For once I wasn’t looking for the geographic center of something, as problematic as that could be given various definitions. Not in Michigan. And for the record, the town of St. Louis claimed to be the "middle of the mitten." It moved to a spot a few miles north-northwest of Cadillac taking the Upper Peninsula into account. However, that was beside the point. Instead I came across two Michigan place names while searching for completely different things. Their similarities deserved closer scrutiny.
Center Line, Michigan
Actually I started by investigating Warren, Michigan and I noticed a hole. A big one. A nice rectangle right in the middle of it (map). Naturally I drilled down and discovered the town of Center Line. The much larger city of Warren completely surrounded it. Center Line described itself as "a small close-knit community of 8,257 residents… nestled inside the state’s 3rd largest city"
Warren and Center Line both began as villages in a rural corner of Macomb County. However, Center Line incorporated first, becoming a city in 1936. Warren also started growing rapidly around that same time. Warren Township minus Center Line incorporated as a city in 1957. It simply exploded in population to the point that it completely overshadowed Center Line over the next couple of decades.
I also wondered about the name. There didn’t seem to be any line and it certainly didn’t seem to be the center of anything other than the city of Warren itself, which it predated anyway. The town’s website mentioned "several theories" which also meant nobody really knew the answer. The most plausible explanation seemed to be,
There were three Indian trails leading from the fort at Detroit to other trading posts in the northern wilderness. The first was the river trail which followed the river and ended at Port Huron; the second was the Saginaw trail and ended at Mackinaw at the Straits of Mackinaw. Through the center of the two trails, the Indians had beaten a trail which followed the "center line" [as observed] by the French.
The trail became Sherwood Avenue (map).
Michigan Center, Michigan
Later I also discovered Michigan Center. Center Line and Michigan Center fell nowhere near each other. A good 85 miles (140 kilometres) separated them. Nonetheless finding a second Center in Michigan excited me. It doesn’t take much to get me going.
The name derived from the Michigan Meridian. Benjamin Hough surveyed the meridian in 1815, marking 84° 21′ 53″ west longitude. Settlers then moved into the area and platted Michigan Center a few years later in 1837. However, the meridian didn’t pass directly through Michigan Center. I measured it. The meridian ran between Michigan Center and the neighboring town of Jackson. I guess they figured it was close enough. Who would really know? Seriously.
Fort Defiance, Defiance Ohio. Photo by Tim Tonjes on Flickr (cc)
Then I went down a little tangent. I wondered why Hough followed such an odd longitude when he surveyed the Michigan Meridian. The line actually pointed farther south into a neighboring state. There stood Fort Defiance at the confluence of the Auglaize and Maumee Rivers (map). A town called Defiance, Ohio later grew up there.
General "Mad" Anthony Wayne built Fort Defiance in 1794.
Following the Battle of Fallen Timbers, Wayne utilized Fort Defiance as his base of operations. He ordered the destruction of all American Indian villages and crops within a fifty-mile radius of the fort… Until the War of 1812, Fort Defiance served as one of America’s western-most outposts in the Ohio Country and helped protect local citizens from American Indian attacks…
Fort Defiance also figured in the 1807 Treaty of Detroit. The United States negotiated the treaty with several Native American tribes, namely the Chippewa, Ottawa, Potawatomi and Wyandot. Land to the east of a line drawn due north of Fort Defiance came under American control. That’s why Hough needed to survey that line. It served briefly as an international boundary.
John Wilkes Booth‘s last stand was by no means the only infamous last stand. It got me thinking about a wide range of other events from the last couple of hundred years that might fall within the same general guidelines. Last stands happened in many places in many times. I selected a few from the multitude of instances available and fixated on them. Custer’s Last Stand, well, that would practically be synonymous with the definition of a last stand. In fact that was the first thing that popped into my mind as I expanded past Booth. Undoubtedly that notion would be the same for much of the Twelve Mile Circle audience. I couldn’t simply skip it — that would be a glaring omission — so George Armstrong Custer needed a closer examination.
Custer Monument in New Rumley, Ohio by Jayson Shenk on Flickr (cc)
The spot where Custer died, the place of his last stand, was considerably better known than his birthplace. I figured I’d have a difficult time finding it because I didn’t think anyone would really care except for maybe me and a handful of other people fascinated by such things. I guessed wrong. People apparently did care. In fact I even found a Custer Memorial Association in New Rumley, Ohio, at Custer’s 1839 birthplace. They operated a small museum "open the last Sunday of each month from 1:00 to 4:00pm." They also maintained a roadside park open year round on the site of the original Custer homestead, of which little remained except for the foundation of the house where he was born (map).
However Custer spent much of his childhood in Monroe, Michigan, with the family of his half-sister.
Custer by Bill Harris on Flickr (cc)
The people of Monroe erected a monument to Custer after his death (map). He probably got a monument everywhere he ever set foot, or so it seemed, although some hadn’t fared well. Even the citizens of Monroe, a place where he spent much of his childhood, relocated the monument a bunch of times including sticking it out in the woods where vegetation overgrew it, before moving the statue to a more prominent part of town. Officially it was known as the George Armstrong Custer Equestrian Monument, alternately Sighting the Enemy.
Gettysburg NBP – August 2008 by Michael Noirot on Flickr (cc)
Famously, Custer finished last in his class at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. However it was 1861, the Civil War was just underway, and the military needed officers in a hurry so they pressed him into service anyway. He performed remarkably well once in a combat role.
Throughout the war Custer continued to distinguishing himself as fearless, aggressive, and ostentatious. His personalized uniform style, complete with a red neckerchief could be somewhat alienating, but he was successful in gaining the respect of his men with his willingness to lead attacks from the front rather than the back.
Custer quickly moved up the ranks, becoming brigadier general then brevet major general of the U.S. Army and finally major general of the U.S. Volunteers in quick succession. He was only 23 years old when he first became a general, the youngest in the army. Custer also served the entire lengthy of the conflict, from Bull Run to Appomattox. At Gettysburg, he commanded the Michigan Cavalry Brigade that was instrumental in stopping a Confederate cavalry attack on the Union army’s right flank. He got a nice monument for that too. Actually, the entire Michigan Cavalry Brigade earned the monument although Custer’s image appeared in a circular bas-relief sculpture just about half way up (map).
I mentioned all of that service because people tended to overlook his distinguished career and skip right to the ending.
The Last Stand
Custer's Grave at Little Bighorn by Jim Bowen on Flickr (cc)
Twelve Mile Circle is not a history website so I’ll only discuss the Last Stand briefly. There were plenty of other places on the Intertubes, or even entire books, where one could get a better account. Custer died on the battlefield near Montana’s Little Bighorn River in 1876 (map). The United States Army had a rule-of-thumb, naming battles for the nearest body of water during that period (e.g., the Civil War’s Battle of Bull Run and Battle of Antietam) so the engagement came to be known as the Battle of Little Bighorn.
The situation leading up to it brewed for a long time. The government had been forcing Plains Indians onto reservations for awhile by that point. Various elements of the Lakota and Cheyenne resisted fiercely, sparking a whole chain of events known as the Sioux Wars. The final outrage in the eyes of native inhabitants had been a sudden incursion of settlers into the Black Hills of what is now South Dakota. The Sioux considered this a sacred area that had been promised to them in a treaty. That quickly collapsed after word leaked out about gold found in the area. Many bands, fed up with broken promises, left the reservations in an effort to fight for their ancestral lands.
The government began a protracted, coordinated campaign to crush resistance. Custer hadn’t gone out there alone, he simple commanded one force amongst several crossing the plains from late 1875 and into the first half of 1876 trying to tame the rebellion. However Custer made a huge blunder. His aggressive personality that served him well during the Civil War compelled him to rush headlong into battle without understanding the true situation at Little Bighorn.
He thought he was attacking a small encampment. Instead he led 700 men from the 7th Cavalry Regiment headlong into a force three times its size. Sitting Bull’s forces quickly turned the tables and utterly destroyed Custer and his men in less than an hour. Casualties also included Custer’s two brother, Thomas and Boston. Later historical accounts by members of the tribes expressed complete bewilderment that Custer would attack them when they were so strong.
George Armstrong Custer lived only 36 years.
Of course I had to visit Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg. The Twelve Mile Circle audience loved geo-oddities and I needed to deliver. I’d been to New England several times and I’ve plumbed its depths for nuggets repeatedly. What was left? Well, this lake with a really long name for one. That wasn’t the only remarkable feature in this corner where three states connected, this easily accessible area with an overabundance of lovely features all neatly aligned and waiting for my appearance. It became a day for geo-oddites.
Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg offered 45 characters of awesomeness too good to pass up, or perhaps more accurately 45-ish characters as there were several different spelling variations. I’ve often seen this touted as the longest place name in the United States and I had to experience it in person. We trudged down to Massachusetts to check it out (map). The lake itself wasn’t all that remarkable; it was certainly a pretty gem sparkling in the early afternoon sun although it competed with many other wonderful lakes sprinkled about the countryside. Its real distinguishing feature was its name.
Many people have written about the unusual name and their accounts littered the Intertubes, including some appearing in respectable publications like the New York Times. Fact needed to be separated from fiction. The cold, hard truth was that Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg contained an element of fiction. Numerous sources traced its long-form name back to newspaperman Laurence J. Daly who edited the local periodical, The Webster Times. He’d concocted a fanciful tale on a slow news day in the early 20th Century about an agreement between Native American tribes, claiming the full translation meant "you fish on your side, I fish on my side and nobody fish in the middle." It sounded great but it wasn’t accurate.
It took a while but, gradually, the You-I-Nobody fantasy built a head of steam, aired on national radio broadcasts, rewritten in newspapers everywhere, and buoyed by a "Ripley’s Believe It or Not" illustration. People with Webster-area roots began mailing clips about Mr. Daly’s tale to the editor of the Webster Times, Laurence J. Daly, he recalled in my presence more than once.
The U.S. Geological Survey recorded the body of water officially as Chaubunagungamaug in the Geographic Names Information System. That was an impressive string of 17 characters although far short of 45. It also included some additional history.
In 1642, Woodward and Saffery, the first surveyors of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, called it "The Great Pond." In 1645, Connecticut Governor John Winthrop called it "The Lakes of Quabage." In a 1707 survey, John Chandler recorded the name as “Chaubunnagungamoug.”
Various translations of the shorter string, Chaubunnagungamoug, referenced the Algonquian language spoken by local Nipmuc Indians, and generated meanings such as Place of the Boundaries or Lake Divided by Islands. GNIS also recognized Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg and similar spellings as legitimate variants. Did I actually visit the place with the longest name in the United States? Well, maybe. I didn’t have to go out of my way to experience it so it wasn’t like it involved any special effort.
I was much more interested in some unfinished business, the only object skipped in 2012 during an epic Craziest Geo-Oddity Adventure Ever. I hit every conceivable geographic feature of importance in Connecticut on a single day as I circled the state with Steve from Connecticut Museum Quest (now simply CTMQ). I truly believed that we were the first people ever to undertake that quest and it may never be surpassed. The Connecticut-Massachusetts-Rhode Island tripoint had been on our original itinerary (map) and we failed to capture it. We had to abandon our final objective with daylight running short and exhaustion kicking-in. I seemed to recall being quietly content with that decision at the time. We’d seen enough.
Steve reminded me of our omission when I put out a call for my 2016 travel plans. The CTMARI Tripoint absolutely had to make the cut. The goal was never about Lake Chargogga-whatever, it just happened to fall along a convenient line as I charted our course towards Connecticut’s Quiet Corner where I could reach the tripoint. I relied upon Steve’s CTMARI page for directions and you should too. Not only did it include the clearest, easiest path to the tripoint, it also included an account of the Great East Thompson Train Wreck of 1891, "The only time in US railroading history that FOUR trains crashed into each other!" Go over there and read it. I’ll wait.
We followed Steve’s recommendations, had a relaxing walk through the woods, and arrived at the tripoint just as expected. The cellular network extended nicely to this corner despite its perceived remoteness and I fired-off a self-congratulatory tweet with photo to the world. I could now finally call the journey to all Connecticut Extremes complete.
I’m certainly no peak bagger although I’ve managed to summit a few state highpoints over the years, usually those requiring minimal effort because I’m lazy and unmotivated. It’s always an added bonus if I can drive all the way to the top. I think my total stood at 6 state highpoints prior to this trip: Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina and Tennessee. Plus the District of Columbia. Then I added Rhode Island.
Jerimoth Hill would never be described as a challenging summit requiring great technical expertise. Literally, it was merely one crest amongst many rolling hills at the far northwestern corner of Rhode Island (map). It happened to extend a few feet higher than others nearby when someone drew artificial lines a few centuries ago to create a colony that later became a state. Still, at 811 feet (247 metres), Rhode Island had a higher elevation than Mississippi, Louisiana, Delaware and Florida. It used to be a running joke in the highpointer community that fewer people had reached the summit of lowly Jerimoth Hill than the peak of Mt. Everest. A crotchety landowner blocked access to the summit at the the point of a gun for decades, eventually allowing people to visit on special days once or twice a year. He passed away several years ago and it became the property of the state of Rhode Island after a series of real estate transactions. Now anyone can park by the side of Old Hartford Pike and walk a gentle trail through fragrant pine forest a few hundred yards to the marker.
In reality it’s completely unremarkable and practically indistinguishable from any other knoll nearby. However, I gave the Rhode Island highpointers all due credit for doing their best to make their summit special. I got the sense that their treatment was more than a little tongue-in-cheek, with its stone cairns, summit register box and Himalayan prayer flags like one would expect on much more exalted mountaintops. Still, Jerimoth Hill counted as a state highpoint just as much as Denali and I doubt I’ll ever travel to Alaska and climb to 20,310 feet (6,190 m). I took my short stroll through the woods to a small boulder and I deemed it a success.
Easy Road Trip
Best of all, these three geo-oddities were aligned neatly and in close proximity. Anyone should be able to replicate my feat. I imagined it might be a nice day-trip for 12MC readers from Boston or Hartford.
New England articles:
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr