Directional Upstart Eclipses Namesake

Loyal reader Cary suggested an article idea that built upon a previous topic, Upstart Eclipses Namesake. In that previous posting I offered "new" places that grew more prominent than their original namesakes. Examples I proposed included New Zealand (vs. Zealand), New South Wales (vs. South Wales) and others. There were several comments and a lively discussion — for instance the relative prominence of New Jersey and Jersey seemed to depend upon the side of the Atlantic of one’s abode — and it was all good fun.

Cary’s proposal took these efforts in a different direction, literally. Instead of new places, what if we looked at directional places instead? For example, suppose there was a town of Podunk and later a new settlement grew just to its north, and people lacking originality or hoping to ride Podunk’s coattails decided to call it North Podunk. Then suppose, over time North Podunk continued to grow until it eventually became significantly larger than Podunk. Cary was even kind enough to provide examples. I’m going to simply plagiarize Cary’s ideas in a callous manner, wrap a little text around them and call it a day. I like articles where someone else provides the hard part and I get to take a small break. Keep those ideas and suggestions coming!

Palm Beach vs. West, North and South Palm Beach, Florida

Palm Beach - "Whitehall" (Flagler Mansion)
Palm Beach – "Whitehall" (Flagler Mansion) by Roger W on Flickr (cc)

Palm Beach, that ritzy settlement on a sandy stretch of barrier island on the Atlantic side of south Florida, traced its founding back to the efforts of Henry Flagler. He was one of those Gilded Age gazillionaires at the tail end of the Nineteenth Century with abundant money to burn. Anyone familiar with Florida history should recognize the Flagler name. It’s everywhere. He laid the Florida East Coast Railway along the length of the state and plopped a string of luxury hotels down the tracks to Key West. He, maybe more than anyone else should be credited with opening Florida to mass tourism and settlement. Palm Beach was a crown jewel, the place he chose to build his winter mansion Whitehall in 1902 (map).

The opulence and wealth of Palm Beach attracted his well-heeled peers, however supply-and-demand with geography created limitations. There was only so much land available on a thin strip of barrier island. Parcels became obscenely expensive as wealthy industrialists seized the best spots for competing displays of extravagance. Those of lesser means built nearby in other directions, principally west across a narrow channel on the mainland. They still wanted to grasp a bit of the "exclusivity" of the Palm Beach brand, however. Thus grew additional towns of West Palm Beach, North Palm Beach and South Palm Beach. West Palm Beach has ten times more residents (about a hundred thousand) than Palm Beach (a little less than ten thousand). North Palm Beach is slightly larger (about twelve thousand). Only South Palm Beach has fewer residents (about fifteen hundred).

Certainly West Palm Beach overshadowed Palm Beach by population. However Palm Beach could still take some consolation. It’s most recent median annual family income was $137,867 while West Palm Beach was only $42,074.

Orange vs. West, East and South Orange, New Jersey

East Orange Station
East Orange Station by Adam Moss on Flickr (cc)

The story of "The Oranges" — and that’s how the collection of New Jersey’s orange-named places are often grouped — was quite a bit different. Why Orange? Like many places named Orange it referred to William III of England, a.k.a. William of Orange. A group of breakaway Puritans left the New Haven Colony in Connecticut in 1666 and settled in lands that would later become Newark and the Oranges (map). According to the City of Orange Township, the area composing the Oranges served as an agricultural portion of Newark. The interests of the two began to diverge by the end of the Eighteenth Century, with Orange finally detaching in 1806. Internal rifts appeared within Orange over the next few decades and it too split not long after earning town status in 1860.

… Orange was permitted to establish fire, police, street and other town departments. On March 13, 1860, Dr. William Pierson was elected as the first Mayor of the Town of Orange. Almost immediately, the new town began fragmenting into smaller independent communities primarily because of local disputes about the costs of establishing the new departments. The other areas separated from the Town of Orange…

That resulted in four Oranges: Orange, West Orange, East Orange and South Orange. Today Orange has about thirty-thousand residents, West Orange has about forty-five thousand, East Orange has about sixty-five thousand and South Orange has about fifteen thousand. Thus, two of the three directional Oranges grew larger than Orange.

Demographically the Oranges are starkly divided.

Orange and East Orange are relatively urban and working-class, while South Orange and West Orange remain affluent suburban enclaves. In addition, the residents of Orange and East Orange are predominantly African American (75.1% and 89.5%, respectively), while those of South Orange and West Orange are predominantly white.

Battleford vs. North Battleford, Saskatchewan

Downtown North Battleford
Downtown North Battleford by waferboard on Flickr (cc)

Battleford in Saskatchewan provided another interesting tale. First I wondered about its name. Was there really a battle on a ford or was it simply some Englishman’s surname that transposed to the colonies and found its way to the Canadian prairie? Battleford (map) sat near the confluence of the North Saskatchewan and Battle Rivers, and a ford actually existed there. That solved part of the mystery. Also the "battle" wasn’t a single clash, rather it reflected an ongoing series of conflicts between Cree and Blackfoot tribes within the larger geographic footprint. Learning that, I felt comfortable and could move on with my investigation.

Poor Battleford. It should have risen to such greater prominence. Things began well at its founding in 1875 and soon it became the capital of the North-West Territories. Then came the railroad. Originally the Canadian Pacific Railway would have passed directly through Battleford, cementing its future.

But in 1881 the community’s destiny was altered with the federal government’s abrupt decision to alter the route of the trans-continental railway to cross the southern plains: as a consequence, the territorial capital was officially transferred to Regina in 1883…

Then, to add insult to injury, the Canadian Northern Railway came along in 1905 and built a line to Edmonton, placing its route on the other side of the river from Battleford. Naturally a new settlement migrated there and became North Battleford, soon eclipsing the original Battleford. Current Battleford has about five thousand residents compared to North Battleford with at about fifteen thousand. Battleford could have been Saskatchewan’s capital. Instead it became North Battleford’s smaller cousin.


Cary offered several other examples although I got tired of typing:

  • North Richland Hills vs. Richland Hills in Texas
  • North Tonawanda vs. Tonawanda in New York
  • West Covina vs. Covina in California
  • West Babylon vs. Babylon in New York

I’m sure the 12MC audience can find others. Thanks Cary!

Texas: Is Everything Really Bigger?

I’ve been to Texas many times. I have family there, I have business there, and I’ve driven across its length. I don’t underestimate its gargantuan size. There’s a reason why "Everything is Bigger in Texas" has become such an iconic boast that borders on cliché. If Texas were still a country as it was when it gained independence from Mexico in 1836, it would be about the 40th largest in the world, on a par with France and Afghanistan.

The people of Texas take great pride in it’s wide open spaces and cowboy mystique. The state has created successful advertising slogans such as, "It’s like a whole other country" (tourism) and "don’t mess with Texas" (anti-littering campaign) to great effect.

Over the years I’ve driven frequently along Interstate 10 from Louisiana across the Texas border on the way to places like Houston, San Antonio and Austin. Texas wants you to know that it ain’t no puny eastern state. The Texas Department of Transportation purposely erected this road sign designed to break a traveler’s spirit.

View Larger Map

Indeed, the state felt obligated to point out that El Paso on the western edge is 857 miles away from this stretch of highway all the way over in Orange. Trust me, this is a horribly discouraging sign. Consider how long it would take to drive 857 miles (1,380 kilometres). It’s a lasting impression burned firmly into my psyche. They’ve made their point and it’s been taken.

As a testament to my fondness for the Twelve Mile Circle, consider further how long it took me to find that one little road sign on Street View while clicking through miles of virtual highway images. More than I’m willing to admit. Oh, how I loathe that sign.

Texas is big. I get it. But is everything really bigger in Texas? Variability exists everywhere, even here, so naturally even in a super-sized state something has to be small, smaller or smallest. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples at the county level.

Loving County

Loving County Texas
SOURCE: Wikipedia – Loving County, Texas; released to the public domain

Loving County doesn’t garner its fame and recognition from its name. The "loving" actually derives from Oliver Loving, the guy who got only second billing on the historic Goodnight-Loving Trail where cowboys drove Texas Longhorns to market. What a pity that Loving doesn’t come from loving. It would have been a much better narrative.

Still, the residents get a few moments of glory and attention a couple of times a year when the national media decides to feature a quirky human-interest story here. Why? Because of the 3,000+ individual counties and county equivalents in the United States, only one of them can have the fewest people. That happens right here in Loving County Texas, where the Census Bureau recorded just 67 residents in 2000.

Settlement has always been sparse in this remote stretch of west Texas. There were only three residents recorded here in the 1890 Census. It peaked at 285 residents in 1940. The population ebbs and flows with the fortunes of the oil and gas industry, which is about the only thing out here except for ranching. More demand means more drilling, and the population increases. Maybe Loving County will experience a renaissance in a world of greater energy consumption.

I won’t spend much time discussing Loving County because of its regular media attention. Any search engine will fill pages of articles and narratives written by professionals. I will point out one of the better articles I saw, a 2006 New York Times feature called "1 Cafe, 1 Gas Station, 2 Roads: America’s Emptiest County." I learned that a fringe group of outsiders tried to take over the county a few years ago to establish their version of a libertarian utopia. It doesn’t take much effort to out-vote 67 residents, or so they figured, but they sorely underestimated Texas Justice.

Rockwall County

Rockwall County Texas
SOURCE: Wikipedia – Rockwall County, Texas; released to the public domain

Loving County may have the smallest population of any county in Texas and indeed the United States, but it is not the smallest in size. In Texas that honor goes to Rockwall County. See the little red dot up there towards the northeast on the map above? It’s hard to see, maybe only a single pixel, but it represents 149 square miles. It’s not even close to the smallest county in terms of population though. More than 43,000 people live in Rockwall.

Rockwall County falls within the highly-populated Dallas / Fort Worth metropolitan area, but it is dwarfed by its considerably larger neighbors. It’s natural to wonder why it even exists. How could such a tiny county have arisen in such a significantly populated area? The answer can be found in the later half of the Nineteenth Century.

Rockwall began as a little nonconsequential northwestern appendage tacked to Kaufman County. It split-off in 1873 "because the county seat, Kaufman, was inconvenient for the residents of the northern panhandle." It’s a little easier to see this on a map, and I’m using Mapquest for this one since Google Maps still doesn’t display county boundaries.

Thirty miles separate the two county seats. That doesn’t sound so bad. However let’s keep in mind that a modern road network did not exist in 1873 nor did the automobile. It would have been an all day affair and perhaps an overnight trip on horseback to transact even the most mundane county business. Many counties in the United States formed for similar reasons: residents felt isolated and underserved when their homes fell far from the county seat. Oftentimes this also resulted in second-class status, with fewer services for their taxpayer dollars.

Rockwall County isn’t the smallest county in the United States — not even close — but 149 square miles is a respectably diminutive footprint and not what one would expect to find in a behemoth like Texas.