Another Town Roundup

On October 29, 2017 · 1 Comments

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.

Cavalier

On August 27, 2017 · Comments Off on Cavalier

This article came courtesy of the infamous Unknown Random Reader who landed on the pages of Twelve Mile Circle from an interesting place. This time the town carried the name of Cavalier. I’ll get to that later. I wanted to start with a little context about why that resonated with me. Hearing the word Cavalier automatically grabbed my attention because I’m an alumnus of the University of Virginia. The university’s sports teams are called the Cavaliers (map). Simple enough.

Sports


UVA cav man
UVA cav man. Photo by Karen Blaha on Flickr (cc)

I liked the old UVa mascot, an actual human on a horse, that unfortunately doesn’t appear very often anymore. A fabric and foam monstrosity replaced it a number of years ago for most purposes. Oddly, I’d never delved into the adoption of this particular nickname though. I knew that the name had been applied to Royalists supporting Charles I during the English Civil War. One definition also equated to an indifferent or dismissive behavior, as in someone with a cavalier attitude. From an etymological standpoint it derived from Late Latin for horseman, Italian for mounted soldier and French for knight before its application to the Royalists in the English language.

Anyway, the association with UVa, as I learned, began in 1923. A student wrote a tune he called "The Cavalier Song." It won a contest sponsored by the school newspaper and the name stuck. Interestingly, in 1970 the Cleveland Cavaliers professional basketball team also got its name when someone won a contest.

What did any of this have to do with a geo-oddity? Absolutely nothing. Sometimes I get stuck on a tangent.


Cavalier Fortifications


Valletta: St John's Cavalier
Valletta: St John's Cavalier. Photo by James Stringer on Flickr (cc)

The same etymology led to the naming of a specific type of fortification. More accurately, a cavalier served as a fortification within a fortification. Generally, the cavalier rose higher than the rest of the fort. That allowed people in the cavalier to fire over the outer wall. Soldiers on the outer wall could also shoot so the layering increased overall firepower. On the other hand, a tower raised above the rest of the fort made a really nice target too. It seemed like a somewhat mixed effectiveness.

Noteworthy examples existed on the island of Malta, with the identical Saint John’s and Saint James Cavaliers. The Sovereign Military Order of Malta, a humanitarian religious order formed of laymen of the Roman Catholic Church constructed them. These arose in the wake of a failed Ottoman invasion known as the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. Currently SMOM uses Saint John’s cavalier as an embassy (map).


Cavalier County, North Dakota


20080801-US-NDK_DaveLisaWedding-073
Welcome to Langdon. Photo by Andrew Ross on Flickr (cc)

Now, finally, I got around to geography. I didn’t find a lot of Cavalier places although the biggest two both fell within North Dakota. There I discovered Cavalier County with its seat of local government in the town of Langdon (map). It split from neighboring Pembina County in 1873. The name came neither from a Royalist connection nor a fortification. Cavalier honored an early pioneer, Charles Cavileer. The party responsible, lost somewhere to history, misspelled his name. Then I looked up Charles Cavileer in the 1880 United States census. At the time he lived in the town of Pembina in Pembina County, Dakota Territory with his wife Isabella and several of his late-teen and adult children. He began his life in Ohio, with his father from Maryland and his mother from Pennsylvania. He served as the local postmaster.


Cavalier, North Dakota


Cavalier, North Dakota
Cavalier, North Dakota. Photo by Andrew Filer on Flickr (cc)

The unknown visitor, however, came from the town of Cavalier (map). The town wasn’t in Cavalier County, it was in Pembina. It also honored Charles Cavileer though. I found a couple of interesting places there.

First, the town hosted the Cavalier Air Force Station. Airmen assigned there, with the 10th Space Warning Squadron, watched over "the world’s most capable phased-array radar system." They kept their eyes open for incoming missiles and they tracked earth-orbiting objects. It didn’t look like a huge military presence although it provided vital early warning to the nation.

Second, Icelandic State Park fell within its borders. I mentioned Icelandic Diaspora in a 12MC article several years ago. I enjoyed the chance to become reacquainted with this little sliver of Iceland on the prairie.

Rolla

On July 2, 2017 · 1 Comments

Editor’s NoteWell folks, after 1,373 articles, it finally happened. I repeated a topic. I’d forgotten that I posted a similar article back in 2014. This should make for an interesting compare and contrast, though. I did include a couple of extra Rolla locations this time. I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner, actually.


Once again my compulsive need to review the Twelve Mile Circle access logs inspired an article. I spotted a little dot in North Dakota, way up by the Canadian border. It stood all alone so I wondered why someone from such an obscure spot might come to 12MC. The user probably arrived for a reason similar to anyone else although now it piqued my curiosity. I checked and saw the viewer read about the smallest tribe of Native Americans in the United States. Well, welcome Rolla user. That gave me a nice excuse to explore your town along with others of a similar name.


Rolla, North Dakota


Rolla, North Dakota
Rolla, North Dakota. Photo by Andrew Filer on Flickr (cc)

I most appreciated that Rolla (map) could be found in Rolette County. References indicated that the Rolla name probably derived from the county name. Probably? How could there be any doubt? Unfortunately I couldn’t find a primary source so that forced me to apply the same qualifier. Rolette though derived from Joseph Rolette, a colorful 19th Century fur trader and politician from an area of Minnesota that later became part of North Dakota. He once hid for several days to prevent the governor from signing a bill to move Minnesota’s capital away from St. Paul. Apparently he sought refuge in a nearby brothel where he drank, played cards and, well, I digress. That escapade didn’t disqualify him from having a county and city named in his honor after his death. Maybe it helped.

However, Rolla did not become the county seat of government for Rolette. That honor went to Belcourt, a town of two thousand residents, about double the size of Rolla. I couldn’t find much of historical importance in Rolla although I wouldn’t recommend breaking in to someone’s home there either.

It seemed that residents pronounced it Roll-a. Perhaps my 12MC visitor will return some day and confirm that.


Rolla, Kansas


Dust Storm. Rolla, Kansas 1935
Dust Storm. Rolla, Kansas 1935. Library of Congress Collection on Flickr (cc)

Now why did Rolla sound so familiar? I’d seen a different Rolla before. In Kansas. This happened during my 2013 Dust Bowl adventure. I concentrated on a tight area around the Oklahoma Panhandle. It included the southwestern corner of Kansas. In that faraway nook, in Morton County specifically, stood a little town of Rolla (map). Barely four hundred people lived there along the open plains within the Cimarron National Grassland.

What scant evidence existed seemed to say that Rolla’s founders named if for Sir Walter Raleigh, and pronounced it Raw-la. That seemed fair-fetched, however, many people living in North Carolina’s capital city of Raleigh pronounced it that way in their southern drawl. Transplants could have carried the name and its pronunciation with them as they settled the plains. I couldn’t find direct evidence to back that up for this particular Rolla although it seemed to be within the realm of possibility.


Rolla, Missouri


On Historic Route 66 in Rolla, Missouri
On Historic Route 66 in Rolla, Missouri. Photo by Kent Kanouse on Flickr (cc)

The big Rolla didn’t appear in North Dakota or Kansas, it appeared in Missouri. This Rolla (map) served a population of twenty thousand! It also included a significant university, the Missouri University of Science and Technology. Residents pronounced it Raw-la like in Kansas, and supposedly for a similar reason. It also had a more definitive connection back to North Carolina too.

Rolla was officially surveyed, laid out and named in 1858. Bishop wanted to call it Phelps Center, since his house was the center of the county. John Webber preferred the name "Hardscrabble" for the obvious reasons. George Coppedge, another original settler, and formerly of North Carolina, favored "Raleigh" after his hometown. The others agreed with Coppedge on the condition that it shouldn’t have "that silly spelling, but should be spelled ‘Rolla.’"

Significant military activity took place here during the Civil War because of Rolla’s southern sympathies. The Union army occupied it just to make sure a strategic railroad terminal didn’t fall into the hands of Confederate sympathizers.


Rolla, British Columbia



I didn’t expect a Rolla to show-up in Canada, and yet one appeared (map) in British Columbia near the Alberta border. It seemed like an odd coincidence until I found an entry for Rolla on the Discover The Peace Country website.

The Lea Miller family was the first settlers to arrive in the area in 1912 that were originally from Rolla, Missouri in the USA. This new area then started being referred to as Rolla. The Millers opened a post office and Rolla was officially named in 1914.

Thus, if I followed the logic correctly, Sir Walter Raleigh lent his name to Raleigh, North Carolina where it transferred to Rolla, Missouri, and finally to Rolla, British Columbia. I’d seen longer name chains before (e.g., Richmond) although this one still stood out. The couple of hundred-or-so people there pronounced it similarly to its Missouri namesake.


Rolla, Anantapur, India



The Rolla in India seemed to be completely coincidental (map). I couldn’t find a connection to any of the others. I didn’t know how to pronounce it either. Information seemed scarce. I did find some basic information on its Wikipedia page. However, the page offered little else and failed to cite reliable sources. Someone could have made it up for all I knew. Yet, this Rolla supposedly dwarfed even the similarly-named Missouri town. Nearly thirty-five thousand people lived there. It certainly demonstrated the drawback of Wikipedia, where a town of that size barely earned any mention because of its location.

I didn’t want to be culturally insensitive. Primarily, I wouldn’t ordinarily describe someone’s tradition as "strange." However, a local news report documented a "Strange Tradition in Rolla Village Anantapuram" (their words not mine) in a YouTube video. If the locals thought it qualified as strange then I didn’t feel so bad about calling it strange too. The video showed some kind of ceremony where a row of people laid down on the ground and others stuck their feet on them as musicians played. It showed the same scene of a toddler getting a foot on her neck like a dozen times. Maybe it served as some kind of blessing. I couldn’t grasp any context because the reporter spoke something other than English.

Nonetheless, it let me add another Indian pushpin to my Complete Index Map, and that made me happy.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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