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?
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.
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.
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).
Familiar place names always catch my attention. Often they share a bond with locations near my home in the Washington, DC area. Several years ago I wrote about one such situation in A Tale of Three Ridges. This time Crystal City served as the common denominator.
Virginia’s Crystal City abuts Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. However, most flyers probably never noticed it. Minds tend to wander across the Potomac River to the famous monuments on the National Mall. However, a glance in the opposite direction would show large blocks of office towers and apartments instead. That skyline marked Crystal City.
Crystal City didn’t exist until the Cold War. This unplanned creation handled the overflow of Federal agencies, government contractors, and residents. Jackson City once stood there in the mid 19th Century, providing space for two forts during the Civil War. Then the area declined.
After the war ended, it devolved into a seedy red-light district, complete with saloons, betting parlors and brothels — most of which were burned down in 1904 by a self-appointed cleanup crew known as the "Good Citizens League." From those ashes rose an industrial sprawl of brickyards, warehouses, iron-fabricating factories and junk lots that spread south.
The revival began with the construction of the Crystal House apartments (map) in the 1960’s. It happened to feature an ornate crystal chandelier. That started a naming trend for new construction in the area — everything became Crystal something-or-another.
I used to work in Crystal City. The old American Meridian ran directly through it. I drove across it every day, living in the former Western Hemisphere and working in the the Eastern Hemisphere. Twelve Mile Circle even sponsored a Happy Hour gathering back in 2010 at a Crystal City pub almost directly atop the Meridian. I had fond geo-geek memories of the place.
The Crystal City in Texas provided the excuse for this article. My genealogy hobby uncovered a distant relative in that town in Zavala County. He lived there in 1910, working in a livery stable. It seemed odd that the town shared a name with a place in Virginia. The city explained its origin:
Two land developers, Carl F. Groos and E. J. Buckingham, developed the town in the early 1900s. In 1905 they purchased the 10,000-acre Cross S Ranch, sold off most of the land as farms, and platted the townsite of Crystal City, named for the clear artesian water of the area.
Usually when I describe little places like this I struggle to find much of historical value. Crystal City defied that trend. It became known for several reasons in the last few decades. First, it served as one of the largest internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II. Then it received a lot of coverage in early 2016. Federal agents arrested almost every top official. They allegedly took bribes from a guy called Mr. T. who ran an illegal gambling scheme. Those indicted included the mayor, mayor pro tempore, city manager and two of three councilmen.
I preferred to recognize Crystal City for its motto, as the "Spinach Capital of the World." They even placed a statue of Popeye the Sailor Man in front of city hall (map) and included him on the city seal.
However, the fun didn’t end there. I discovered additional Crystal Cities. One of them landed in Missouri (map). That city said,
Around 1843 an Eastern company conducted a search in this area of Missouri, looking for land with valuable minerals. In 1868 Forrest Sheppards, a mineralogist and geologist, located silica (sand rock) near the mouth of Plattin Creek. The sand was of superior quality for glass manufacturing. What followed was an enthusiastic pursuit of development, and The American Plate Glass Company was founded here by Captain Ebenezer B. Ward of Detroit, in 1871.
Crystal City began as a company town named for the glass. The factory remained until 1990, or nearly 150 years. However, the company controlled every facet of life for the first few decades. An independent town grew immediately to its west, with privately owned homes and business, particularly saloons. The two came to be known as The Twin Cities, Crystal City and Festus (Minnesota’s Minneapolis and St. Paul might disagree). Festus supposedly got its name from a lady who opened her bible onto a random page. Her finger landed on Acts 25:1 and the name Festus. This replaced Tanglefoot. It didn’t seem like much of an improvement.
They could change Crystal City to Cletus and create the perfect hillbilly combination, though.
Greenway proceeded to map a street layout for a "city" south and east of Crystal Creek. The idea of our "town" being a city in the then future was not so far-fetched. Crystal City had a population of 230 plus, with Brandon recording around 100, while even Winnipeg numbered in at 400 in 1878. Greenway had seen Ontario towns with less, become great, simply due to time, immigration and internal growth. The dream for the town was to become a city, a leader in the southern prairies, maybe even the provincial capital.
Of course, this Crystal City never grew into that great city. Fewer than 400 people live there today.
I never mentioned my reason for being stuck on Interstate 95 the other day except for a brief reference to an overnight trip to Richmond, Virginia. My younger son participates on a travel soccer team and they played in a tournament over the Veterans Day weekend. We don’t get 3-day weekends anymore. They’re all consumed by tournaments. My older son has no interest in any of this whatsoever and sometimes he gets a reprieve. That explained why the two of us went county counting in West Virginia over the Columbus Day weekend. However, this time all four of us went to Richmond.
Anyway, let’s switch directions and talk about General Winfield Scott for awhile because he figured into this too.
Scott served in the United States Army longer than just about anyone else, ever. His career stretched all the way from the War of 1812 to the Civil War, some 53 years. "Old Fuss and Feathers" — as his troops called him — spent most of that time at the rank of General including two decades as Commanding General. He achieved his greatest victories in the Mexican–American War. He also took a shot at becoming President as the Whig Party candidate in 1852. Many historians considered him the greatest American military commander of his generation.
Setting all those momentous achievements aside, one tangential factor set the stage for my weekend sojourn: Winfield Scott married Maria DeHart Mayo in 1817. Her father, Colonel John Mayo, happened to be one of the wealthiest men in Virginia as well as a former mayor of Richmond. Thus, Col. Mayo provided quite a nice dowry when Maria and Winfield married, a 600-acre estate on the northwestern edge of Richmond. It remained in the family until the early 20th Century when developers purchased it and the City of Richmond annexed it. At that time it got its name, Scott’s Addition, for the obvious reasons.
Scott’s Addition Historic District
Originally envisioned as a residential area, it flourished instead as an industrial park due to its proximity to rail lines and highways. According to the National Park Service’s description of the Scott’s Addition Historic District,
The area remained largely undeveloped until the early 1900s, when it saw the construction of modest dwellings and businesses. A second wave of development occurred between the 1930s and 1950s with the building of large industrial plants, commercial buildings, and warehouses amongst the existing dwellings. The second phase of development largely defines the types of buildings located at present in the district.
Business included a factory for the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco), a Coca-Cola bottling plant, and a Chevrolet parts depot and warehouse. Smaller businesses like plumbers, auto body shops, and light industrial manufacturers also found it attractive. However, the area began to atrophy towards the end of the 20th Century. Spaces were cramped. Buildings were old and fell into disrepair. Businesses began to relocate farther out from the city.
A confluence of events sparked the resurgence of Scott’s Addition in recent years. First, this emptying warehouse and industrial district sat conveniently close to downtown Richmond. Second, the government provided tax incentives. Developers could get tax credits for rehabilitating vintage structures in the historic district. The city also offered a tax abatement program on improvements for a period of up to 10 years.
Development began to explode by 2010 and never looked back. Hundreds of new apartments blossomed in Scott’s Addition. Businesses catering to younger clientele with abundant disposable income quickly followed. "Gentrification" might not be quite the right word because the area didn’t have much of an original resident population to push out, although it contained some of the same trappings. It went from a decaying warehouse district to Richmond’s hottest spot in about five years.
I went there for the breweries. They fell into a tight cluster, all within easy walking distance.
A few Twelve Mile Circle readers probably already knew about my visit. They subscribed to my Twitter feed. Yes, I continue to maintain the world’s lamest Twitter account. I post links to new articles, occasional photos of geo-oddities, and lots of pictures from breweries. The beer pictures scare away the geo-geeks while the geography stuff scares away the beer crowd. I’ll gain a few new subscribers and then the total will drop again when I launch into a breweriana Twitter storm. Anyway I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I’d behave differently, I supposed, if I cared about chasing numbers.
Isley Brewing Company. My own photo.
Isley Brewing became the first brewery to open for business in Scott’s Addition. That happened in ancient times, all the way back in 2013. That amazed me. Seriously, the neighborhood changed that quickly. Now, some call it Richmond’s booziest neighborhood.
The Veil Brewing Co. My own photo.
However, the real reason I found myself in Scott’s Addition was because I wanted to visit The Veil. Its brewer spent time at two of the best breweries in the US, The Alchmeist and Hill Farmstead. He also apprenticing at Cantillon in Belgium. I’d heard the buzz and I wanted to check it out in person. Our Richmond friends suggested the walking tour of Scott’s Addition to experience some of the other breweries. We were already there so it made sense. I’m glad we did. The Veil had only two beers on tap during our visit. They were nice although I need to return and try some others before I can form an overall impression of its brewing range.
Ardent Craft Ales. My own photo.
On a beautiful, crisp Autumn day, we enjoyed a sampler at Ardent on their outdoor patio. It attracted a large crowd, as did all of the breweries. Business seemed to be booming everywhere. Also, I was amused by the "loft" apartments next door. They were only 1-story high. Who ever heard of a 1-story loft apartment building?
Three Notch'd Brewing Company. My own photo.
We finished at Three Notch’d. This brewery based in Charlottesville recently opened an outpost in Scott’s Addition, a place specializing in collaboration beers. 12MC readers may remember an earlier article called Three Notches. The brewery took its name from the Central Virginia road described in that article.
I’ll conclude by saying, as I often do when I talk about brewery tours, that this represented responsible behavior. We consumed only small samples at each site to better appreciate the breadth and depth of each location. I’m way too old to go on a serious pub crawl anymore.
I put Scott’s Addition on my list of places I need to see again. Certainly it will only continue to grow and improve.