New Counties

On January 24, 2012 · 4 Comments

I had so much fun hunting through counties with the recent Google Maps boundary release that I simply kept going. Somehow I fixated on a set of United States counties that are "New" in the sense that they start with the prefix New and are named after something older. There are several states so designated and I figured there would be plenty of counties too. I was quite surprised to learn that this isn’t the case. It’s actually rather uncommon and many of the examples are boring or obvious.

It wasn’t entirely a wasted effort, though.

New Haven County, Connecticut

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If it’s New Haven I wondered, then what was Haven? Apparently it was the Massachusetts Bay Colony. A set of Puritans considered themselves even more pure than their Puritan brethren. The colony in Massachusetts wasn’t theologically devout enough for this group of about five hundred people led by the Reverend John Davenport. They left in 1638, arriving at a suitable harbor along the Connecticut coastline, their New Haven.

Let’s note that New Haven County isn’t really a county anymore except for minimal instances such as the decennial census. Connecticut abolished county governments in 1960. Functions performed by counties elsewhere are performed by towns in Connecticut.

New Madrid, Missouri

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One perplexing aspect of New Madrid is its unusual pronunciation: New MAD-rid. I figured it couldn’t possibly be named for Madrid in Spain. Well, I continue to learn new things every day because New Madrid was indeed named after the city in Spain.

In 1789, Spain granted Col. George Morgan, a Princeton graduate and Indian trader, governorship of a portion of New Spain… Promising to develop the region, he took control of the town and renamed it New Madrid, hoping to turn it into the future capital of New Spain… New Madrid, as the seat of government for one of five Spanish districts in the territory, became one of the first five counties in Missouri.

It’s also remarkable for two nearby geo-oddities: Reelfoot Lake (one of the earliest 12MC articles) formed after the massive 1811-1812 earthquakes along the New Madrid fault; and the exclave known as Kentucky Bend or Bubbleland.

New Castle, Delaware

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I have to mention New Castle County because this northernmost slice of Delaware anchors the Twelve Mile Circle! The circle is centered on the town of New Castle that’s located in the county of the same name appropriately enough. Yet, I couldn’t find the castle for which the county was named. Does it tie back to Newcastle in England? I did find that it traces to 1664, being so designated by James, the Duke of York when he received the original land grant. Before that and sometimes afterwards it was part of a territory contested by Swedish, Dutch and English interests. This area was within or around several different New prefixes such as New Sweden, New Netherlands, and New Amstel before the English finally gained the upper hand and made sure that New Castle stuck.

There are also some fairly straightforward ones:

  • New York County, NY (map): Duke of York (later King James II)
  • New London County, CT (map): London, England.
  • New Kent County, VA (map): Kent, England
  • New Hanover County, NC (map): The House of Hanover that ruled Great Britain at the time, and then by extension back to the German Hanover.

That’s the complete list of New [Something] Counties. There are also several instances where New is mashed together with some other word.

  • Newport County, Rhode Island (map): The originally settlers left Portsmouth, Rhode Island after a falling-out with the Puritan leader Anne Hutchinson. I’m going to guess that Newport may have derived from the name of the earlier Rhode Island settlement. Rhode Island is another one of those states where its counties have little meaning.
  • Newport News, Virginia (map): Nobody is quite sure. It may have something to do with Christopher Newport who led the three ships to the original Jamestown Colony (where I visied recently). News may have come from an old English term for "new town." There are several other theories. Newport News isn’t actually a county. It’s one of those odd Virginia independent cities that are considered county-equivalents.
  • Newaygo County, Michigan (map): This one is a ringer. It’s of Ojibwe Indian origin and has nothing to do with anything new.

And I’ll throw in a Newberry and a few Newtons.

  • Newberry County, South Carolina (map)
  • Newton County, Arkansas (map)
  • Newton County, Georgia (map)
  • Newton County, Indiana (map)
  • Newton County, Mississippi (map)
  • Newton County, Missouri (map)

I went a little overboard with all the county map links in this post. I’m still having too much fun with the new Google Maps feature.

Victory: County Lines on Google Maps

On January 22, 2012 · 15 Comments

The day has arrived. Google finally added United States county lines (and more!) to its maps. I’ve been hoping for this development for the last two years. I first pushed for readers to express their interest in Let’s Get County Lines Drawn on Google in February 2010. I’d mention it periodically (OK, whined), usually within the context of "wouldn’t it be a nice" if they ever got around to it. I thought it was right around the corner last May when lines began appearing in ordinary Google searches. Then it seemed to progress into a testing phase when I considered Google Maps County Lines Imminent about a month ago. The feature disappeared completely within a few hours so this time I waited several days. I’ve not seen an official announcement by Google, however, I feel fairly confident that it’s become a permanent feature.

I’m going to drill down to demonstrate a few examples. We’ll probably find other geographic units marked similarly as we play with this some more. Please feel free to mention what you discover in the comments.


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Go to the Google Maps search bar and type in the name of any U.S. state to see the efect. I selected Georgia. Already I’ve noticed one of the limitations of this feature: it doesn’t seem to work with maps embedded in a personal webpage. Go ahead and open the link (the one that says "View Larger Map") in another tab if that’s the way it displays for you too. Either the edge or the entire state of should appear shaded in a light-pink hue. It seems to depend on browser. I’ve tried it in Safari, Chrome, Firefox and Camino and each one has its nuances.

I’ve noticed previously that what appears on Google Maps and what appears when one copies the embedding code for the exact same map can differ slightly. Apparently Google uses different layers for these purposes. Hopefully the function will roll out to all of the layers. For now it appears in map view and terrain view, but not in satellite or embed. Individual results may vary.

Georgia was named for King George II of Great Britain (not to be confused with that other Georgia) in case anyone was wondering.


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This is the level that really means something to me as a confirmed county counter. It’s the reason I wanted Google Maps to add county lines in the first place. I have one minor quibble with the feature as it’s been rolled out: the lines disappear as one begins to drill-down for a closeup view. That may cause an issue as one tries to figure out whether a certain road clips a county border or not. On the other hand, we’ve seen many times that borders drawn by Google Maps can be misplaced by several to even a hundred feet or more. Perhaps this is their subtle way of telling us that we shouldn’t rely on the rendering too literally. I’m not complaining. It’s certainly better than no county lines at all.

Sumter County, Georgia was established in 1831 just a few years after the Creek Indians ceded it to the state and relocated west of the Mississippi River after the Treaty of Indian Springs. Its namesake was Thomas Sumter, a South Carolina war hero and the last living general from the American Revolution era at the time of the county’s origin. His name lives on in a couple of different ways: the famous Fort Sumter where the Civil War began was named for him; and his nickname, "The Carolina Gamecock" was shortened down to Gamecocks to represent the University of South Carolina sports teams. One often hears obnoxious fans shorten it down even further but I’m not going there. Now I know that it all ties back to Thomas Sumter and that makes me feel better somehow.


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Towns — and townships in some instances I’ve checked — now show up with boundaries. This is a welcome, unexpected feature. Towns appeared previously but with very light gray shading. One had to really squint to discern town lines. Now the area snaps to attention. I selected Plains, GA because it’s one of those odd Georgia towns with a circular shape. Very few places feature arcs or circles as part of their boundaries, and everyone knows from the title of the blog that they fascinate me. It takes a skilled surveyor to mark an arc accurately.

Plains is named for a biblical reference, "The Plains of Dura." where "The book of Daniel states that Nebuchadnezzar set up a golden image…"

Observe that Plains isn’t a perfect circle. It has a distinct nob on its western boundary. That’s the "Carter Compound." Plains, of course, is most closely associated with Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States. He still lives there and I guess Plains decided to move its borders to cement a claim to his legacy. The Carter Compound is closed to the public although visitors can tour other sites in the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site

I’ve tried a few other options:

  • It works great for towns with crazy borders.
  • U.S. Postal Service ZIP codes seem to work (e.g., 31780 for Plains, GA).
  • U.S. telephone area codes and exchanges do NOT seem to work; nor do Congressional districts.
  • Canada seems to have been provided broad coverage as well, although it differentiates Flin Flon, Manitoba from Flin Flon, Saskatchewan even though they have a single municipal government. I guess maybe that would be expecting too much in this first pass.
  • An astute 12MC reader observed that the United Kingdom’s Royal Mail postcodes seem to be working too.

Have readers found any other applications yet?

Totally Unrelated — Don’t forget the 12MC Happy Hour!

Just a reminder that the Twelve Mile Circle happy hour will be happening in the Washington DC area (Crystal City specifically) on Tuesday, January 24, 2012. Check out the original announcement for all the details. Don’t make me feel like a loser!


On January 19, 2012 · 7 Comments

I follow the various geo-blogs on an RSS reader like many of you do. Google’s LatLong Blog announced an imagery update on January 9 as it does periodically and I checked the list of improvements as is my normal custom. One of the towns updated with high resolution aerial imagery sparked my curiosity: Radium Springs, New Mexico.

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It seems odd to me that radiation was considered beneficial and even healthy during the early parts of the 20th Century after a lifetime of being told to avoid it. People bathed in naturally irradiated waters, breathed in radon gas, and exposed themselves to radium as a curative for all sorts of maladies. How times have changed. My wife and I bought a house several years ago and we were not allowed to complete the purchase until the sellers installed an abatement system to vent extremely low levels of radon gas found during the inspection. It may have been an attractive selling point a century ago, I suppose: "and the basement even comes with its own radon spa!"

The practice continues to have followers in the form of "radiation hormesis."

Radiation hormesis proposes that radiation exposure comparable to and just above the natural background level of radiation is not harmful but beneficial, while accepting that much higher levels of radiation are hazardous… Consensus reports by the United States National Research Council and the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) argue that there is no evidence for hormesis in humans and in the case of the National Research Council, that hormesis is outright rejected as a possibility.

There are spas today in Germany, Austria, Japan, the United States and elsewhere where one can choose to bathe, breathe, bask in or imbibe radioactive materials. Apparently adherents believe that low-level exposure is quite effective for treating arthritis and other auto-immune diseases. I’m not sure I would take the risk but I’m not going to stand in the way of those who wish to pursue this practice either. My only interest is finding towns that arose during a time a century ago when the general populace considered a little radiation a good thing.

Radium Springs, New Mexico

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Let’s take a look at some of that new high resolution imagery for Radium Springs, NM, just up the road from Las Cruces. Certainly, Radium Springs has the aforementioned radium springs. It’s also the site of Fort Selden State Monument (pictured above) which I found considerably more interesting for a couple of reasons. It was a base for the famed Buffalo Soldiers. Also in 1884, Captain Arthur MacArthur, Jr. became commander, bringing along his family including a young Douglas MacArthur.

Radium Springs, Georgia

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This version of Radium Springs is located in Georgia, southeast of Albany. It is one of the largest natural springs in the state and has long been a resort. They used to call it "Blue Springs" until someone discovered radium in the water and changed the name. Next came a casino, a spa, a golf course and the other amenities.

Radium Hot Springs, British Columbia

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Canadians deserve to be irradiated too, and that can be accommodated at Radium Hot Springs in British Columbia. As with the others, the name arose in the early 20th Century as a selling point for a resort and spa.

I found a few other minor instances in the database of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

  • Radium, Arizona (map)
  • Radium, Kansas (map) – population 25.
  • Radium, Minnesota (map) – now a ghost town
  • Radium, Texas (map)
  • Radium, Virginia (map)

I think most of those were probably named for uranium mining rather than a spa experience.

As I wrote this I kept thinking of Radiator Springs, the fictional town in the movie Cars. My kids watched that movie at least a hundred times so I’m pretty familiar with it. I’ve never actually seen the movie from end-to-end but I’ve probably watched it several times in ten-minute snippets (those of you who have ever had young children have likely experienced something similar). Radium Springs, NM seems to have a similar geographic setting. I wonder if they’re related?

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