Another Town Roundup

On October 29, 2017 · 1 Comments

I’ve collected unusual town names for awhile. They often came up as I researched Twelve Mile Circle articles or when I checked the daily log files. Generally they didn’t make those "weird names" lists found elsewhere on the Intertubes. I find them endlessly fascinating for some unknown reason. Then I make a note of them and promise to return. Occasionally I’ll post an article after I collect enough of them and I want to cut down my pile of unwritten topics.

Capitol Hill, Seattle, Washington


Downtown Seattle from Capitol Hill
Downtown Seattle from Capitol Hill. Photo by Matthew Rutledge on Flickr (cc)

Already on the very first entry I broke my rules for this article. Seattle’s Capitol Hill was a neighborhood not a town (map). Nonetheless, I wondered why Capitol Hill even existed as a name there. The Capitol Hill in another Washington came to mind, however, that one had an actual capitol on its hill. Nobody could claim the same for the Seattle version. Rather, the state capitol sat about sixty miles (100 kilometres) farther south in Olympia.

According to History Link, "the Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History," the name probably came from one of two (or both) alternatives. It happened in 1901, courtesy of a local land developer, James Moore. That was certain. By one theory he hoped to persuade the state government "to move its business from Olympia onto Prospect Street." By another, his wife came from Colorado and the name referenced Capitol Hill in Denver. The one in Denver, by the way, actually contained the state capitol. Sadly, Seattle’s Capitol Hill remained capitol-less.


Future City, Illinois


Future City Illinois
Future City Illinois. Photo by Joe on Flickr (cc)

I wanted to make a crack about Future City (map) not looking like it had much of a future. It looked completely desolate. Irony seemed cruel after I researched its history. Future City sat near the southern tip of Illinois, just north of Cairo and the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. African Americans founded it around the turn of the last century as a refuge from racism and lynchings in nearby Cairo. They created their own self-contained settlement and named it optimistically. It promised a better future. Several hundred people lived there a century ago. Now, only a handful remained.

I visited that river confluence a few years ago. It floods, a lot. Naturally, Future City flooded regularly even as early as the disastrous floods of 1912 and 1913. Three times the town needed to be rebuilt from scratch. Meanwhile, nearby Cairo went into a long, slow economic decline. River traffic decreased as rails and roads rose, and its geographic placement became increasingly irrelevant. People in Future City depended on jobs in Cairo so their dream declined with it.


Layman, Ohio



Layman, Ohio

Little Layman, Ohio barely qualified as a settlement, much less a town. Even so I liked the name so it made the list. The dictionary definition explained why. A layman is a "a person who does not belong to a particular profession or who is not expert in some field." What a lousy name, I thought. It implied nobody in town could do much of anything. There sat Layman at Tick Ridge Road with nothing but laymen living there. Actually, it appeared to be named for a 19th Century local newspaper editor, Amos Layman. That wasn’t nearly as much fun.


Bowbells, North Dakota


St Mary le Bow
St Mary le Bow. Photo on Flickr in the Public Domain

Doesn’t Bowbells sound a lot like Cowbells? I thought it did. Some random visitor from Bowbells (map) landed on the pages of 12MC. That in itself might be remarkable. Barely 300 people lived there at the last census. Nonetheless, it served as the seat of local government in Burke County. I saw small towns just like Bowbells with important government functions in many North Dakota counties during my Center of the Nation tour. So many settlements throughout the Great Plains suffered population declines in recent decades. Burke County itself dropped from about ten thousand residents to maybe two thousand since 1930.

That didn’t explain the name, though. A common source for names in these open spaces, the railroad companies, took care of that. As the city explained,

The city of Bowbells was founded in 1898 along the main line of the Soo Line Railroad and incorporated in 1906. The city was named by railroad officials after the famed Bow bells at St Mary-le-Bow in London, England.

Naturally I needed to tug that thread a little harder. So the town got its name from the bells of the church, St. Mary-le-Bow (map). I didn’t know about the "fame" of the famed church bells so I dug deeper. As the Daily Mail noted, "tradition dictates that only those born within earshot of the ‘Bow Bells’ can claim to be Cockneys." That still seemed like an odd name for a town in the middle of North Dakota. I couldn’t imagine waves of Cockneys rolling over the endless prairie.

It’s a Mystery to Me

On July 27, 2017 · Comments Off on It’s a Mystery to Me

I felt like a good mystery. People named a number of geographic features Mystery something-or-another. Most of them seemed to be Mystery Lake for some mysterious reason. Generally I couldn’t find much because they were often small, existed in abundance and fell across many different English speaking countries. I discarded them. Instead I found a few spots where I could actually unlock the mystery.

Mystery Bay, New South Wales


Mystery Bay
Mystery Bay. Photo by Tim Riley on Flickr (cc)

Mystery Bay sat on the Tasman Sea, near the southeastern corner of New South Wales. It also offered a double bonus from my perspective. Two things bore the Mystery Bay name, an actual bay and an adjacent town. Not a lot of people lived there, maybe a couple of hundred, although the seaside setting seemed nice.

The mystery traced back to 1880. Five men left Bermagui in a small boat, led by a geologist employed by the Mines Department. The government wanted him to inspect new goldfields a few kilometres farther north along the coast. Everyone on the expedition completely disappeared. A search party discovered the boat although the men vanished. A memorial at Mystery Bay offered additional details (map).

The boat… had been carefully steered through about 70 metres of jagged rocks… On the seats were bait, a pocket knife, pipe and tobacco, crumbs and other food. There was a bag of potatoes and a bag of mixed personal articles like clothing, bedding, tools and sundries.

The searchers found additional items on the beach, although nothing unusual or out of place. The ultimate fate of the men continues to baffle those who still try to unravel the secret.


Mystery Island, Vanuatu


Mystery Island - Vanuatu
Mystery Island – Vanuatu. Photo by Roderick Eime on Flickr (cc)

Cruise ships dock regularly at Vanuatu’s Mystery Island (map). People traveling to nearby Aneityum Island have to land at an airstrip on Mystery Island, too. The island is so well known that Vanuatu’s postal service issued commemorative stamps to highlight it in 2009. How could anyone consider it a mystery? It sat there as bright as day with abundant visitors next to a large populated island almost within touching distance. Sure, it didn’t cover much territory, just one kilometre by a few hundred metres. Nobody lived on it permanently either; Vanuatu wanted to keep the beaches pristine. Nonetheless, it got plenty of attention.

That Vanuatu Post page actually offered an explanation.

During World War II, this small, uninhabited island was used as a landing strip for the allied forces… The "mystery" is said to have derived from the fact that the air strip is impossible to see from the sea and therefore it took some time for the Japanese to determine where all the planes were coming from.

The island went by a different name officially, Inyeug.


Another Mystery Bay; This One in Washington State


Marrowstone
Marrowstone. Photo by Travis on Flickr (cc)

The U.S state of Washington also contained a Mystery Bay, just off of the northeastern corner of the Olympic Peninsula. The bay formed a hooked inlet on the western side of Marrowstone Island. The state created Mystery Bay State Park there (map) along its shoreline. Historically a band of Native Americans called the Chemakum lived on the island. They disappeared suddenly in the early 19th Century to be replaced by the Klallum. Nobody really knew what happened to them although the mystery actually referred to something else.

Canada sat tantalizingly close, just across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. A motorized boat could easily make a quick run to Victoria and back. From 1920 to 1933, the United States enforced alcohol prohibition. No such prohibition existed in Canada. See where this is heading? Smugglers would sneak alcohol from Canada into the US by boat and hide amongst all those tiny islands conveniently close to Seattle. Marrowstone Island seemed to be a particularly good choice, especially the little inlet on its western side. Bootleggers could practically vanish into the slot. Coast Guard crews trying to intercept smugglers referred to their regular disappearances as a mystery. This, supposedly, provided the bay its name.


Plenty of Mysteries in New Zealand, Too

New Zealand contained a number of Mystery places although none of them amounted to much in the way of a good story. I couldn’t find any useful information. However, I did learn a couple of new words. I’ve been on a streak lately so it seemed fine to continue it.

Mystery Tarn (map): I learned that Tarn meant pond. It derived from tjörn, the Old Norse word for pond. That made perfect sense once I saw it. When I visited Iceland in 1999 I remembered seeing the scenic pond in central Reykjavík, also called Tjörn.

Mystery Burn (map): Burn seemed a little more unusual although it referred to a stream. Some digging uncovered a Scottish Gaelic origin that meant something like "fresh water."

Neither of these New Zealand examples served as great revelations although I enjoyed the pursuit.

Presidential Layers

On September 8, 2016 · 2 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle discovered quite the layering of Presidential place names recently, completely by accident. I tried to find a better example during the larger part of an afternoon and never came close. Someone from the audience should feel free to post a comment with better results.

Washington State


Washington State Capitol
Washington State Capitol. Photo by dannymac15_1999 on Flickr (cc)

George Washington as the first President of the United States certainly deserved places named for him in abundance. He probably didn’t need Washington Ditch although I couldn’t fault those responsible for digging a path through a swamp for seizing the opportunity. New York City served as the US capital at George Washington’s inauguration in 1789 and it moved to Philadelphia the following year. In 1791, Washington appointed a commission to establish a new capital city in accordance with the Residence Act. The Commissioners came up with a new name for the city… Washington. I mentioned that because a really important place — namely the capital city of the United States — honored George Washington from the very earliest days of the nation.

Settlers moving to the Pacific Northwest north of the Columbia River wished to split from the previously-established Oregon Territory in 1853. They wanted to call their news state Columbia. Oregon Territory’s nonvoting representative in Congress took their case to the floor of the House of Representatives. Then things took a strange twist.

Upon the completion of Lane’s speech, a new issue was injected into the proceedings. Suddenly the question was not whether the new territory should be created, but what name it should be called. Representative Richard Stanton of Kentucky rose and moved that the bill be amended by striking the word "Columbia" wherever it occurred and substituting "Washington." The House then voted favorably on the motion.

Despite legends to the contrary, the change was actually just one of those things that happened on a whim. They weren’t trying to prevent confusion with the District of Columbia. Congress simply wanted to honor George Washington even more. Thus the US ended up with a Washington State (map) not a Columbia State.


Lincoln County


Lincoln County Courthouse (Davenport, Washington)
Lincoln County Courthouse (Davenport, Washington). Photo by cmh2315fl on Flickr (cc)

Washington State eventually subdivided into 39 counties. Several of them honored presidents other than Washington: Adams; Garfield; Grant; Lincoln; Jefferson and Pierce. Lincoln County (map) appeared in 1883, one of many places named for Abraham Lincoln in the US in the decades immediately following his assassination. The western states settled quickly during that era. Only Native Americans lived in what became Lincoln County a decade earlier.

"Wild Goose Bill" (Samuel Wilbur Condit) might have justly claimed the honor of being the first actual white settler of Lincoln County as he claims his advent into this country as a settler where the town of Wilbur now stands in 1875. Wilbur, named for its founder in 1887, was incorporated in 1889. While out hunting Mr. Condit once mistook a settler’s poultry and shot a fat gander. Ever after he was known as "Wild Goose Bill". Before he platted and named Wilbur, his trading place was known as "Goosetown".

I liked that some guy accidentally shot a neighbor’s goose and they stuck him with a lifelong nickname. People on the frontier could be cruel.


Lincoln (community)



Lincoln, Washington

Within Lincoln County I found a community of Lincoln. Sure, I’d prefer another president instead of the repetitious Lincoln. That didn’t happen. Lincoln County honored no presidents other than Lincoln although the notion of a President Fishtrap intrigued me. So I took what I could get. Nothing much distinguished the community of Lincoln beyond an RV Park/Campground and a post office with its own ZIP code (99147). It’s possible to send mail to people living in Lincoln, WA 99147.


Franklin Delano Roosevelt Lake



Actually one thing distinguished the tiny community of Lincoln. It stood on the banks of Franklin Delano Roosevelt Lake.

Lake Roosevelt formed as a result of the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River (map). Construction began in 1933 at the beginning of the Roosevelt Administration and it took nine years to build. Its massive reservoir stretched 150 miles (240 kilometres), and the dam produces more electricity than any other facility in the United States even today. The President didn’t name the lake after himself, though. That happened after he died. I don’t know if this was the first place named for Roosevelt after his death although it had to be somewhere near the top of the list. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes selected the name only five days after Roosevelt died.

The spectacular presidential layering to beat in this silly competition: Roosevelt Lake, with the community of Lincoln on its shores, in the county of Lincoln in the state of Washington.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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