8 U.S. City Names That Might Have Been

It’s well known that New York was originally a Dutch colony named New Amsterdam. Less well known is the fact that, at the height of the Third Anglo-Dutch War, a fleet of two dozen Dutch ships sailed into the harbor and briefly retook control of the city from the British—so that for a short time starting in 1673, it was officially named New Orange.

But New York isn’t alone in changing its name (or rather, having its name forcibly changed), as these stories from all across the country prove. While some of these monikers were actually in use for a short time, none—fortunately—became permanent.


In 1864, a group of prospectors known as the “Four Georgians” discovered gold in a remote gulch in Montana Territory. The discovery led to the establishment of a small mining camp in the area, which became informally known as "Last Chance." Within a year, the camp had become home to several hundred people, a handful of representatives of whom met in September 1864 to formalize the town’s name and administration. Given that the meeting took place in the fall, one of the names under consideration was “Squashtown”—but luckily for the citizens of what is now Helena, the state capital of Montana, a name honoring Helena in Arkansas (or Helena in Minnesota, depending on whose side of the story you’re on) was chosen instead.


A defensive fort named Fort Saint Anthony, and later Fort Snelling, was established at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers in 1819. Attracted by the safety and protection that the fort provided, an impromptu village soon emerged around it—including a local tavern run by and named after a retired fur-trader named Pierre “Pig’s-Eye” Parrant. The settlement itself soon took on the Pig’s-Eye nickname too, but luckily that name wasn’t to last. In 1841, a French Catholic minister named Father Lucien Galtier established a chapel dedicated to Paul the Apostle on the banks of the Mississippi nearby, and by the time the capital of Minnesota Territory was appointed in 1849, the town too had been given the name of St. Paul.


In 1867, a man named Jack Swilling noticed the potential for farming a vast dry plain at the foot of the White Tank Mountains in central Arizona. Having founded his own irrigation company, Swilling returned to the area some months later to begin digging a canal to divert water from the Salt River into the White Tank valley; the following year, the handful of farms and homesteads that had emerged in the informal town of “Swilling’s Mill” successfully produced their first few meager crops. As the town continued to grow, one of its settlers, Darrell Duppa, suggested naming it after the legendary phoenix bird, representing a settlement springing from the ruins of a former civilization—and Phoenix, Arizona, was born.


Andy B via Wikimedia // CC BY 2.0

Cleveland, Ohio, was named after Connecticut-born lawyer and surveyor Moses Cleaveland, who founded the city while surveying the great Connecticut Western Reserve in 1796. According to local legend, the a was dropped from “Cleaveland” in the early 1800s so that the name of the town could fit on the front page of the local newspaper.


Lake City, Florida, was originally a Seminole settlement named Alpata Telophka, or “Alligator Village,” and that name remained in place after the area was colonized by European-American settlers in the early 1800s. The town name was changed in 1859—reportedly when the wife of a local politician, James McNair Baker, refused to hang her lace curtains unless the town changed its name to anything but Alligator.


In the 1830s, a village was established at the confluence of the Colorado River and Shoal Creek in what is now Texas, and was—for reasons unknown—given the name Waterloo. In 1839, after Texas had gained its independence from Mexico, President of the Republic of Texas Mirabeau B. Lamar decreed that the capital should be relocated to Waterloo because of its visually pleasing location and abundant natural resources. The land was purchased by the state and the capital was officially relocated—and in the process Waterloo was renamed in honor of the “Founder of Texas,” Stephen F. Austin.


Wikimedia // Public Domain

New Mexico’s most populous city was named after Francisco Fernandez de la Cueva, the 8th Duke of Alburquerque, a town in Spain on the Portuguese border. Quite where the name’s first letter r disappeared to is a mystery—although local legend would have you believe it all began when the name was misspelled on a local railway sign in 1880.


The town of Cross Keys was founded in 1754 and reportedly took its name from that of a local tavern. In 1814, the village—which stands in the heart of Amish territory in southern Pennsylvania—was perhaps looking to distance itself from its association with liquor when it chose a much less controversial name: Intercourse. Quite why the town chose this new name is unclear, with different explanations pointing to everything from the nearby entrance to a local race course to the former use of the word intercourse to mean “community” or “togetherness.” Either way, the name helped to make the town sign one of America’s most frequently stolen.

Why Experts Can't Agree on the Lengths of the World's Coastlines

Measuring the distance between two places on a map is pretty straightforward. But if you want to calculate how long a shoreline is, things can get complicated. Just search "U.S. coastline length" and you'll find that results can vary by tens of thousands of miles.

How can cartographers come up with numbers that differ so wildly if they're all measuring the same thing? The answer, according to the video below from RealLifeLore, lies in a phenomenon called the Coastline Paradox.

Measuring the East Coast of the U.S. isn't the same as calculating the miles separating the tip of Florida from the tip of Maine. A coast doesn't follow a straight line. It's made up of divots and curves that start to multiply the closer you zoom in on the map. Accounting for every single detail of the coast is impossible. One, because the shore is always changing shape, and two, because these intricacies go all the way down to the molecular level.

That means cartographers have to pick a unit of measurement with which to estimate the length of the coast. If one team measures in miles and another measures in units of 100 miles, their results will look very different. Smaller measurements produce longer and, technically, more accurate numbers. But at some point, if you keep drilling down to smaller and smaller units, the length of a coastline appears to approach infinity—which doesn't seem entirely right, either. So every measurement of a coastline you see is really just a rough estimate.

The Coastline Paradox isn't the only complication that makes cartography an imperfect science. Even Mount Everest's title as the world's tallest mountain isn't totally uncontested.

Learn more about the Coastline Paradox in the video below.

[h/t RealLifeLore]

This State Was Just Ranked the Best in the U.S.

Every year, U.S. News and World Report assembles its list of the Best States across a variety of metrics. Categories like health care, education, economy, and quality of life are measured statistically—education, for example, looks at the graduation rate in high schools, while the unemployment rate correlates with job opportunities—and assessed against areas where states may be lacking, like disparities in income between genders or unfavorable crime statistics.

After considerable crunching of numbers, the U.S. News data analysis has crowned a new "best" state: Iowa.

The Hawkeye state finished in the top 10 or top five in key areas like health care, job opportunities, and overall infrastructure. Farming, a longtime identifying trait, has taken second place to manufacturing plants. And while plenty of Iowa is rural, its technological innovations are advanced: the state actually leads the nation in building high-speed internet access into the fabric of its communities.

There are other factors that paved the way for Iowa's placement—affordable housing, for example, where it ranks second overall in the country, and health care affordability. U.S. News points to a sluggish population growth for younger residents and less-hospitable resources for entrepreneurs as drawbacks.

In the full list, Minnesota grabbed the second-place spot; New York, the 25th. Louisiana appears at the bottom. 

[h/t U.S. News]


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