Ladysmith

On December 29, 2016 · Comments Off on Ladysmith

A few weeks ago I wrote about Triangle, a name on a road sign that I pondered as I sat stuck in traffic on a drive back from Richmond, Virginia. I also noticed another exit on this fateful trip as I slogged through miles of gridlock. The sign said Ladysmith and my mind began to wander. I figured it didn’t refer literally to a Smith by its occupation, i.e., a skilled metal worker. However, who was this lady Smith and why did she deserve a place name?

Virginia, USA


Ladysmith Barn (0013) 3EV+TA
Barn in Ladysmith, VA. Photo by Jason OX4 on Flickr (cc)

I passed Ladysmith about halfway between Richmond and Fredericksburg. The community sat just west of Interstate 95, at the intersection of Ladysmith Road and Jefferson Davis Highway (map). I didn’t bother to stop. My trip had been delayed long enough already.

The answer had to await until I got home. It required more searching than I expected although I finally found something in the Fredericksburg Star, "From Ladysmith to Ladysmith." The article recounted how Ladysmith in Virginia reached out to Ladysmith in Wisconsin in the aftermath of a tornado a few years ago. It also discussed the unusual name.

…Clara Smith, the daughter of Sally Collins Smith and Civil War Capt. C.T. Smith, named the community. Her father donated land for one of the Caroline’s first public schools in the hope that the town would grow up around it. Clara Smith most likely named the town after her mother, although the daughter is the more celebrated of the two ladies Smith in Caroline.

That solved the mystery. It also opened a new door to a different Ladysmith in Wisconsin.


Wisconsin, USA


Downtown Ladysmith, Wisconsin
Downtown Ladysmith, Wisconsin. Photo by Jimmy Emerson, DVM on Flickr (cc)

The details actually came easier in Wisconsin. Ladysmith became the seat of government for Rusk County so historians wrote about it. The whole thing involved someone trying to curry favor for a business transaction. The town began in 1885 at the intersection of two railway lines on the Flambeau River. The owner of a local logging company, Robert Corbett named the town after himself. It became Corbett. Then it became Warner because of a railroad station located there.

James Gates, a local land speculator, wanted to make a tidy profit. He knew that Charles Robinson Smith of Menasha Wooden Ware considered opening a manufacturing plant in Warner. If that happened then people would move to the area and buy Gate’s land. Gates probably wanted to hasten that along so he suggested a new name for the town, Ladysmith (map). This honored Charles Smith’s recent bride, Isabel Bacon Rogers Smith.

This lady Smith was an interesting character. Her first marriage ended in divorce and she secretly married Charles Smith before announcing it publicly. She seemed to be quite the socialite, living in high society and frequenting the theater. Smith died a few years later, leaving Isabel with a fortune so she moved into a fancy Park Avenue apartment in New York City. There she met and married Orrin Johnson, a Broadway star and silent movie actor. Eventually she returned to Wisconsin along with her third husband after his acting career faded.


KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa



Interestingly, an alternate theory emerged independently in Virginia and Wisconsin. A few sites I consulted listed the town of Ladysmith in South Africa as the source of their names (map). It was much in the news at the turn of the last century. British forces broke a Boer siege of Ladysmith in 1900. This explanation didn’t seem as compelling as the actual ladies Smith that lived in Virginia and Wisconsin so I doubted it. However, I followed the trail to KwaZulu-Natal anyway.

The lady Smith in question went by a rather elaborate name, Juana María de los Dolores de León Smith. She grew up as Spanish nobility, later orphaned as a result of the Peninsula War. The British army sacked her home town during the Siege of Badajoz and one of the British officers helped protect her. Then he married her. The officer rose in ranks over the years, becoming a Brigadier-General and a knight, Sir Harry Smith. Later he became the Governor of the Cape Colony in South Africa. Lady Smith followed along faithfully on his military adventures and the town name honored her devotion.

This Ladysmith might be remembered in modern times less for the Second Boer War than for the musical group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. They formed in 1960 and received worldwide acclaim when singer Paul Simon partnered with them in the 1980’s. The name came from:

…the hometown of Shabalala’s family, Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal; the black ox, considered to be the strongest farm animal; and mambazo, which means "axe" in the Zulu language, and is symbolic of the choir’s ability to "chop down" the competition.

Lady Smith might have been surprised to see the relevancy of her name a century later.


British Columbia, Canada


Ladysmith, BC
Ladysmith, BC. Photo by Ayrcan on Flickr (cc)

It didn’t stop there, however. Ladysmith on Vancouver Island, British Columbia actually did name itself after the siege and battle in South Africa.

Ladysmith was an "instant town", founded by coal baron James Dunsmuir. Oyster Harbour, as the area was previously called, became the shipping port for Dunsmuir’s coal mine at Extension, about 12 km to the north. The townsite was planned in 1899 as a tidy grid pattern facing the bay. Streets were named after British Officers of the Boer War, victorious in recapturing the town of Ladysmith, South Africa, in the year 1900.

The streets retain those names today: Symons; French; Buller; Baden Powell; Methuen, and so on (map).

Columbus Name Symmetry, Part 2

On September 16, 2015 · 1 Comments

It doesn’t take much to please Twelve Mile Circle and I’d been particularly fascinated by the first name / surname symmetry of Cristóbal, Colón, Panamá. Never one to stop beating that dead horse I considered that Christopher Columbus had lots of other places named for him that remained unexplored. Certainly there must be plenty of other examples with similar symmetry buried deep within those thousands of potential spots around the globe.

First, I pondered the many language variations of the name: Cristóbal Colón in Spanish; Christopher Columbus in English; Cristoforo Colombo in Italian; Cristóvão Colombo in Portuguese, and so on. Plus there were other permutations like the Latinized version, Columbia/Colombia. One had to be careful to avoid going overboard though. Words like columbine and columbina derived directly from Latin too (meaning dove-like) and had an etymology independent of Christopher Columbus.


Colombia

Alright, I thought, let’s get right down to it. There was that big hunk of South America that formed the nation of Colombia. Certainly there must be a Cristóbal hiding within its borders somewhere. If it existed, I certainly couldn’t find it. I did uncover three sort-of near misses that provided modest comfort though.


Pico Cristobal Colon
Pico Cristobal Colon via Wikimedia Commons (cc)

There was a San Cristóbal on the southeastern side of Bogotá. However this neighborhood referred to the actual Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, who was probably more legend than fact and "died a martyr during the reign of Decius in the third century. " Then there was Pico Cristóbal Colón, the tallest mountain in Colombia (map), rising an impressive 5,700 metres (18,700 feet). That was pretty spectacular although it didn’t fit the first name / surname symmetry. Someone would need to rename it simply Pico Cristóbal for that to occur. Finally, as a consolation prize, I considered that Cristóbal in Colón Province, Panamá was once located in Colombia. Cristóbal would have maintained the requisite symmetry within Colombia from its founding in the 1850’s until Panamanian independence in 1903.

Bummer.


British Columbia

Maybe Canada would bail me out of this dilemma. British Columbia was a large place, and certainly named for Christopher Columbus. Natural Resources Canada contained three Christopher names in British Columbia within its extensive database; a creek, a lake and a point. I doubted that any one of them would actually be named for the proper Christopher. Still, on some tenuous level it maintained the integrity of the first name / surname symmetry even though it required a little imaginative thought.



Christopher Point, BC

I focused on Christopher Point because it seemed to be placed unusually far south on Vancouver Island (map) and that fascinated me. In fact it turned out to be the southernmost tip of the island so that was a nice surprise.

Christopher Point was part of a Canadian Forces Ammunition Depot, a sub-unit of CFB Esquimalt. This area had also been fortified during World War II. The battery still existed although guns were removed long ago.


The Magic of Lassie Lunch Box
The Magic of Lassie Lunch Box by National Museum of American History Smithsonian via Flickr (cc)

The most bizarre reference to Christopher Point turned up in a book, "World War II Goes to the Movies." It claimed that some scenes in the movie Son of Lassie (1945) were filmed on Vancouver Island, including Christopher Point. It was quite common for movie franchises of that period to weave Nazi plots into their narratives as a mix of propaganda and patriotism. Even a fictional dog could contribute to wartime efforts and the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany.

The sequel to ‘Lassie Come Home’ (1943), which now focuses on the adult Joe Carraclough, who joins the RAF during WWII and is shot down over Nazi-occupied Norway along with the stowaway, Lassie’s son ‘Laddie.’ The two are forced to parachute when they are hit by enemy fire. Laddie then seeks help for his injured master and race for their lives through Nazi lines to safety.

I don’t know how Eric Dunn got his lunchbox into the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, although it seemed pretty cool. It made me jealous that I threw away my Hot Wheels lunchbox right around the time I hit puberty.


Even More Tenuous

Not hitting a lot of pay dirt for most of the research although enjoying the hunt, I turned to what I hoped might be a ringer. Certainly within the United States, where many places bore the name Columbus or Columbia, I should be able to find something named Christopher.



Christopher Park Lane

Behold, Christopher Park Lane in Columbus, Ohio.

Good enough.

Union Jack over the USA

On May 15, 2009 · 10 Comments

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland proudly flies the Union Flag, often called the Union Jack. It retains an official or semi-official designation throughout the Commonwealth Realm. Oddly, it also flies over a tiny corner of the United States with the explicit approval of the American government.

I’m not talking about Hawaii where the Union Flag has been "cantoned in the dexter chief angle next to the point of suspension" (fancy talk for "stuck in the upper corner next to the flagpole"), although that’s a good example.


Hawaiian Flag
Flag of Hawaii


I’m not considering embassies or consulates, either. And I’m not I referring to Union Flags flown outside of various self-styled "British Pubs" scattered throughout the United States to serve a thirsty expatriate community or as a cheap marketing ploy. Really, this is not a trick question. I’m referring to an honest-to-goodness genuine Union Flag flying over sovereign American territory controlled by an agency of the United States government.

It’s all due to the Pig War.

This obscure Anglo-American disagreement had roots in a much greater dispute involving large swaths of western North America. I’ll summarize the issues surrounding the Pig War but if you would like to know more you can always go here.

The preponderance of the western land issues between Britain and the United States had been resolved peacefully by the Oregon Treaty of 1846. The parties designated the 49th parallel as their boundary from the Straight of Georgia all the way to the Rocky Mountains (this agreement also created the Point Roberts oddity). They further agreed that all of Vancouver Island, located west of the Strait of Georgia, would be recognized as British territory even those some of it fell south of the 49th parallel. That sounds amicable enough. It’s nice to see countries resolving their disputes diplomatically; a welcome change from the War of 1812 and that earlier revolution stuff.

The provisions accounting for the 49th parallel and Vancouver Island were clear. The dip in the border as it jogged south of the 49th parallel and around the southern end of Vancouver Island were not, and they became a point of serious contention. Here the treaty said the boundary should go:

…to the middle of the channel which separates the continent from Vancouver’s Island; and thence southerly through the middle of the said channel, and of Fuca’s straits to the Pacific Ocean.

Well, we’ve got a problem. This is what sits squarely in the middle of "said channel"



View Larger Map


Note that there are two channels, Haro Strait and Rosario Strait. Naturally British interests favored Rosario Strait while American interests favored Haro Strait. Both sides claimed San Juan Island and established settlements. Neither side recognizing the authority of the other and it was only a matter of time before interests clashed. The spark finally ignited in 1859 when an American settler found a pig owned by the Hudson Bay Company trespassing on his cropland and promptly shot it dead.

The situation started spiraling out of control with tit-for-tat military reinforcements. Within two months nearly five hundred American troops with 14 cannons had dug-in at San Juan Island, staring down three British warships manned by two thousand sailors and 70 mounted guns. Cooler heads prevailed once the crises rose to higher levels of government. The absurdity of armed conflict and bloodshed over a pig found people with the ability and authority to diffuse the situation. Both nations agreed to a joint military occupation of San Juan Island until final resolution.


American and English Camps
SOURCE: National Park Service

British Royal Marines arrived under terms of the agreement and established a garrison known as English Camp, sharing San Juan Island with their American counterparts on the opposite end of the island. The arrangement lasted more than a decade until an international arbitration commission ruled in favor of the Americans. The Royal Marines decamped peaceably in 1872.

But what about the flag?


Flag over English Camp
Notice the Flag
SOURCE: National Park Service


This episode is celebrated and preserved by the United States National Park Service at its San Juan Island National Historical Park. The park is split into two distinct parts, American Camp and English Camp. The Union Flag, fittingly enough and as seen in the photograph above, flies over English Camp. It is reputed to be the only place in a U.S. national park where this occurs although I’ve not been able to corroborate that independently. The flag and the flagpole were both provided by the British government as a sign of friendship.

The park will will be celebrating the sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of the Pig War this year, on July 25-26. Pack your bags!

Purpose
12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
Subscribe
Don't miss an article -
Subscribe to the feed!

RSS G+ Twitter
RSS Twelve Mile Circle Google Plus Twitter
Categories
Monthly Archives
Days with Posts
November 2017
S M T W T F S
« Oct    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930