A mine is a hole in the ground owned by a liar (attributed to Mark Twain).
I began some initial planning for a brief county counting trip to West Virginia that I hope to undertake in a couple of months. Examining potential routes, I noted a county called Mineral that I would hit in some of the likely scenarios. I’d crossed into Mineral before, as recently as last year, right across the north branch of the Potomac River from Cumberland, Maryland. I’d never really thought about it at the time. Now I wondered, how did Mineral gets its name? What mineral came in such abundance to deserve its own county?
I also found three more Mineral Counties, a total of four. They seemed interesting in their own ways.
Many minerals came from the mountains surrounding Creede (map), the local seat of government in Mineral County, Colorado. However, silver put it on the map. Prospectors came to Colorado first for gold beginning in 1859 and then for silver a decade alter. Colorado underwent a protracted Silver Boom during the last three decades of the 19th Century. Booms jumped from place to place, the final one happening in Creede in 1890.
The town leapt from a population of 600 in 1889 to more than 10,000 people in December 1891. The Creede mines operated continuously from 1890 until 1985. Creede’s boom lasted until 1893, when the Silver Panic hit all of the silver mining towns in Colorado. The price of silver plummeted and most of the silver mines were closed. Creede never became a ghost town, although the boom was over and its population declined.
Robert Ford also lived in Creede. Ford originally belonged to Jessie James’ criminal gang and reputedly killed James to collect a reward in 1882. He died in Creede in 1892, shot in the back by Edward O’Kelley. O’Kelley came to be known as "the man who killed the man who killed Jesse James." A policeman, Joe Burnett, shot and killed O’Kelley in Oklahoma City in 1904. That made Burnett "the man who killed the man who killed the man who killed Jesse James." The chain stopped there. Burnett died of a stroke in 1917.
Mineral County, Montana felt so superior that it named the county seat Superior (map), although it may have been named for the founder’s hometown in Wisconsin. Gold became Mineral’s namesake mineral originally, triggered by a rush on nearby Cedar Creek in 1869. However silver also existed in abundance.
The history of Mineral County is steeped in the tales of rich gold and silver mines. From the first mining efforts in the early 1860s to the present day, mining has been important to the people who first settled here and to those who now live in this county. Today, people still actively work mining claims, which are an important part of the county economy and heritage.
Neither gold nor silver made the greatest contribution to Mineral County history. That distinction went to sheets of paper in the form of a Bible’s printed word. Gideons International placed its very first Bible in the Superior Hotel in Superior, Montana. A Gideon named Archie Bailey stayed at the hotel regularly and sought permission to place a Bible in each of the hotel’s 25 rooms in 1908. Gideons followed that simple act with another 2 billion Bibles left in hotel rooms around the world for the next century and counting.
Hawthorne Army Depot
Twelve Mile Circle featured a town in what later became Mineral County, Nevada, in Aurora: A County Seat in Two States. Simultaneously! I’ll summarize the situation briefly. Gold brought prospectors to the area in 1860. The border between California and Nevada left a lot to be desired and both states claimed the same strip because of its mineral wealth. A later, more definitive survey placed Aurora in Nevada although it didn’t matter in the long run because everyone abandoned Aurora when the gold ran out.
Mineral County survived because of its other important feature, a bunch of nothing. What better place for the Federal government to locate the largest ammunition depot in the world? It covered 147 thousand acres (230 square miles; 600 square kilometres). Hawthorne Army Depot (map) grew around Mineral’s county seat at Hawthorne on three sides. It dated back to 1930 and continues to operate today, underpinning the entire economy of the county.
Mineral County is on the left bank of the river. My own photo.
None of the other Mineral Counties rivaled the one in West Virginia with its nearly 30 thousand residents (map). Ironically, I found fewer stories about this one than any of the others. The mineral in question may have been iron ore or maybe coal. However, coal derived from organic material so it didn’t actually meet the definition of a mineral. Neither did I find any cool stories. Sure, George Washington owned some of the land, and some minor Civil War action happened there. The same could be said for nearly every other county within a couple hundred miles.
Several places named Hurricane — all found far from a coastline — interested me a few weeks ago. From there I wrote a simple article I called Inland Hurricane. I also wondered if the same peculiarity extended to other weather phenomena so I began to search for more. I found mixed results. Even so I still uncovered some interesting stories so I considered the effort a success.
The Hurricane article mentioned a town in West Virginia. It didn’t surprise me to see a Tornado included within the same state (map). I love West Virginia for its awesome names. Kentucky too. Those two seem to compete with each other for the most outlandishly creative place names.
Tornado ceased to be Tornado for several years. According to the Charleston Gazette Mail, an unnamed local resident complained about the name and the U.S. Board of Geographic Names changed it to Upper Falls in 2010. This referenced a series of small rapids along the Coal River just outside of town. However nobody bothered to check with the rest of the community. They preferred the original Tornado by a wide margin, a name used since 1881. That began a big kerfuffle involving lots of local politicians and the name reverted back to Tornado in 2013.
I never did discover why Tornado became Tornado back in 1881. It could have come from the whirling water of the nearby rapids. Maybe an actual tornado blew through there long ago. Who knows?
Rain am Lech, Germany, at night
Imagine the difficulty of finding information about a German town called Rain (map). Nearly all of my searches ran into stories and photos of actual heavy precipitation in Germany and precious little information about the town sharing the name. Finally I learned through trial and error that I could search for "Rain am Lech" and get decent results. The River Lech ran through Rain just before its confluence with the Danube.
The biggest thing to happen in Rain probably occurred in 1632 during the Thirty Years War. This conflict pitted Protestant against Catholic forces as the Holy Roman Empire crumbled. War raged for more than a decade across central Europe before Swedish general Gustavus Adolphus pushed towards Bavaria and up to the banks of the River Lech. His opponent, Count Johan Tzerclaes of Tilly and the Catholic League occupied the opposite bank in a defensive position. Gustavus Adolphus used withering artillery and superior tactics to breach the river, and pushed into Bavaria to threaten Austria. Tilly died of wounds a few days later. War would continue for many more years.
Unfortunately I didn’t understand German well enough to find the etymology of Rain. I started sensing a pattern with my second failure.
I felt certain however that Saudi Arabia’s Ha’il (%u062D%u0627%u0626%u0644) didn’t get its name from falling ice. Ha’il was both a region and a town (map), with more than a half-million people in its larger area. I thought I’d find a lot more information about a place with so many inhabitants and yet little existed even on Arabic language sites. It had some old castles, lots of wheat fields and a university. The Saudi tourism site included an overview:
When visiting Ha’il you can travel through the countryside in 4x4s, mountain climb in Nafud Al Kabir, or head west of the city to explore the mountaintops of Aja… It is a beautiful setting where visitors can see a variety of wildlife and take memorable photos, climb mountains, take hikes and enjoy nature and animals in a natural environment.
Google Translate suggested that the English equivalent of %u062D%u0627%u0626%u0644 might be something like obstacle or barrier. The town began as a fortress along an important caravan route. Could that have been the origin of its name?
Finally, I found a place with a clear, unambiguous origin. Officially a body of water in southwestern Montana went by the name Earthquake Lake (map). Most people shortened it to Quake Lake. I loved that rhyming name; it had a certain poetic style. An actual, genuine earthquake formed this lake too. According to the US Forest Service,
It was near midnight on August 17th, 1959 when an earthquake near the Madison River triggered a massive landslide… over 80 million tons of rock crashed into the narrow canyon, blocking the Madison River and forming Earthquake Lake. This earth-changing event, known as the Hebgen Lake Earthquake, measured 7.5 on the Richter scale. At the time it was the second largest earthquake to occur in the lower 48 states in the 20th century.
The lake’s formation came with a sad price. Twenty-eight people died during the quake that created it.
For the obvious reason, any geographic feature related to circles will make it onto the pages of Twelve Mile Circle eventually. I collect examples as I encounter them until I have enough to write an entire article. This is the latest batch.
Circle, Montana proclaimed itself to be "A Great Place to be Around" although it lacked a circle. The town followed a typical grid pattern of squares and rectangles with its boundaries aligned to cardinal directions (map). It didn’t appear to represent a case of squaring the circle either. Did the circle represent something other than a geographic designation? Of course it did, as the town explained,
… inherited its name from the brand of the Mabry Cattle Corporation who came here in 1884. It was common at that time for a ranch to be known by its brand rather than the company or major owner’s name. In 1905 Peter Rorvik started a store and post office in the old ranch house and naturally name the Post Office "Circle". The little town catered to ranchers and farmers. When McCone County was formed in 1919 Circle won the county seat, an important factor in the towns growth.
The town grew until 1960 when its population peaked at a little more than eleven hundred residents. It hemorrhaged population every census afterwards and housed barely six hundred residents by the 2010 Census. It seemed to suffer from a lack of opportunity, a common fate for isolated villages located far away from the cities. Circle even gained some minor media attention for its remoteness. The website Quartz described it as "the spot that is the farthest from any Starbucks in the continental United States—more than 192 miles from the nearest green-aproned barista."
Atlanta’s Original 1-Mile Circle
Twelve Mile Circle once discussed the odd circular layout of numerous Georgia towns founded in the Nineteenth Century. The notion appeared in articles such as Shaped Like it Sounds and Georgia’s Enigma. I didn’t realize the same situation also applied to Georgia’s powerhouse capital, Atlanta. Multiple annexations and decades of sprawl obliterated all evidence of its original circle long before any of us lived. I credited reader "Bo" for bringing this curious footnote to my attention a few months ago. He found a tantalizing reference to its original one-mile radius in Wikipedia’s Atlanta Annexations and Wards page.
The roots of Atlanta extended back to a settlement called Terminus, so named because it marked the southeastern terminus of the Western & Atlantic Railroad in 1837. The railroad marked this spot with a stone Zero Mile Post bearing an appropriate inscription. Georgia also used the marker to anchor a transportation hub for railroads converging from multiple directions. Subsequent planning led to a slight realignment of the Zero Mile Post to its present location in 1842 (map) and the town became Atlanta. Indeed, Atlanta began with a radius of a single mile that later expanded to 1.5 miles in 1866, then 1.75 miles in 1889, then finally ignored the premise of a circle altogether and it grew wherever it wanted.
The marker still existed at its 1842 location although its placement became quite unusual. A modern building covered the geographic footprint of the Zero Mile Post so the city moved the marker underground, into the building’s basement. Various websites including one provided by the National Park Service described how to find it.
The Western and Atlantic Railroad Zero Milepost, within the Underground Atlanta Historic District, is located under the Central Ave. viaduct, between Alabama and Wall sts. It is inside a building that currently houses the Georgia State University Security Office. To reach this site, enter the parking garage at the corner of Central Ave. and Alabama St., take the elevator to the basement, and ask for directions to the Security Office.
A June 2016 article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution provided updated information and a dose of bad news. The Georgia Building Authority owned the now vacant building. That placed the marker off limits and closed to the public. Maybe that will change when tenants reoccupy the space.
I considered a dome somewhat circular so it seemed to fit the theme. I noticed a reference to the Teapot Dome Scandal and decided to find the alleged dome. A little context may be in order for the 12MC audience. I always considered Teapot Dome to be such a ridiculous name for a scandal, like it couldn’t have been all that serious given its silly title. However, it came to signify the single greatest act of political corruption in United States history when it happened in 1922. It was the Watergate of the early Twentieth Century.
The U.S. Navy began shifting fuel for its ships from coal to oil, making oil a strategic asset. The government set aside several reserves so it would always have enough oil for its vessels should a hostile nation ever cut-off the supply. It designated one of the reserves at Wyoming’s Teapot Dome (map) and commercial oil companies could not drill there.
Warren Harding then became President in 1921 and appointed a bunch of his cronies to powerful government jobs. This including Albert Fall who became Secretary of the Interior. Fall then convinced Harding to transfer responsibilities for the reserves from the Navy to the Department of the Interior. Fall also took bribes from a couple of his oil baron friends and allowed them to drill within the reserves. Wyoming officials blew the whistle on Fall and the story caught fire in the newspapers. Fall went to prison for accepting bribes, a first for a sitting Cabinet-level official. Harding also probably would have been impeached if he hadn’t died in office. Oddly, those who bribed Fall escaped convictions.
Teapot Dome used to look a lot more like a teapot before its "spout" broke off.