Cactus

On August 14, 2014 · 3 Comments

The previous article about Spanish punctuation embedded in various place names in the United States made my mind wander to the desert southwest, which led me down a mental tangent related to cacti for some unknown reason. As I daydreamed, I considered, perhaps I should examine places named cactus. There weren’t many, and even the larger ones seemed rather obscure and perhaps even a tad unusual just as we like it here on Twelve Mile Circle.

Cactus, Texas



How many towns had their own signature song? Large cities often attracted musical attention although the level of interest generally waned proportionally farther down the population tally. Yet, Waylon Jennings recorded "Cactus Texas" in 1996. Why Cactus? Maybe for the same reason the name attracted me; I thought of tumbleweeds and dust. Only an overlooked community on an arid plain could ever do justice to the Cactus name. Feel free to turn the music on in the background as I take a look around town.

The Handbook of Texas from the Texas State Historical Association included an entry on this particular Cactus (map).

It began as a company town to produce ammunition for World War II. The Cactus Ordnance Works, one of the largest plants in the county, was established there as a government project by the Chemical Construction Company in May 1942… the cactus and other prickly plants were cleared, and huge dormitories were hastily erected to house construction workers.

Cactus fared worse after the war although various companies continued to produce a range of chemicals at the old ordnance works until the early 1980’s. The population shrank to a few hundred people for a time although it rebounded to about 3,200 residents — larger than ever — by the 2010 Census.


Cactus Springs, Nevada


The Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet
The Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet by Chris M Morris, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Cactus Springs (map) could be considered just another isolated settlement in an otherwise empty desert except for The Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet. It sprang from the creativity of a single individual, Genevieve Vaughn,

Highway 95 runs down the middle of the flat Mojave Desert valley in Nevada. Driving east from Beatty, the tiny oasis of Cactus Springs is the first inhabitable spot for sixty miles. It was at this site in 1993 that I dedicated a temple to the Goddess Sekhmet. I feel blessed to be able to give a gift to a goddess who for centuries has not had temples built in her honor.

The full account can be found at Herstory of Sekhmet Temple in Nevada.


Cactus Flat, South Dakota


Giant prairie dog, Ranch Store Gift Shop, Badlands, SD
Giant prairie dog, Ranch Store Gift Shop, Badlands, SD by Brian Butko, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Cactus Flat, spelled F-L-A-T according to the Geographic Names Information System, although frequently rendered in its plural form, clung to the edge of South Dakota’s Badlands. Places that survived out there often sustained themselves by finding a gimmick to attract tourists heading into the nearby park in the hallowed tradition of Wall Drug. Cactus Flat had its own scaled-down Wall Drug knock-off, The Ranch Store of the Badlands.

The feature event at The Ranch Store is the same as it was fifty years ago – a large prairie dog colony to the north of the store, where one can walk among the dogs and toss them a snack of unsalted peanuts. Standing fortress to the entire colony is, of course, the six-ton Prairie Dog.

Thus a giant prairie dog (map) came to define diminutive Cactus Flat.


Cactus Beach, South Australia



Cacti may be native to the Americas(¹) although an inconvenient geography couldn’t prevent the name from appearing in unexpected corners elsewhere. I found Cactus Beach (map) in South Australia. It was reputed to be one of the best surfing destinations available.

Cactus itself was actually called Point Sinclair and was given its current name by the first guys who drove up there, looking for surf. Well, when they first saw it, the surf was pretty poor and someone said, ‘this place is cactus!’ meaning no good and boy, how wrong they were, as Cactus is now regarded as one of the best breaks in Oz!

I’m almost afraid to mention Cactus Beach and let people know it exists. A recent news report said,

The waves at Cactus Beach were only discovered in the 1960s, but it has been a prickly issue ever since. Some locals have been trying to keep the secret to themselves. Directions are difficult to find, with signs pointing to the beach being scrubbed off and the more recently torn down.

So don’t go there to surf. Just note the succulents and move on.


(¹) Cacti are native to the Americas with the exception of a single species, Rhipsalis baccifera, more commonly called the Mistletoe Cactus. That’s your trivia for the day.

Geography

Presidential Distances

On July 8, 2014 · 2 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle talked about birthplaces and death locations of the Presidents of the United States. Now let’s finish this off with a comparison of distances between those two points. This involved a rather simple process of dropping the lat/long coordinates for each president into a great circle distance calculator and recording the results. Then I plotted the distances between birth and death onto a chart.


Distance between Birth and Death of US Presidents

Don’t get too hung up on the lack of presidential names. Readers can always cross reference the numbers to each administration on the shared spreadsheet if curious. Also, don’t be concerned that it’s not scaled to time, either. Administrations lasted from a single month (William Henry Harrison) to just north of twelve years (Franklin Roosevelt). The more important point was to confirm in graphical form that distances between birthplaces and death locations increased quite remarkably for latter administrations. This wasn’t entirely unexpected as it tracked nicely with growth and settlement patterns in the United States.


Shortest


LBJ's Birthplace
LBJ's Birthplace by Jim Bowen, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Four presidents came to this earth and shuffled off this mortal coil at spots less than two miles (3.2 kilometres) apart. It didn’t surprise me to see this happen for some of the earliest presidents. Travel was more problematic and the landed gentry tended to stick close to their ancestral estates for multiple generations. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Martin Van Buren all passed away within extreme proximity to their birthplaces.

The shortest distance, less than a single mile, caught me off-guard completely. Lyndon Johnson? He didn’t serve until the middle of the 20th Century, and died in 1973. By no means did it seem logical for Johnson to be lumped into the same category as presidents born during the colonial era. And yet, not only was he there, he led the pack.

Johnson was an anomaly of course and a throwback to an earlier time. Paraphrasing from the Handbook of Texas, Lyndon Johnson’s grandfather, Samuel Ealy Johnson Sr., built a home near Stonewall, Texas in the 1880’s. Lyndon’s father, Samuel Ealy Johnson Jr., occupied the home in 1907 and Lyndon was born there in 1908. The adjacent ranch was purchased by a relative of the Johnson family. Lyndon purchased that 438 acre ranch in 1951.

Johnson united the properties. Then, as the National Park Service explained,

Lyndon Johnson took great pride in his heritage and his roots here in the Hill Country of Texas. In order to share that heritage with interested visitors, President Johnson hired architect J. Roy White of Austin, Texas in 1964 to reconstruct the birthplace home. President Johnson and Roy White relied on old photographs of the original birthplace house as well as family members’ memories to guide the project.

Thus, Johnson consciously and explicitly chose to move near his extended family and then later in life he focused on preserving his legacy.


Median


President William McKinely Birthplace
President William McKinley Birthplace by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

I used median rather than average because outliers threw the average way off. The median distance from birthplace to death location equated to about 130 miles (210 km), while the average came in closer to 430 miles (690 km). Three presidents scored very close to the median; Woodrow Wilson, Millard Fillmore, and William McKinley.


Longest



Ronald Reagan Estate, Bel Air, California

Then there were presidents who found themselves a long way from their birthplaces — more than 1,500 miles (2,400 km) — when they passed away, some unexpectedly and some at a ripe old age. John Kennedy and Warren Harding both died in office. Kennedy and Nixon died in hospitals. The vast majority of the 12MC audience would already be familiar with Kennedy’s story so I won’t dwell on it other than to mention that I visited the Grassy Knoll in 2008. Warren Harding died in the Presidential Suite of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, probably from a stroke or congestive heart failure. His wife’s refusal to allow an autopsy led to conspiracy theories the continued to persist even through the present.

I guess I have to use Ronald Reagan’s estate to illustrate this section since he was the only member of the 1,500 mile club who died at home.

The president who died farthest from his birthplace was Richard Nixon. He was born in Yorba Linda, California and died in New York City, a great circle distance of 2,436 miles.

Make Tracks to Midland

On June 10, 2014 · 1 Comments

I had to admit it. My odd fascination with Every County’s slow-motion serial recitation of literally every county progressed towards an obsession. I couldn’t stop checking the author’s crawling pace once every few days. He arrived vicariously at Midland County, Michigan about a week ago where he noted that it "got its name because of its proximity to the center of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. The only other Midland County is in Texas."

Of course the wheels started turning as I wondered about that Texas county of Midland. Was it in the middle of Texas similar to the one in Michigan, and if not then what did its midpoint represent? What about Midlands in other parts of the United States and even internationally?

Midland, Texas, USA


Odesolate
Odesolate by Bo Nash, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

I began by examining Midland County, Texas, and discovered almost immediately that it wasn’t positioned at the center of the state. It did alright on latitude. However it skewed way towards the west for longitude (map). That wasn’t the answer.

I turned to Texas State Historical Association’s ever-useful Handbook of Texas for its Midland County page. Success. "The county was named for its location halfway between Fort Worth and El Paso on the Texas and Pacific Railway."

While that provide an acceptable answer it didn’t give the complete story. Midland County wasn’t the original midland in those parts. The county took its name from the town of Midland that existed there first. From the Handbook’s town page.

In late June 1881 the Texas and Pacific Railway, which was building its line between Dallas and El Paso, established Midway Station, a section house, halfway between those two cities… Because other towns in Texas were already named Midway, the site was renamed Midland to get the post office… When Midland County was organized in March 1885, Midland became the county seat.

Not all explanations for other places would be this clear-cut, I soon discovered.

The City of Midland prospered as a transportation hub. It became an integral part of the Midland–Odessa combined statistical area that provided a home to more than a quarter-million residents.

I’d hoped to examine other Midlands in the United States. However, the US Geographic Names Information System listed hundreds of different things Midland, including 84 results just its for it Civil and Populated Places groupings. Then, I noticed a pattern. "Middle" often referred to something related to railroads just as I’d observed in Texas.


Midland, Western Australia, Australia


Old Railway Workshops, Midland, Australia
Old Railway Workshops, Midland, Australia by Norman Jorgensen, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Perth, Western Australia included a burgeoning suburb called Midland, the council seat for the City of Swan on the northeastern side of a large metropolitan region. The growing suburbs may have begun to obscure Midland’s original purpose as a vital railway hub. As the City of Swan explained,

True to its name, Midland Junction was a junction for the roads north and east (now Great Northern and Great Eastern Highways) and the railway system… Between 1902 and 1904 the Western Australian Government Railway Workshops were relocated to Midland and they had a profound and lasting influence on the town… The Midland Railway Company was bought by the Western Australian Government Railways in 1964 and their land became the site of the Rapid Transit Terminal… The ‘Junction’ part of Midland’s name was dropped in 1961.

The Railway Workshops closed in 1994.

Additional context was provided by Wikipedia. The "midland" referred back to the name of the railroad, the Midland Railway Company, of which this site served as a terminus. I never did learn why the railway was named Midland and speculated that it may have had something to do with its line that ran along the middle coastline (map) of Western Australia.


Midland, Ontario, Canada


midland, ontario
midland, ontario by sara hattie, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

Another Midland, another railroad, this one in Ontario (map). The town offered its early history:

In November of 1871, the Midland Railway Corporation of Port Hope, Ontario, selected Midland as its western port and terminus. Adolphe Hugel and George Cox formed the Midland Land Company and purchased most of the acreage in the area from various farming families. In 1872, they had Peter Burnett survey the new village site, complete with large lots, wide roads and big plans for the future. They named the new community “Midland City.”

The company began as the Peterborough & Port Hope Railway, then became the Port Hope Lindsay and Beaverton Railway and changed its name to Midland Railway of Canada in 1869. I found plenty of sources that documented the name change including the actual Statute of the Province of Ontario although, once again, I never found an explanation. I guess it sounded less limiting.


The Midlands, England, UK


158A 2
158A 2 by Tony Hisgett, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Does referencing The Midlands count as cheating? It represented a broad somewhat amorphous geographic belt across central England, and the reason for the designation was obvious. It didn’t derive its name from a railroad, rather, the opposite condition was true. I included it because, well, just because. I was on a roll.

Not unexpectedly, there was once a Midland Railway and now a Midland Railway Society and a Midland Railway Study Centre. Also, let’s not forget about the Midland Railway – Butterley museum (map) "dedicated to the glory of the former Midland Railway." It houses the 158A, the oldest surviving Midland Railway locomotive, one of a type built sometime between 1866 and 1874.

The UK’s Midland Railway operated between 1844 to 1922.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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