There was a town in Maryland I spotted named California. I’d known about it for awhile. It always seemed odd to have a town in one state named for another, especially one located an entire continent away. I figured there was a connection and further speculated that it had its roots in the California Gold Rush that captured the imagination of the nation in 1849 and thereafter.
First I needed to examine the etymology of California to understand if the name might have arisen independently. However, nobody was completely sure what influenced the original California name. Most sources tended to speculate that it derived from a romantic novel published in Spain in the early Sixteenth Century, "Las Sergas de Esplandián." The book described a fictional island found east of Asia. Early Spanish explorers, mistaking Mexico’s Baja Peninsula for an island, noticed a similarity and applied California both to the peninsula and to lands farther north. The theory seemed plausible although plenty of other ideas existed too.
The name spread throughout parts of the New World. However, I was interested specifically in places named because of the Gold Rush influence. Therefore I declined to examine places named California in Central and South America. Those would have likely traced back to the Spanish colonial era. I stuck to English-speaking areas.
I didn’t resolve the mystery in Maryland completely. Indeed, the California (map) in St. Mary’s County was named for the west coast state of the same name. However I never discovered what year that happened. I also learned that this once sleepy hamlet had been growing rapidly in recent years due to its proximity to adjacent Naval Air Station Patuxent River while also becoming popular with commuters to Washington, DC. It experienced an explosive 25% population growth in the previous decade, now approaching twelve thousand residents. That recent surge probably made it the largest U.S. California outside of the state of California.
This same general area made an appearance in Twelve Mile Circle about three years ago in Three Notches for an entirely different reason.
The California in Pennsylvania (map) sparked similar déjà vu. I knew I’d encountered the place previously. Sure enough, the university located in town — California University of Pennsylvania — appeared in a 12MC article called Résumé Bait and Switch a couple of years ago. I’d even speculated on the potential Gold Rush nature of its name. The conjecture was well founded since the borough of California confirmed it:
California Borough is a community of approximately 5200 people that covers nearly 13 square miles of land. California was founded in 1849 and incorporated as a Borough in 1853. It is named after the state of California because the town’s founding coincided with the California Gold Rush of 1849. Naming the town after the state was meant to symbolize our town’s future growth and prosperity.
The third largest non-California California seemed to be a town so named in Missouri (map). It also had the distinction of being the seat of local government for Moniteau County. This California was named for its west coast cousin although I’d have to call it a near-miss on the Gold Rush connection. It actually predated the Gold Rush by a couple of years.
California, county seat of Moniteau county, …was first called Boonsborough but by act January 25, 1847, changed to California. The new country on the Pacific Coast was just then attracting attention and the overland railroad was being agitated and during this agitation the name was given for the state of California
The name change may have had something to do with a Post Office issue; the original name already having been applied to another Missouri town.
Most of the other towns of California were nothing more than flyspecks. There was one former town however, now a neighborhood within Cincinnati, that seemed to have some significance (map). The village claimed a Gold Rush derivation, albeit indirectly.
In the year of the Gold Rush, three friends… shook off the desire to become gold miners and decided instead to make money in an "easier" way. Their idea was to lay off a town that would become one of the greatest industrial cities along the Ohio River… Unfortunately, their dreams were never fully realized and California was to remain a small rivertown until it was later annexed by Cincinnati in 1909.
California eventually packed a lot of activities within its tiny neighborhood boundaries including a golf course, a nature preserve and an amusement park. It was also the city of Cincinnati’s southernmost point.
I did discover a couple of California place names in English-speaking countries outside of the United States with potential Gold Rush connections. The larger was California Gulley (map), a suburb near Bendigo in Victoria, Australia. Bindigo was noted for its goldfield.
People came from across the world to seek their fortune in Bendigo in the mid to late 1800’s. Alluvial gold was discovered along the banks of the Bendigo Creek in 1851 and resulted in a major gold rush… In Christmas 1851 there were 800 people on the field and by the following June, 20,000 diggers had arrived in the alluvial field. Alluvial gold production was dominant in the first ten years of the field to 1860 and is estimated to account for up to four million ounces or almost one fifth of the total gold won from the Bendigo goldfield.
It didn’t seem surprising that an area on the outskirts of Bendigo came to be known as California Gully given the timing of the Bendigo Gold Rush, just a couple of years after the similar rush in the United States.
There was also a California in England, an area within Derby (map) in Derbyshire. The etymology was unclear although speculation existed that it may have had ties somehow to the California Gold Rush.
My search showed that many California place names did seem draw their influence from the state of California in the United States. Connections to the Gold Rush often existed, although not ubiquitously.
The expression "Flat as a Pancake" obviously means that something would be considered extremely flat. There are several U.S. states, led by Florida, that are indeed even flatter than a pancake. That’s not what this article is about. Rather I found a location that may or may not have been flatter than a pancake although it should be flatter if its name did it justice. The Geographic Names Information System identified it as Pancake Flats.
I expected to find virtually nothing about this highly obscure spot northwest of Altoona, Pennsylvania that wasn’t even significant enough to be identified on online maps (for example). Yet, people have been there. Lots of them. It was one of the signature features, albeit a relatively flat feature set amongst much rougher terrain, along the Greensprings Trail at Wopsononock (Wopsy) Mountain. The Bureau of Land Management described it as a "2.2 mile loop. Mainly level, low difficulty."
That was the only Pancake Flats listed although there were 48 other entries for various other Pancakes in the United States.
Pancake, West Virginia
I found very little information about populated places called Pancake. Locations in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Texas did manage to stand out from the crowd a bit.
Pancake, West Virginia (map) consisted of little more than an abandoned whistle stop along the South Branch Valley Railroad named for the Pancake family. However, nearly everyone bearing the Pancake surname listed in Wikipedia came from West Virginia. The surname clearly signified something significant along the South Branch of the Potomac River.
Pancake, Pennsylvania (map) was a bit more notable. It gained its name in the early 1800’s. I found a Pancake History that included an excerpt from the Saturday, April 2, 1955 edition of The Washington Reporter, of Washington, Pennsylvania.
An air of mystery hovers around the name of George Pancake, one of the early settlers at the little village of that name just east of Washington. Where he came from, when and what became of him are questions that will probably never be answered. He was here for 12 years, and then drifted on west to Ohio… In spite of all efforts to change, the name of Pancake has clung to this village through more than 135 years. First it was Williamsburg, then Martinsburg, and finally Laboratory after Dr. Byron Clark secured a post office for his patent medicine mail order business. But, everyone called it Pancake, and Pancake it still is because it struck the popular fancy as the name of America’s most popular breakfast dish.
Pancake, Texas (map) didn’t exactly qualify as a booming metropolis either. It was large enough nonetheless, to gain an entry in Texas Online from the Texas State Historical Association.
Pancake is at the intersection of Farm roads 2955 and 217, thirteen miles northwest of Gatesville in northern Coryell County. A post office opened there in 1884 with John R. Pancake as postmaster… The population of Pancake was reported as twenty-five from the 1930s through the 1960s. No further estimates were available until 2000 when the population was eleven.
Interestingly, anytime I uncovered the origins of a town called Pancake it tied back to someone named Pancake. I attempted to find out where the name came from with mixed results. Ancestry.com said it was German: "Translation of German Pfannkuch(e), North German Pannkoke, Pankauke, or Dutch Pannekoek(e), metonymic occupational names for someone who made and sold pancakes." One of those family crest websites — and yes apparently there was a Pancake family crest — said it was Cornish.
On the other hand, geographic features named pancake seemed to derive from their appearance, said to resemble either a single pancake (i.e., very flat and round) or a stack of pancakes. Pancake Flats was a good example of that principal and I found a couple of others that seemed to qualify likewise.
There was an entire set of mountains stretching 90 miles (140 kilometres) in the central part of Nevada called the Pancake Range. That was probably the largest geographic pancake feature anywhere. U.S. Route 50, a stretch once dubbed the loneliest road in America, crossed directly over the range. It traveled across Pancake Summit (map) at an elevation of 6,521 feet (1,988 metres).
There were pancakes in Canada too! I found a nice one in Ontario called Pancake Bay (map). There was even a Provincial Park located on the bay with "3 km of beautiful sand beach and Caribbean blue water."
Twelve Mile Circle has an international audience so I’m never sure whether a term that’s part of my lexicon translates geographically. Many readers probably know the term NIMBY. For the rest of you, and particularly the foreign-language readers, NIMBY is an acronym for "Not In My Back Yard." As defined by Dictionary.com NIMBY is…
…used to express opposition by local citizens to the locating in their neighborhood of a civic project, as a jail, garbage dump, or drug rehabilitation center, that, though needed by the larger community, is considered unsightly, dangerous, or likely to lead to decreased property values.
The term has become somewhat of a personal inside joke during my formulation of articles for 12MC. I’ve attempted to write a NIMBY story for years and I always get about fifteen minutes into it before dropping it. I can never seem to make it flow well. Maybe I’ll write that article someday although for today I’m going to punt once again and take a slightly different twist on the topic.
Instead of providing examples of NIMBY behavior I thought I’d focus on a few people who live on streets named Nimby. These had to be some rather special residents as I thought about it, who acknowledged their passive-aggressive behavior with a healthy dose of irony. Good for them! What’s the expression? — something about the first step in solving a problem is accepting that one has a problem?
First I discovered Nimby Lane in Pennsylvania. It was funny because a humongous 4-lane highway was in the figurative backyard. I wondered if the residents had fought the battle and lost or were collectively thumbing their noses at other nearby people who had fought and lost. It was quite the paradox, and of course 12MC loves a good paradox.
I noticed an odd little map symbol just to the west; I wasn’t sure if it was a person kneeling in prayer or a tabletop microscope. Was it a place of worship or a laboratory? It took some digging on OpenStreetMap to confirm that it was indeed a place of worship. Some additional searching determined that this was the site of the Chickaree Union Church, "The Jesus Saves Church" That led me to wonder when one would use a Christian cross symbol versus a person kneeling in prayer. I know we have some OpenStreetMap contributors in the audience. Perhaps one of them could enlighten us.
The name of the highway also provided a tantalizing point of trivia since we’ve already veered along an unrelated tangent once again. It’s not difficult to derail me. It was labeled US Route 22, the Admiral Peary Highway. That seemed like an odd choice.
Admiral Robert Edwin Peary was an Arctic explorer who was credited with leading the first expedition to the North Pole in 1909. Later research showed that he probably missed it by quite a few miles although he certainly garnered significant fame during his lifetime for his achievement. He was born in Cresson, Pennsylvania. That was less than 20 miles away from Nimby Lane. Clearly a lot more had happened in Nimby Lane’s back yard than met the eye.
Nimby Dr., Savannah, Georgia, USA
Nimby Drive in Georgia seemed less clear-cut. It was located within a nascent golf course community at The Club at Savannah Harbor. Actually I wondered if it might have been nothing more than a cute placeholder name. The residential area, at least on the most recent satellite view, seemed to be in the early stages of development with a street grid and very few houses. It was funny because the back yard was a golf course and usually people like golf courses in their back yard. In fact I think that houses in golf course communities commanded premium prices? Maybe it referred to golf balls, as in it might be nice to live near a course except for the places where a wicked slice could send something crashing through a window.
The Club at Savannah included a bust commemorating golfer Sam Snead. I wondered if there might have been a local connection like I’d observed with Admiral Peary in Pennsylvania. Nope. Snead was born in Virginia and died in Virginia. Apparently it was simply a tribute to a legendary golfer instead of a local connection. Snead was not in their back yard.
I found a couple of Nimby Roads in New South Wales, Australia. I’ll have to defer to the Australian readers to determine if NIMBY is actually a thing there or not. I got the distinct feeling that neither road referred to the acronym, though. They were found in areas where roads carried aboriginal terms so it probably meant something innocuous in a native language like "pleasant view". I could be completely wrong though. I made that up.
The North Ridge Reserve area on the edge of Cooma comprises approximately 80 hectares which was a consolidation of a Crown Land Reserve and land purchased by the Council from the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority in 1996. The area is home to many native animals and flora and is a favourite area for the many people who enjoy bushwalking.
I would think that just about anyone would want that in their backyard.
There was another Nimby Road near Harden (map). The two Nimby spots were only about a three hour drive apart via Canberra. That might make a nice weekend trip for readers in New South Wales.