I’d never traveled between St. Louis and Cape Girardeau, Missouri so I wanted to enjoy this particular route following the Mississippi River downstream.

My flight touched down at St. Louis Lambert International Airport at 9:00 a.m., on time and blessedly routine. My wife picked me up at the arrivals curb and we began our ambitious road trip. I brought an awful cold with me, too. The virus passed through the family in sequence over the previous couple of weeks, from the younger son to the older, to my wife and finally to me. The cold dogged me the rest of the trip although I kept it mostly in check with antihistamines. That still improved upon my last trip to St. Louis. I got stuck there on September 11, 2001, as airlines ground to a halt after the horrific events of the day. It led directly to a long drive I called The Dreadful Road Trip. Now, I finally returned to the city however briefly after an absence of fifteen years.

Crown Ridge Tiger Sanctuary

Crown Ridge Tiger Sanctuary

I didn’t want to be completely selfish so I tried to include an activity that the kids would enjoy. It depended upon my punctual arrival — certainly not a guarantee with airlines involved — although it worked out this time. We had two hours to get from the airport to the Crown Ridge Tiger Sanctuary in Ste. Genevieve for the first tour of the day. We made easily, with several minutes to spare. Sometimes everything lines up just right.

This sanctuary provided a caring home for tigers (and one lion) that they rescued from unhealthy situations. Sometimes people wanted to raise tigers or other exotic animals as pets. They got tired of their pets, the animals grew too large or aggressive, or whatever. Other times, little roadside attractions featured wild animals as babies in petting zoos, and of course they matured into full-sized adults, no longer cute. Neglectful situations sometimes resulted. Sanctuaries then offered hope by serving as healthy places where animals could spend the remainder of their years in peace. Unfortunately, raised in captivity, they could not be returned to the wild.

If the photo makes it seem like the tiger lived in a small cage, take heart because this corner served as a corral to funnel the tiger into an indoor space. The larger part of the yard appeared off to the left, beyond the range of the camera.

Crown Valley Brewing & Distilling

Crown Valley Brewing and Distilling

Longtime readers of Twelve Mile Circle know that I count many things, including breweries. The kids got their tigers, now I got my beer.

The tour of the tiger sanctuary ended around noon so we headed to our next activity a few miles farther west. A brewery and a distillery? Count me in. Crown Valley Brewing and Distilling offered a convenient stop for lunch, and a chance for us to split a sampler. It seemed like a big place, much larger than the average craft brewery, although I’d not seen their products before. Their range must not extend to the East Coast. Nonetheless we enjoyed our stop and I could add it to my brewery visit map. I noticed that my brewery total began to approach 400. I wouldn’t be able to hit that landmark during this particular trip. It will happen soon enough though, I imagined.

Bollinger Mill State Historic Site

Bollinger Mill State Historic Site

I also liked to visit covered bridges. I’ve bored 12MC readers with these objects a number of times before. Remember Western Virginia and New Hampshire, as examples? The Bollinger Mill State Historic Site in Cape Girardeau county offered yet another opportunity. It included a large historic mill combined with an adjacent covered bridge. That, I couldn’t miss.

First, we toured the mill. It dated to the beginning of the Nineteenth Century although the present structure rose right after the Civil War. Union forces burned the original mill because Bollinger’s descendants sympathized with the Confederacy and provided flour to help its cause. We received a nice, personalized tour of the building too. I guess very few people wanted to visit on some random Friday afternoon outside of tourist season so we used that to our benefit. The docent actually locked the front door, put up a sign telling others to come back later, and then led us through every floor of the mill from top to bottom.

The Whitewater River powered the mill, and likewise people needed a bridge to get across its 140 foot width. The Civil War halted construction of the bridge so wasn’t completed until 1867. By that time a settlement existed near the mill, named Burfordville for a local resident, John Burford. The bridge took the name of the village and it became the Burfordville Covered Bridge. It’s been restored a couple of times over the years although it’s too fragile for anything other than pedestrians today.

From there, we took the brief jog to capture Bollinger County as described earlier. Did the opportunity to cross into one more county influence the trip to the mill, or did the mill influence the jog to Bollinger? I’ll never tell.

Cape Rock

Cape Rock Park

How did Cape Girardeau get its name? Both a cape and a Girardeau existed, historically. France once owned this stretch of river as part of its vast colonial empire extending through the North American interior. In 1733, Ensign Jean Baptiste de Girardot, stationed at Kaskaskia, opened a trading post on the far extreme of the frontier. He chose a rocky promontory easily visible along the river. A town would eventually grow there, and appropriate his name as well as the geographic feature. Ironically, the actual cape, the prominent landmark rock visible from so far away no longer exists. They needed a railroad along the river so they destroyed the outcrop to make room for it. That’s how they rolled in the Nineteenth Century; blowing up the very namesake of the city in the name of "progress."

Nonetheless, the bluff where the trading post once stood still existed. The city marked the spot with Cape Rock Park. We finished the first day’s drive at the park atop the bluff, gazing upon the swiftly flowing Mississippi River.

Any Excuse for a Road Trip articles: