I was amazed to find so many broken place names. I didn’t know what led people to memorialize broken objects, just noted that they they did and it amused me. Broken Lakes, Broken Ridges, Broken Points, Broken Valleys and on and on. The list was so exhaustive that I had a terrible time limiting my selection to the largest of such populated places, a couple of themes and some oddballs.
Native Americans Broke Stuff
Priorities by Barry Lenard, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)
That’s what I felt anyway after identifying several names related to the original inhabitants of the Americas. The largest location I found was Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, a major suburb of about a hundred thousand residents on the eastern side of Tulsa (map). The image I selected didn’t have all that much to do with Broken Arrow per se except that it was taken there and it seemed to serve as a poignant commentary of one sort or another. It could have been taken anywhere, I suppose.
According to the City of Broken Arrow
When a group of Creek Indians established a settlement near what is now our city, they called it "Broken Arrow." Broken Arrow is the name of the place where many of those same Creeks had lived when they were in Alabama – before moving west on the Trail of Tears. While many Americans think of the term "broken arrow" as meaning an act of peace by Native Americans a few hundred years ago, the Creeks who got that name did so because they broke branches of trees to make their arrows, rather than cutting them.
Broken Bow, Nebraska by BitHead, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
A broken arrow in Oklahoma could be paired with a Broken Bow in Nebraska (map) although it was considerably smaller with about 3,500 residents. Broken Bow was the seat of local government in Custer County and one could be forgiven for thinking that the name referred to Custer’s demise at the Battle of Little Bighorn somehow. The explanation provided in the History of Custer County, Nebraska was rather more mundane.
Mr. Hewitt was a blacksmith and a hunter, and while out hunting one day he found, on an old Indian camping ground, a broken bow and arrow, which he carried home with him… some time afterwards he received notice that the third name [for the town] he had sent to Washington had been rejected, and going to the box after a piece of iron he picked up the broken bow, and the name "Broken Bow" came to his mind quickly.
I also discovered a similarly-sized Broken Bow in Oklahoma about a three hour drive from Broken Arrow. It was named for the Broken Bow in Nebraska, strangely enough.
Miners Broke Stuff
There was once a broken hill in a distant western corner of New South Wales, Australia, deep in the outback. Actually it was a string of hills "that appeared to have a break in them." Then a ranch hand discovered silver ore there in the late 19th Century and the broken hill became Broken Hill (map), a large mine and a settlement.
Miners extracted silver, zinc and lead from "a boomerang-shaped line of lode." It was a dirty, dangerous job and more than 700 people died on the site. A memorial served as "a stark reminder of the fact that more people have died working the mine’s in Broken Hill than Australian soldiers died in the Vietnam War."
Ironically, the broken hill that served as the town’s namesake no longer exists. It was mined completely away.
mine de cuivre – Zambie (around Kabwe) by Amis de la Terre, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Another broken hill, this one in Zambia, resembled the broken hill in Australia. Foreign prospectors noticed the similarities and named it Broken Hill after the Australian location: "the mine became one of the biggest mines before the advent of copper mines on the Copperbelt." The town was later renamed Kabwe (map) in the post-colonial era, an indigenous word meaning "ore or smelting."
In 1921, a miner working at Broken Hill noticed a skull in the debris and he retrieved it. This came to be known appropriately enough as the Broken Hill skull. It belonged to a distant human ancestor known as Homo heidelbergensis that lived more than a half million years ago. The skull can be seen today at the Natural History Museum in London.
Some Other Broken Stuff
BR day lodge by Jason Blair, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
New Zealand had a Broken River, and near there a Broken River Ski Field (map).
Broken Island, Falkland Islands
Finally, I noticed Broken Island in the Falkland Islands (or Islas Malvinas if one prefers, although I don’t really want to get into the geo-politics of the situation). Google misspelled the name. Every other source I consulted agreed that it was Broken Island.
I included that last one because I didn’t have a 12MC push-pin on the Falklands in my Complete Index Map. Now I do. I’m still waiting for my first website visitor from the Falklands by the way. Its Internet country code top-level domain is .fk. We could have a lot of fun with that one.
Several months ago, right after I returned from my Dust Bowl trip and tallied my new County Counts, I noticed that one of them, Lincoln County, Colorado was sort-of shaped like the letter L. That led to Shaped Like it Sounds, a brief collection of States, Counties and Towns that mirrored the first letter of their names geographically.
That concept suddenly jumped to the next level when I noticed this amazing specimen of a road in a suburb of the Melbourne, Australia metropolitan area.
Y St., Ashburton, Victoria, Australia
Behold the occurrence of Ashburton’s Y Street in the City of Boroondara, on the eastern side of Melbourne. This one was rather atypical of a Y Street since it was actually shaped like the letter Y (you may need to drill in to see the actual labeling, or consult a different map). I couldn’t find any other single-letter streets nearby so it didn’t appear to be part of a larger grid. Someone consciously labeled this Y street due purely to its shape. It seemed rather odd. How would someone create a set of logical street addresses for a road that split like this?
Imaging giving someone directions: "OK, drive up Y Street to the Y-intersection. Now, bear left onto the left branch of Y Street; be careful not to take the right branch of Y Street. Yes, they are all the same Y Street…"
What About Other Letters of the Alphabet?
The highly unusual nature of Y Street became more apparent as I searched in vain for additional instances. I was certain there had to be others — it seemed too tempting to not spawn similar thoughts elsewhere — although I couldn’t find anything. Hundreds of towns with perfectly square or rectangular alphabetical grids jammed the results of major online search engines to the point of uselessness. Try to find an actual S-shaped S Street, or a circular O Street, or a crescent C Street. Post them in the comments if you find anything. I gave up.
Ewe Road, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, USA
I found much better luck when I converted my attempts from a single letter to a phonetic spelling. For example, convert the letter U to Ewe or You and one could easily discern several horseshoe-styled streets, paths or driveways that met the criteria. Some of them may have been designated intentionally. Others required greater imagination to appreciate and may reflect a Rorschach interpretation of my overly wishful thinking.
Nonetheless, I discovered a few possibilities after more time spent hunting than I’d care to admit.
- (C): See Road, Valley Head, WV (map) – Turn the orientation on the map so that East points upward and a large C-shaped crescent appears
- (L): Ell Road, Hillsdale, NJ (map) – A definite and most assuredly intentional L. There were several other Ell roads/streets although the one in Hillsdale was probably the best. Ell was the most common Letter-Shape road.
- (O): O Circle, Adel, IA (map) – Oh! I so wanted to believe it was an O. It formed a circuit albeit more rectangular than circular when combined with N Avenue and 250th Street. "Circle" in this corner of Iowa appeared to represent any street with a 90° bend that didn’t change names. I don’t know why.
- (S): Ess Road, Kansas City, MO (map) – Ess Road had a couple of legitimate S curves.
- (U): Ewe Road, Mechanicsburg, PA – I featured that one in the image above.
- (U): You Road, Kane, PA (map) – Someone with a driveway had a good sense of humor
- (U): You Way, Parrottsville, TN (map) – A definite U although I’m kinda wondering more about the name Parrottsville(¹) than the shape of the road.
- (Y): Why Lane, McVeytown, PA (map) – It forms a Y intersection when combined with adjacent River Road; nowhere near as good as the Australian example though.
Additionally if anyone want to take a logical leap and say that snakes represent S, then there are hundreds of Snake Streets and such with multiple twists and curves.
What Were They Thinking?
O Circle, Omaha, Nebraska
I spotted three distinct segments of O Circle in Omaha, Nebraska and they all appeared ramrod straight except for their terminations at bulbous cul-de-sacs. What a completely lost opportunity. I did notice a dog about to relieve itself on a fire hydrant quite stereotypically, and that should count for something at least until the Street View car drives through the neighborhood again.
My disappointment with C Street in Crescent City, California was also palpable. With a name like Crescent City, shouldn’t it have a crescent-shaped street and wouldn’t C Street be the perfect candidate? Nope. It was simply one among many perpendicular and parallel lines (map) on a much larger grid.
Ditto for See Crescent in Avenell Heights, Queensland, Australia (map) which was neither a C nor a Crescent. A pox on the person who named that one deceptively.
By preemption, I’ll also note that any straight-line I street might be said to resemble its namesake, as would any L street if we considered the lowercase, or a T street that terminates in a T intersection. None of those were worth pursuing.
(¹) Mysetery solved: "Parrottsville was settled in 1769 by John Parrott, an American Revolutionary War Soldier." It had nothing to do with Jimmy Buffett.
I can’t seem to make a dent in my list of potential Twelve Mile Circle articles. I keep writing steadily and in the process I run into several more morsels that go onto a never-ending pile. It’s become a perpetual motion machine.
I’m going to do something I haven’t done in a very long time. I’ll featuring some obscure and beloved websites. The last time I devoted an entire article to something like this was all the way back in March 2010 and even then I did it with some trepidation. Websites tend to come-and-go, and those recommended by 12MC don’t seem to fare well after I mention them. In fact, I’m pretty sure a 12MC endorsement is pretty much a death knell. Nonetheless, the sites I’ll feature are very well established with prospects of solid longevity. Maybe we’ll break the curse. Either way, at least I can place check marks next to three entries on my overflowing topic list in a single shot and call them done.
Wisconsin State Capitol by howderfamily.com
"not fit for any civilized nation of people to inhabit."
The Wisconsin Historical Society publishes Odd Wisconsin in blog format about once a week, beginning about a year ago. It hits on three of my interests: geography; history and weirdness. As they note, their mission is to "Amuse, surprise, perplex, astonish, and otherwise connect you with your past." They "lower a bucket into the depths of Wisconsin history and bring to light curious fragments of forgotten lives."
That bucket has been lowered into some rather interesting places. I’ve learned:
- The Madison area — the site of the state capital since 1836 — was once described as "not fit for any civilized nation of people to inhabit."
- Wisconsin and beer are practically synonymous, and several American brewing empires traced their origin to the state. Nonetheless beer almost became illegal during the early years of statehood. Voters passed a prohibition referendum in 1853 and it failed only because the state legislature didn’t endorse it.
- One area could have become Petersylvania; no, not Pennsylvania, Petersylvania after Rev. Samuel Peters.
- The town of Dekorra was poised by geographic happenstance to become a major settlement like Madison or Milwaukee. Never heard of it? Exactly.
Trestle looking down by ken ratcliff, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
Niobrara River Cowboy Trail Bridge
I could get lost on bridgehunter.com for days, just drilling down randomly on the 30,000+ bridges contained on its pages. Contributors add bunches of new ones to the site every day. Almost three hundred vertical lift bridges? Simply mind-blowing. I could also feast on 600+ tunnels or nearly a hundred ferries listings if I ever grew tired of bridges, too.
Let’s try it out. Say, I want to see only Nebraska bridges and then select Cherry County from the clickable map. The Niobrara River Cowboy Trail Bridge looks promising, and there it is with four photographs, a Google Street View image, lat/long coordinates and various vital statistics. Just like that, I learned about an old Chicago & Northwestern railroad trestle (map) that was converted to pedestrian use as part of the Cowboy Trail, which is a Rails-to-Trails project. Now I’ll have something interesting to do when I visit Nebraska’s largest county. There are thousands of possibilities like that simply waiting to be discovered on the site.
I wonder if the website attracts the wrong crowd sometimes. The URL is only a single letter away from Bride Hunter. Lonely-hearts with bad typing skills in search of mail order brides might arrive on the site only to leave disappointed.
12MC Visits Lots of Virginia Places
I’ve used Virginia Places as a reference for years. It is copyright © 1998-2013 so I guess the owner continues to maintain its content even thought the formatting seems to be stuck in 1998. Virginia Places serves as a reference for a geography class at George Mason University (Geography of Virginia – GGS380) so signs look promising for it to stick around for awhile.
The index page includes that annoying, anonymous Virginia quote that one sees scattered throughout the Commonwealth: "To be a Virginian either by Birth, Marriage, Adoption, or even on one’s Mother’s side is an Introduction to any State in the Union, a Passport to any Foreign Country, and a Benediction from Above." Whatever. I’ll forgive Virginia Places for that brief transgression because I like leafing through the rest of its pages.
Remember last year when I served as a chauffeur for someone participating in the Dust Bowl Marathon Series? My participant selected the half-marathon option, so only half-crazy.
We’re doing it again. This time it will be the Riverboat Marathon Series (Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana), April 12-16, 2014. That gives all of you plenty of time to get in shape and join us for one or more of the races. I’m already salivating over the number of counties I’ll capture.