The Only One

On November 18, 2015 · 0 Comments

I started playing a little game over the weekend using a search engine and the exact phrase "The only one in [name of a country].” Much of the time this query resulted in lists of exotic automobiles for some odd reason, or vacation properties with excessive hyperbole. More amusing results floated to the surface every once in a while. I focused primarily on English-speaking countries with lots of Twelve Mile Circle readers. I figured I might as well pander to the loyal audience.

The only public diamond mine in the United States

Screening Shed
Screening Shed by Lance and Erin on Flickr (cc)

Folks can head down to Murfreesboro in southwestern Arkansas (map) when dreaming of riches. Perhaps they’d hit the motherload at Crater of Diamonds State Park. The first diamonds were discovered there about a century ago in the ancient remains of a volcanic vent. Commercial mining failed once geologists determined that only the top layer held enough diamonds to make digging worth their trouble. It was too labor intensive to turn a profit so the site became a privately-owned tourist attraction. The new operators took a different approach by charging amateurs a fee to seek their fortunes instead of paying miners to dig on their behalf. The grounds disgorged just enough winnings to keep things interesting, acting more like a casino slot machine than a typical mine. The state of Arkansas bought the attraction in the 1970’s and converted it into a state park.

Anyone lucky enough to find a diamond on the 37-acre dirt field gets to keep it. Occasionally a visitor will unearth something interesting. The Strawn-Wagner Diamond was discovered in 1990 and became "the most perfect diamond the American Gem Society (AGS) ever certified in its laboratory." Someone also found an 8.52 carat white diamond as recently as 2015. Eureka moments like that were the exception. The vast preponderance of visitors went home with dirty clothes and maybe a small but worthless diamond chip. A day of digging would have been about the same as buying a few lottery tickets at the corner market although at least the treasure hunters got outdoors for a few hours.

The only full set of 12 change-ringing bells in Canada

Bells of St. James Cathedral
Bells of St. James Cathedral by Ryan on Flickr (cc)

Canadian fans of change-ringing bells should head towards the Cathedral Church of St. James on Church Street in Toronto (map).

First I needed to ponder the definition change-ringing and then I could consider the significance of the number of bells. Fortunately the North American Guild of Change Ringers provided everything I needed to know.

Change Ringing is a team sport, a highly coordinated musical performance, an antique art, and a demanding exercise that involves a group of people ringing rhythmically a set of tuned bells through a series of changing sequences that are determined by mathematical principles and executed according to learned patterns.

Change-ringers were the people who rang bells in church towers. Bells were located in the part of the tower called the belfry, for the obvious reason, and were hung in rings of 8 (typically) or 12 (more unusually). It would take a special structure to handle the weight of 12 bells ranging from 100 to 3,600 pounds (45 to 1,600 kg), and St. James included tower walls six feet thick with an additional buttress supporting a concrete beam holding the bell frame. That’s why this was the only location in Canada with 12 bells.

The only free range reindeer herd in Britain

Reindeer on Cairngorm
Reindeer on Cairngorm by andrewrendell on Flickr (cc)

Reindeer or caribou inhabited the far northern latitudes of Eurasia and North America natively, although certainly not within Britain for at least the last several centuries. Their domesticated cousins ranged more broadly and included one small herd with a couple of hundred beasts in the Cairngorms region of Scotland. They were introduced in the 1950’s as a tourist attraction (map). Visitors continue to flock to Cairngorms National Park to see the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd. Reindeer remain active throughout the year although most people tend to be interested in them solely at Christmas. That’s when the "adult male reindeer go out and about on tour nationwide."

The only fossil bed from the early part of the Tertiary Period in Australia

Murgon fossil site

The Murgon fossil site in Queensland, Australia (map) filled a vital link in the historical record to the early Paleogene Period, the beginning of the age of mammals only a few million years removed from the extinction of dinosaurs.

Nestling in the rolling green hills of south-eastern Queensland, under the shadow of the basalt-capped Boat Mountain, is one of the most remarkable fossil deposits in the world. Located near the township of Murgon, this site is the only one in Australia that produces mammal fossils from the early part of the Tertiary Period and is dated at around 54.6 million years old. What makes Murgon so remarkable is the diversity of animals found there that were not expected to be seen in such an old Australian deposit. The world’s oldest song birds are found at Murgon as well as one of the world’s oldest bats, Australonycteris.

The fossil beds were remarkable enough to become a World Heritage Site.

The only snail farm in Kenya (and all of east Africa)

Giant African Land Snail
Giant African Land Snail by John Tann on Flickr (cc)

In Kenya one could visit Rosemary Odinga in Kiserian (map), a suburb of Nairobi, where she established a snail farm in 2008. The Kenya Wildlife Service granted her a license to farm Giant African Land Snails — the only one issued in the nation — a requirement since snails were classified as wild animals. The farm produced about 12,000 snails per year although most locals residents wouldn’t eat them. Instead she marketed them quite successfully as escargots to fine dining establishment and wealthy European expatriates.

I mentioned focusing this article on countries with sizable 12MC audiences. That’s right, Kenya has begun to emerge as one of the more common international points of origin for Twelve Mile Circle readers. Some of them came for the Oxbow Lake discussions although now they seem to have branched out to other topics. Welcome Kenyan readers! It wasn’t too long ago that I bemoaned my lack of African viewers. I’m glad to see that things have started to change.

I had so much fun writing this article that I may have to do a part 2 with more countries. Readers should feel free to search for their own one-of-a-kind superlatives and place them in the comments. They might even become fair game for that future article.


On February 1, 2015 · 3 Comments

People have expressed a couple of distinct thoughts as I’ve discussed my upcoming bike trip along the Great Allegheny Passage. The immediate reaction was that I must be crazy and then I’d explain that I’m not intending to ride it all in a single day. The second was confusion about its endpoint in Cumberland. There are multiple Cumberlands and the one in Maryland (map) may or may not be as familiar to some people as, for example, the Cumberland Gap which is several hundred miles farther away near the KYTNVA Tripoint. I agree, my ride would seem a bit more extreme if I were heading towards that more distant Cumberland.

The discussion brought up an interesting point in the process. Why where there two places named Cumberland? Actually, let’s make that more than two. I was also familiar with Cumberland County in Maine, the home of its largest city, Portland. That made at least three well-known locations plus numerous lesser-known spots all named Cumberland (GNIS listed 26). They were spread over hundreds of miles along the eastern edge of the United States. Was there a connection? Why yes of course, thank you for asking.

Prince William, Duke of Cumberland

Cumberland Falls
Cumberland Falls (my own photo)

I didn’t check every single Cumberland although all of the ones I did examine traced back to Prince William, Duke of Cumberland (1721-1765) as their namesake. He was the third son of George II, King of Great Britain. Cumberland, Maryland began as Fort Cumberland on the extreme edge of British settlement in 1755. The Cumberland Gap, along that same wilderness line albeit considerably farther south, was named for the nearby Cumberland River which in turn was named for the Duke of Cumberland in 1750. One will find a nice string of Cumberlands all along the old colonial frontier — the part of British territory actively being settled and named in the middle of the 18th Century — all honoring the Duke of Cumberland.

Battle of Culloden

View of Culloden Battlefield on Culloden Moor, Scotland
View of Culloden Battlefield on Culloden Moor, Scotland
by Danie van der Merwe, on Flickr (cc)

There were plenty of members of the British royal family with places named for them during North America’s colonial era, although not every figure received equal treatment. Sure there might have been a town or county here-and-there named as a birthright for the nobility who never ascended the throne. However one should be impressed by the sheer volume of Cumberland’s fingerprints. The preponderance traced back to a single event, the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

Britain had been in political and religious upheaval for several decades by that point. Without getting into too many details, the exiled House of Stewart was attempting to wrestle control of the throne from the House of Hanover in a series of Jacobite Risings. The final rising began in 1745 ("the Forty-five"). Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) sailed to Scotland, rallied Highlanders and marched south. British troops pushed them back towards Inverness, onto the moor of Culloden (map). The Duke of Cumberland commanded British forces during this decisive battle and defeated the Jacobite army. This crushed the Stewart’s attempts to overthrow the Hanoverian dynasty and regain the crown.

This also began a great flurry of naming things for the Duke of Cumberland in the colonies. He was hailed widely as a hero for his military victory that preserved the House of Hanover and it reflected in geography. History was less kind to him. He came to be known as the "Butcher" because of his brutal repression of the Jacobite movement subsequent to the battle and his assault on Scottish culture and traditions in general.

Very few places would have been named for the Duke of Cumberland without the battle. He would have counted Prince William County in Virginia as his legacy, established when he was ten years old, and maybe that would have been about it. His geographic impact on North America might have matched a lot of other British noblemen of the era, which would have been minor.

What of this Cumberland?

Carlisle Castle
Carlisle Castle by Andrew Bowden, on Flickr (cc)

The principal source of the Cumberland name in North America had been solved. However that still left me wondering about the underpinning of the Duke’s name. Land of Cumbra? For that piece of the puzzle I turned to sources such as the Online Etymology Dictionary and an old book published about a century ago, The Place-names of England and Wales. Cumberland, of course, was an historic county in northwest England in the vicinity of Carlisle. That area is now part of Cumbria (map). Cumberland and Cumbria shared a common root with Cymry, the people of Wales. Thus, Cumberland referred to the land of the Welsh. This area was once part of a Brythonic kingdom up until the 10th Century. The name remained afterwards as a reminder of the people who ruled the territory in ancient times.

Streets Named After…

On November 9, 2014 · 5 Comments

We’ve all seen lists created from Google’s unusual auto-search recommendations. I noticed a few entertaining results while I was looking for Streets Named After… well, I forget what I was searching for exactly because I was so enthralled by the false positives. Some were mundane. I expected streets named after celebrities, trees, birds, presidents and such, and of course all of those were suggested. Others seemed downright odd. I’m not sure what Google thinks of me due to the wide array of subject matter I pour into its maw as I research articles for Twelve Mile Circle. Maybe my results were atypical although I have no way of knowing that for certain. It might be interesting to run this same experiment again in a different physical location or several months from now and see if anything changed.

Streets Named After Harry Potter

Muggle Lane, Missoula, Montana, USA

I’m guessing lots of people searched for streets named after Harry Potter and that’s why it came up as one of the top suggestions. I can’t recall focusing an inordinate amount of attention on Harry Potter in 12MC so I don’t think my search habits resulted in the hit. It led me to a BuzzFeed article, There’s A City In Montana With A Neighborhood Full Of Harry Potter-Themed Street Names. Sure enough someone could live at the intersection of Muggle Lane and Potter Park Loop in Missoula, Montana if one found that notion appealing.

Streets Named After Obama

Obama and the Pope: a mural in Arusha, Tanzania
Obama and the Pope: a mural in Arusha, Tanzania by Roman Boed, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

It somehow seemed more natural to have streets named after Barack Obama and indeed I found quite a nice list. The most far-flung instance occurred in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. President Obama visited several African nations including Tanzania in July 2013 to meet with business leaders and "demonstrate the U.S. interest in trade and investment." As a result the government of Tanzania renamed one of its primary streets, the road leading to its State House no less, as Barack Obama Drive. Imagine changing Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House to Jakaya Kikwete Drive!

The name change was reflected accurately in Google Maps. It was still listed by its previous name, Ocean Road, in OpenStreet Map at the time of publication (November 2014).

Streets Named After Packers

Trip to Green Bay
Trip to Green Bay by Santiago Bilinkis
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

On the other hand, I had no clue why Google thought I’d want to search for streets named after Packers, as in the Green Bay Packers of American Football fame. It did lead to a Wall Street Journal article, "More Legends Than Streets: Green Bay Is Running Out of Roads to Name After Packer Legends." That seemed to be quite a conundrum in a "first world problem" sort of way. Green Bay wasn’t a large place. Barely a hundred thousand people lived there, making it the smallest U.S. city with a National Football League team. There were only a handful of suitably grand streets for residents to name for their gridiron stars.

Green Bay football quarterback legend Brett Favre garnered only a short block. Granted it was practically next door to Lambeau Field and it led directly to the eponymous Brett Favre’s Steakhouse (3.5 stars on Yelp) so that counted for something. The name of the street? Brett Favre Pass. That created a certain poetic sense because Favre currently holds the record for most career passing yards in the National Football League (71,838).

Streets Named After Rizal

Rizal Monument
Rizal Monument by Benson Kua, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Streets named after Rizal was a fascinating suggestion. José Rizal was a 19th Century nationalist and intellectual in the Philippines who sought a peaceful end to Spanish colonial rule. In return, Spain sentenced him to death and executed him by firing squad in 1896. He became a Filipino national hero and he was widely regarded as an early powerful force in the independence movement. His body now rests in the Rizal Monument in Manilla, complete with an honor guard offering symbolic protection around the clock.

I believe this came up because his 150th birthday celebration happened a couple of years ago. One site offered A José Rizal @150 Tribute and included a list places named for him. I expected numerous honors and commemorations in the Philippines. It was a little more unusual to see a park in Seattle, Washington (map). Apparently Seattle had a large, active Filipino community. Also there was a José-Rizal-Straße in Wilhelmsfeld, Germany (map). It turned out Rizal had lived nearby while he attended medical training in Heidelberg.

Streets Named After Lord of the Rings

Laan van Tolkien, Geldrop, The Netherlands

If Harry Potter can have streets, so can Lord of the Rings. A housing development in Geldrop, The Netherlands borrowed that theme. I noticed that many of the streets seemed to have been constructed on Woonerf design principles. I’ve been wanting to use my newfound favorite word Woonerf again in context, and there was my chance.

Streets Named After Countries in Glasgow

India Street, Glasgow, Scotland

Apparently there are fourteen streets named after countries in Glasgow, Scotland. I’m not sure why anyone would want or need to know that, and none of the streets seemed all that remarkable. Nonetheless, it came up on the list and who am I to judge?

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