Biggest Unvisited

On October 22, 2017 · 3 Comments

A couple of years ago I wrote about my Airport Visits. At that time I came oh-so-close to capturing Love Field in Dallas, Texas. A weather delay and a change of route dashed that achievement. However a work trip to Dallas last week finally righted that wrong. I flew down there on Southwest Airlines and naturally landed at and later departed from Love Field. It didn’t change anything in the earlier article, I figured. Houston’s Hobby Airport remained the largest airport in the United States I’d yet to use. Although something did change, something subtle.

Since that last article, Love Field surpassed Hobby in passenger counts. Unbeknownst to me, Love Field became my largest unvisited airport for awhile, although my recent visit corrected the situation. I’ve now traveled through the top 32 largest airports in the U.S., with Hobby dropping one spot to 33rd. It remained unvisited.

Houston’s Hobby Airport


Old Terminal at Hobby Airport
Old Terminal at Hobby Airport. Photo by BFS Man on Flickr (cc)

Actually, I’m not sure I will ever set foot in Hobby (map). I used to have a reason to go to Houston when family lived nearby. Unfortunately my grandmother passed away a few years ago at the age of 102. Then remaining family members moved to New Mexico for their retirement years. I just don’t see any trips near Houston on the horizon. So progress on this list will probably end. Plus, even if I did return, I’d likely use the much larger George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Southwest Airlines still uses Hobby extensively although most others focus on the other one.

Hobby began as Houston’s original commercial airport in the 1920’s albeit with a different name and under private ownership. It didn’t become Hobby until the city purchased it in the 1930’s. William P. Hobby, its namesake, had connections both to Texas and to Houston. He served as Governor of Texas in 1917 before his fortieth birthday. Afterwards, I guess because he felt he hadn’t accomplished enough already, he became publisher of the Houston Post newspaper. Naming the local airport for him seemed fitting.


Fresno County, California


The Best Little City in the USA, Plate 3
The Best Little City in the USA. Photo by Thomas Hawk on Flickr (cc)

That got me thinking about some of the other largest places in the United States I’d never visited. I’ve done a lot of county counting over the years. The total stood at 1,428 as of the time I wrote this, or 45.5% of counties available. However, I’d never considered the largest of the remaining unvisited. I had to actually create a spreadsheet to figure it out. When I sorted the results I learned the answer: Fresno County, California. More than 900 thousand people resided in the county so I’d missed a pretty significant place.

In my defense, there didn’t appear to be a lot of reasons to target Fresno. Sure, a lot of people lived there although it seemed to lack specific attractions unless agriculture in California’s Central Valley seemed exciting. People who are more familiar with the area are free to correct me. I’m sure it’s a nice place and I hate to give it short shrift.

It did have an attraction of a sort, I supposed. As Historic Fresno reported,

The Fresno Sanitary Landfill is the oldest "true" sanitary landfill in the United States, and the oldest compartmentalized municipal landfill in the western United States… [it] is a National Historic Landmark as well as in the National Register of Historic Places.

Someday I’m sure I’ll find myself in the area and of course I’ll capture Fresno. I might just check out the Historic Landfill too (map).


Oklahoma City, Oklahoma


Oklahoma City National Memorial
Oklahoma City National Memorial. Photo by Phil Roeder on Flickr (cc)

The largest unvisited city in the United States on my list was Oklahoma City (map). I liked this place because of the whole nesting of Oklahoma City in Oklahoma County in the state of Oklahoma. It didn’t exist until 1889 when the big "Land Run" commenced and it blossomed overnight. The city grew so quickly that it became the state capital in 1907. Today about 600 thousand people live there.

I’m trying to convince my family that we should go there for our family vacation next summer. I select a different state each year and I’ve already made my initial pitch for Oklahoma. It didn’t generate a lot of interest. I don’t know why. I found a couple of zoos for my older son and some military museums for my younger son. For my wife I compiled a list of breweries and brewpubs I knew she’d enjoy. Still, well, we’ll just have to see. Nobody else suggested a state so I might just win this one by default. I believe we have some Twelve Mile Circle readers from Oklahoma City. Please give me a few good reasons to visit and help me make my case. I think the family would enjoy it.

On October 22, 2017 · 3 Comments

Highest Numbered Street

On October 19, 2017 · 14 Comments

Newer cities created on grid patterns often used street naming systems based on numbers. The closest street to an important urban feature would become 1st Street. Numbers increased from there. Distinct patterns emerged in different cities, of course. Maybe numbered streets increased outward in two directions, north and south or east and west. Plenty of other variations existed too.

I wondered about the highest numbered street, though. Apparently a lot of other people on the Intertubes wanted to know the same thing according to what I found as I searched. Specifically though, I sought something within a single city in a generally contiguous manner. There shouldn’t be huge gaps. Otherwise I’d look at something like 1010th Street way outside of Eau Claire, Wisconsin and be done with it.

New York City


Queens County Farm Museum
Queens County Farm Museum. Photo by Nick Normal on Flickr (cc)

New York City seemed like a logical starting point. The city sprawled densely across five boroughs and used a numerical grid for much of it. The highest numbered street seemed to land in the Glen Oaks neighborhood of Queens. There, way out on the distant edge of the city near its border with Nassau County, appeared 271st Street. This quiet middle class neighborhood consisted primarily of a large garden apartment complex. On 271st St. however, just three blocks long, the houses all appeared to be detached single-family homes (map).

This neighborhood sat so far away from the action that it contained an actual farm. A farm in New York City? Well, actually, that might be a slight exaggeration. A few blocks away from 271st Street stood the Queens County Farm Museum. I guess that counted as a farm in a sense. As the museum explained,

Queens County Farm Museum’s history dates back to 1697; it occupies New York City’s largest remaining tract of undisturbed farmland. The farm encompasses a 47-acre parcel that is the longest continuously farmed site in New York State.

Where in New York City could someone go on a hay ride? Only way out near 271st Street, I’d imagine.


Washington, DC



I figured I could also look closer to home in the District of Columbia. With Washington being so much smaller than New York, I certainly wouldn’t expect it to reach the same number. However, it did have a nice grid divided into quadrants. Looking near the right angles of its rectangular border should help find the largest street numbers. They ran north-south in the nation’s capital. The western cornerstone fell in what is now Virginia so that wouldn’t work. That left the streets near the eastern cornerstone as the best place to search.

There I found 63rd Street Northeast as probably the highest number street (map) in the District of Columbia. These four blocks featured mostly modest brick duplexes with a few small apartments. The boundary stone could be found about a block farther to the east near the intersections of Southern and Eastern Avenues. Some maps called this the East Corner neighborhood appropriately enough, although I couldn’t find any more information about it. The cornerstone near 63rd Street, it should be noted, went through a rededication recently after many years of neglect.

The highest numbered street in the Virginia area previously part of the District of Columbia appeared to be 44th Street in Arlington (map).


Tehran, Iran


Tehran , Iran
Tehran, Iran. Photo by daniyal62 on Flickr (cc)

The city of Tehran in Iran had something of a grid in spots, including some with numbered streets. The city even had a 305th Street (map). This short block included space for two apartment towers, a park and a farmers’ market. However, I couldn’t make sense of the numbering scheme and it seemed like several different patterns existed in close proximity. I included Tehran solely because I wanted an Iranian push-pin on my Complete Index map. Now I have one.


Milton Keynes, England


Milton Keynes, England (June 2009)
Milton Keynes, England. Photo by Mark Pegrum on Flickr (cc)

Few examples of numbered streets existed within the United Kingdom. Most towns formed centuries ago in a haphazard manner. They didn’t include regular grids like their cousins that formed from scratch on the North American prairies. Milton Keynes incorporated one of the the best examples of numbered streets that I could find, though. The city didn’t follow the same model as much of the rest of the UK. It didn’t have an ancient pedigree. "When the UK Government decided to build Milton Keynes in the 1960s, the area was mostly farmland and undeveloped villages." Thus, it followed a model much more aligned to what happened on the other side of the Atlantic.

Even so, its numbering climbed only as high as 14 as far as I could tell (map). Also, city planners didn’t like numbers as numerals so they spelled them out. People lived on Fourteenth Street not 14th Street.

On October 19, 2017 · 14 Comments

Make Tracks Through Blair

On October 15, 2017 · 1 Comments

Our first day in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania went so well that I wondered how I would top it. Its neighbor, Blair County gave it a good run for the money though. I came up with a really good one-day itinerary too, all aligned with a railroad theme. On top of that it followed a leisurely route, covering just thirty miles (fifty kilometres) in its entirety.

I warned the kids they’d probably get tired of trains by the end of the day although they seemed to enjoy it. Well, not the last stop. We dropped them off at the hotel before that one.

Allegheny Portage Railroad


Allegheny Portage Railroad
Allegheny Portage Railroad

I talked enough about the Allegheny Portage Railroad recently so I’ll just summarize things briefly. Canals on opposing sides of the Allegheny Mountains faced a dilemma. Quite simply, water didn’t flow uphill. Entrepreneurs developed an inventive solution though. They loaded canal boats onto rail cars and tugged them up and over the hills with pulleys similar to tow ropes found on modern ski slopes (map). Primitive railroad engines (photo) pulled the loaded cars between inclines. This inventive portage across the gap measured nearly 37 miles (60 km) between Hollidaysburg and Johnstown.

The Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site preserved the remains of Incline 6, at the system’s elevation summit right on the Eastern Continental Divide. This included a reconstruction of an Engine House that powered a rope (later a wire) on a loop. Cars attached to the rope so they could travel uphill or downhill depending on where they were heading.

Then we walked down a wide grassy path along where the railroad once ran. This led down to the Skew Arch Bridge (photo). Here, the Huntington, Cambria and Indiana Turnpike used to cross above the railroad. Teamsters pulling wagons on the turnpike had trouble making 90 degree turns so builders placed a bridge at an oblique angle. That skew provided the bridge’s name.

Back uphill, we walked a short distance past the Engine House to a home built by Samuel Lemon in the early 1830’s (photo). There he operated a popular tavern catering to travelers on the portage. County lines followed the summit through here so I claim a bonus county — Cambria! — simply by walking to the Lemon House.

An Optional Site

We passed one more site soon after we left the park, a turnoff for the Gallitzin Tunnels Park & Museum. I didn’t know about it ahead of time so we’d already passed it before it dawned on me. It would have been a good stop. The original tunnel built there in 1854 spelled the end of the Allegheny Portage Railroad and its canals. Nobody needed them once a train could cover the same territory a lot quicker.


Horseshoe Curve


Horseshoe Curve
Horseshoe Curve

Next came Horseshoe Curve. All of the promotional material described the curve (map) as "World Famous" so I took them at their word. It did impress me. Here, three tracks hugged the hillside, providing a manageable grade all the way to the Allegheny summit a few miles away. This became one of the most heavily used tracks in the United States when it opened, a position it still held more than a century and a half later. There simply weren’t that many good places to cross the mountains.

A visitor center included a small museum although the curve itself was the main attraction. Railfans came out in force. They sat in lawn chairs with their cameras and video equipment, waiting for each train to rumble along. It truly was an impressive spectacle. I felt surrounded by trains as they wrapped around the curve. We even got to experience two trains descending simultaneously, a coal train moving slowly as an intermodal train passed it.

A Funicular Too!


Horseshoe Curve
Funiculars Passing at Horseshoe Curve Park

The visitor center rested at the base of the hill while the train spotting area sat farther uphill next to the tracks. People could either walk up a long flight of stairs or take the funicular. This offered a nice little attraction while making the park handicapped accessible. Who wouldn’t want to ride the funicular, anyway? It didn’t compare to my adventures on the Monongahela Incline in Pittsburgh although it seemed to fit nicely within the rail theme of the day. This one featured a single set of tracks that split apart as the counterweighted cars passed each other.


Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum


Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum
Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum

The same group that managed the Horseshoe Curve viewing area also managed the Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum in town. We got the combo ticket for both and saved a few bucks. Until I toured the museum (map) I didn’t truly appreciate the importance of the Pennsylvania Railroad to the city of Altoona. Essentially, Altoona wouldn’t have existed otherwise. The railroad founded Altoona at a strategic point at the base of the Allegheny crossing. It later built the Altoona Works there, a massive facility used to build, test, repair and maintain locomotives. More than 16,000 people labored at the Altoona Works during its highpoint in the 1920’s.

The Pennsy influenced practically every facet of Altoona, about as close to a company town as one could imagine. However Altoona began its decline earlier than many Rust Belt cities. First came the Great Depression. Then came the railroad’s switch from steam power to diesel locomotives. The new locomotives required much less maintenance and many fewer laborers at the Altoona Works. Finally came a general decline in railroading altogether. Altoona reached a peak population in 1930 when 83,000 people lived there. It dropped residents in every Census thereafter, leaving an estimated population of 45,000 by 2016.


Railroad City Brewing Company


Railroad City Brewing Company
Railroad City Brewing Company

We wrapped up the day, continuing the railroad theme, with a visit to Railroad City Brewing Company in downtown Altoona (map). Somehow that seemed appropriate.

We called our visit to Blair County a success.

On October 15, 2017 · 1 Comments
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