More Fill in Millard

On July 15, 2015 · 0 Comments

I noticed an anomaly as I pulled together the spreadsheet of every county named for a U.S. president for the recent Last Presidential Counties article. There was a single Millard County. It represented the only county designated for a president’s first name rather than his surname as far as I could determine. It got stranger. Millard County, Utah had its seat of government in the town of Fillmore. The president honored here was Millard Fillmore, so the county picked up his first name and the town adopted his last name. That would be like establishing a Richard County with its local government in a town called Nixon (assuming anything of significance will ever be named for Nixon). If anything it seemed backwards.

However that wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen. Fillmore should have been Utah’s state capital instead of Salt Lake City and then it would have made perfect sense. The weird imbalance would never have existed. Instead, Millard County remained rather obscure with barely 12,000 residents, and offered 12MC an excellent opportunity to fill a blank spot on the Complete Index Map.

Territorial Statehouse

Utah Territorial Statehouse State Park
Utah Territorial Statehouse State Park by
Jimmy Emerson, DVM (cc)

Millard Fillmore wasn’t exactly the most towering icon of presidential history, in fact he’d been categorized consistently near the bottom of the pile by historians who tracked such things. He just happened to be president at a convenient time for him to benefit from some good-old-fashioned political pandering. It was an expedient choice:

Why Fillmore? Location (geographic center). Location (water, land). Location (wood, stone). After congress set the boundary and created the Territory of Utah in 1850, Brigham Young, as the newly appointed governor, chose a suitable location for a capital. This location, near the geographic center of the territory, had all the needed resources to build with, and was located on the major travel route. Brigham Young designated it Fillmore City and Millard County to honor the United States President.

Construction began on the new Capitol building and the Territorial Legislature met there in 1855 (map). Only the south wing was ever completed. The project was overtaken by financial difficulties and the Territorial Capital moved to Salt Lake City a couple of years later. The old partially-completed Capitol is Utah’s oldest intact government building and has been preserved at Territorial Statehouse State Park.

Fort Deseret

Fort Deseret, Utah
Fort Deseret, Utah by Ken Lund (cc)

Millard County retained some significance in the early history of Utah. Mormon settlers continued to move into the Pahvant Valley. This created ongoing tensions over land and resources with Native inhabitants including the Ute and Paiute, and contributed to a conflict known as the Black Hawk War.

The years 1865 to 1867 were by far the most intense of the conflict. Latter-day Saints considered themselves in a state of open warfare. They built scores of forts and deserted dozens of settlements while hundreds of Mormon militiamen chased their illusive adversaries through the wilderness with little success. Requests for federal troops went unheeded for eight years. Unable to distinguish "guilty" from "friendly" tribesmen, frustrated Mormons at times indiscriminately killed Indians, including women and children.

Local residents constructed Fort Deseret (map) as a defensive measure in 1865.

In desperation the settlers sent word to President Brigham Young who authorized them to built a fort. As teams of men were chosen to build the fort, it was decided a contest would help encourage speed in erecting the defensive structure. The winners were to be recipients of a supper and a dance, while the losers had to furnish the food and entertainment… The fort was completed in 18 days by 98 men. It was 550-feet square with bastions at the northeast and southeast corner, and portholes giving a view of each side. The fort was never used for its primary purpose, but instead housed the livestock each night.

No other Adobe fort from this era of Utah history exists today. Even this site will eventually crumble back into the valley floor as it slowly erodes away.

Topaz War Relocation Center

Millard’s obscurity pushed it towards the forefront during a later historical era, during the Second World War. This was the site of the Topaz War Relocation Center, an internment camp for Japanese Americans.

Topaz, Utah. A panorama view of the Central Utah Relocation Center, taken from the water tower. - NARA - 536975

In a shameful chapter of American History, war hysteria and fear led to the relocation and internment of 120,000 people of Japanese descent from the west coast of the United States to various inland camps. Approximately ten-thousand of them, primarily from the San Francisco area, ended-up at Topaz for the duration of the war. Topaz didn’t close until late 1945. The outline of the Topaz Relocation Center remains etched on the landscape, and memories are being preserved by the Topaz Museum.

An official Presidential apology wasn’t issued until 1991.


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.


Mutual Ownership Defense Housing

On January 26, 2014 · 0 Comments

My reference to Audubon Park, New Jersey in For More Birds revealed an historic experiment in middle class public housing. In that instance the earlier residents of Audubon voted the newly-arrived shipyard workers out of their borough which led to the creation of a separate Audubon Park borough. That anecdote revealed a short-lived and little known corner of the United States government’s Federal Works Agency, a unit called the Mutual Ownership Defense Housing Division. Eight housing developments were constructed under the auspices of the program circa 1940-1942, one of which was Audubon Park.

View Mutual Ownership Defense Housing in a larger map

The original idea had been pitched a few years earlier by Col. Lawrence Westbrook within the spirit of a latter phase of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Administration promptly mothballed it. The underlying concept was rooted in Progressivism. In this instance middle class home ownership was considered socially desirable and beneficial, and the government should take steps to promote it.

Increased home ownership could be fostered by mutual or cooperative arrangements according to the theory. The government would leverage its capabilities to construct housing and would then ease ownership over to cooperative boards as residents could support it. This was a type of ownership still not very common in the United States; where co-op boards owned all of the property and leased units back to individual residents, each of whom owned a share in the company. One sees this arrangement in places such as New York City and environs — particularly Manhattan — and only rarely elsewhere, especially for typical suburban settings.

There were other New Deal era cooperative developments elsewhere by 1940. The twist here was the program’s specific focus on national defense. The United States had already began a military buildup in the years prior to Pearl Harbor and U.S. entry into the Second World War. This required a large influx of skilled labor for factories that manufactured the machinery of war, and the workers had to live somewhere. The government dusted-off Westbrook’s idea and he moved forward with several prototypes. As described by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Cooperative housing in the United States, 1949 and 1950.

Under the defense housing program of the Federal Works Agency eight projects (the so called Westbrook projects) were designated for eventual sale to nonprofit housing corporations formed by the tenants. During the war however the dwellings were placed on a rental basis managed under the direction of the Public Housing Administration in order to insure their being available for war workers… By January 1951 the first five had successfully negotiated a purchase contract the sixth was operating the project under a lease and the last two were still under PHA management.

The eight developments totaled 4,050 units according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They had been designed and constructed with Progressive elements including abundant shared open spaces in park-like settings. Some of them also incorporated interesting themes into their road designs and names, which I’ve done my best to describe based on my observations:

  • Audubon Park (map): Semi-Circles; Birds
  • Avion Village (map): Teardrop; Aviation Pioneers
  • Bellmawr Park (map): Ribs; Trees
  • Dallas Park: privatized – unknown
  • Pennyback Woods (map): Cul-de-sacs; Flowers and Universities
  • Greenmont Village (map): Oval; People who were notable in the 1940’s
  • Walnut Grove (map): Native American Breastplate; Trees
  • Winfield Park (map): Arcs and Geographic Contours; Oceans and Waves

My descriptions probably said more about my psychological point of view than any actually intended shapes. Feel free to provide your own Rorschach interpretations as appropriate.

I already describe Audubon Park in that earlier article so I decided to focus on a couple of other Mutual Ownership Defense Housing properties, both in Texas. One may wonder why Texas had two outliers while other projects sprouted closer to industrial areas of the Northeast and Great Lakes. Lawrence Westbrook was a Texan and he was the boss. That probably explained it.

Avion Village

Avion Village, Grand Prairie, Texas, USA

Avion Village grew next Hensley Field, later Naval Air Station Dallas and now the Grand Prairie Armed Forces Reserve Complex. The first residents of Avion Village were "civilian employees of the North American Aviation Company" who built B-24 bombers and other aircraft for the war effort.

Maxwell B-24
Consolidated B-24 Liberator
By U.S. Air Force photos [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

An historical marker erected at the site provided additional explanation.

Avion Village, Grand Prairie Texas Historical Marker by Nicolas Henderson on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

As early as the mid-1940s, housing was scarce in Dallas as well as in other centers of defense production and military activity throughout the nation. The private housing industry was unable to keep up with the demand for shelter in these areas. Some federal officials saw the situation as an opportunity for experimentation in architecture and planning, as well as establishment of a pilot program aimed at lowering the cost of quality housing through the use of prefabrication and mass production building techniques. Defense housing officials also wanted to introduce industrial workers to mutual home ownership as an alternative to traditional suburban home ownership.

The Mystery of Dallas Park

I don’t have a map of Dallas Park. Seven of the eight Mutual Ownership Defense Housing properties passed successfully through the intended process and now operate as cooperative enterprises more than seventy years later. Dallas Park failed. The name seemed to have been wiped from the map; I could not locate it precisely through Intertubes searches and the Geographic Names Information System didn’t list it at all. Gone. Vanished. I gave up after longer than I’d care to admit. I’d probably offer a small reward to the first 12MC reader who could locate it on a map with definitive supporting evidence (maybe I’ll write an article about your hometown or something, like I did for Peter).

I found contemporary information from Get Your Own Home the Cooperative Way (1949),

The development of the Dallas Park Mutual Ownership Corporation covers 114 acres and is in Dallas proper… The rental for a one-bedroom apartment is $22.50 per month; and for the three-bedroom single dwelling, from $32 to $34 a month. In addition, the residents pay $6.75 to $8.50 a month for gas, light, and water. Buildings at Dallas Park are of frame and brick and were completed January 1, 1942.

Dallas Park probably reverted to private ownership soon thereafter because the switch was described as having taken place a few years earlier when reported upon in 1955. Privatization was then under consideration for other mutual ownership properties: "Basically, the conversion would involve nothing more than exchange of perpetual use contracts for warranty deeds, with accrued funds due the tenant to be applied toward the purchase price principal."

Building materials became increasingly scarce once the U.S. entered the war as a combatant. Additionally, real estate developers applied political pressure, arguing that residential construction wasn’t a government function. The experiment, while seemingly successful given the longevity of all but one of the mutual housing corporations, lost its sponsorship and support. The Mutual Ownership Defense Housing Division disbanded.

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