I’m not sure why it came to mind. I somehow remembered an odd series of jogs in a road I haven’t driven in several years. Here is an example:
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Each summer I drove along Occohannock Neck Road on Virginia’s portion of the Delmarva Peninsula. A friend’s family owned a summer cottage at Silver Beach on the Chesapeake Bay, and he would invite all of us over for a weekend of fun in the sun. This was the same place where one could observe a very rare East Coast sunset over water which has nothing to do with this article, which I note simply that for amusement.
The other geography-related item of interest to me, albeit much less remarkable than the sunset, was that road. In several places the route took sharp turns, right or left, for no apparent topographic reasons. Some of them approached 90 degrees and required one to slow down almost completely to a stop to avoid hitting a field.
The Eastern Shore of Virginia is flat. Its highest point is no more than 70 feet (21 metres) according to the County Highpointers Association. Roads here don’t need to accommodate elevation changes. There are wetlands along the shores however completely dry farmlands occupy the interior. There are absolutely no geographic obstructions that would prevent the construction of roads in absolutely straight lines if aligned with care.
The obvious conclusion is that roads out here following property lines. Long-ago farmers didn’t want roads cutting through their property. Authorities routed them around property boundaries and continued with their straight lines on the other side.
That led me on a quest to find the most extreme, most egregious instance.
A classic example often cited occurs in England. Stott Hall Farm sits in the M62 motorway median between Manchester and Leeds. You’ve probably seen this before.
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It’s not exactly what I’m seeking for a couple of reasons. First, the road barely curves to avoid the property. I’m looking for something akin to a series of very sharp 90 degree turns. Second, contrary to urban legend, the motorway wasn’t diverted around the farm due to property ownership issues. It’s because the surrounding terrain dictated this unusual route. I love this as a geo-oddity. However, it’s not what I’m hoping to find for my purposes today.
I consulted the Intertubes and I found a promising article. FlaglerLive.com explained How Old Kings Road Was Re-Routed for Walmart. It doesn’t exactly fit my model either. I was hoping to find an instance where an existing property triggered an unusual route. This is the opposite case. The road was perfectly fine beforehand and changed only because Walmart came along.
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I consulted the article and found the property in question in Palm Coast, Florida. The map clearly shows the re-routed Old Kings Road. It also shows the alignment of the previous road bed. Walmart will obliterate that residual path eventually, however, it’s still visible in the 2012 Google Maps imagery.
The change also seems like a gentle curve than a sharp angle. This one won’t do either.
An historical reference dangled another tantalizing opportunity before me. I found a wonderful reference on The West Houston Archives:
Harris County, particularly the western half, was largely rural farmland until the last half of the 20th century, and many of the major roads we drive on today started out as simple paths for horse-drawn vehicles. Because the land was mostly privately owned property, divided into squares, rectangles, and other similarly shaped blocks, the first roads had to be built around these property lines. Unlike today, when the state can buy out land for right-of-ways and build roads wherever they please, early road builders respected the rights of private landowners, and built roads according to what was available for them to use. This resulted in our early roads zig-zagging through the countryside at sharp right angles. It was north, south, east, or west, and very seldom anything other than a series of straight lines.
Yes! That’s exactly what I’m talking about! Unfortunately the article then goes on to explain how these roads were straightened-out as Houston grew, largely obliterating any sharp right angles. I poked around for awhile amid what remained of rural Harris County on Google Maps and didn’t find what I wanted to see.
Maybe it would be helpful to draw what I consider the Holy Grail of road re-routing.
road ___________ ___________ road
| house |
I searched further and found reference to a two-mile U-shaped detour and a Chinese spike house blocking a major road. Those won’t do either.
I found lots of decent also-rans although I never did find the perfect example. So now I turn to the vast 12MC audience. Can anyone find an instance where a road traveling in a completely straight direction is force to bypass a property with a series of 90 degree turns and then continue back on the same previous straight track? This will bother me until I find such a place.
Green River Island is one of those places that seems to belong to the wrong state. In this instance it feels like it should be part of Indiana but it’s actually part of Kentucky instead. It hardly seems like an island either although vestiges of its old topography continue to remain visible. Rather, the "island" has attached rather firmly to Indiana with no physical connectivity to Kentucky. It’s an exclave, albeit an accessible one for Kentuckians via the Route 41 bridge over the Ohio River.
Green River Island is also a bit of a misnomer. It’s definitely within the Ohio River, however the Green River confluence occurs on the opposite riverbank near its southeastern tip (map). That provides the name.
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Big deal, an astute 12MC reader might conclude and with good reason. The major rivers of the vast North American interior — the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio — are known to change course in various places along their routes from time-to-time. Early leaders established state boundaries along those mighty watercourses and now we have to live with the consequences, a bunch of residual chunks of land on the "wrong" sides of the rivers. It’s completely commonplace after the passage of two centuries. Why even mention Green River Island?
I agree. It’s happened in dozens if not hundreds of spots. However, few instances have led to a precedence-setting Supreme Court decision like Green River Island did in 1890. The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in disputes that cannot be resolved between individual states (Article III. Section 2.: "In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the Supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction.") so it got involved directly in this mess and reached a definitive conclusion. The court ruled that Green River Island was part of Kentucky.
My interests are odd, I know, and I rather enjoy reading through geography-related Supreme Court decisions such as Indiana v. Kentucky. Let me see if I can summarize the logic behind the Court’s decision and put it into easy-to-understand English:
- This entire area was part of Virginia’s original colonial charter.
- Virginia relinquished its colonial claim to all land northwest of the Ohio River to the nascent United States government, which accepted it in 1784. However, the Ohio River was not part of the bargain. Virginia retained the river and ceded only the land northwest of it.
- Virginia ceded even more of its territory in 1789 to from the new state of Kentucky which entered the Union in 1792. The adjacent Ohio River conveyed to Kentucky since it was Virginia territory prior to that. The Kentucky border was set at the low-water mark on the far side of the river.
- Green River Island was indeed an island when Kentucky became a state. Surveys conducted at the time confirmed this condition and fixed the border accordingly.
- Indiana became a state in 1816. Its southern border was set at the Kentucky border.
- Indiana started to question Kentucky’s ownership of Green River Island in the 1870′s. It compiled anecdotal evidence to suggest that the so-called Island had been connected to mainland Indiana for at least parts of the year when Indiana became a state. Thus, it must be part of Indiana.
- The Court disagreed with Indiana. Green River Island was originally part of Kentucky. That remained the case even thought the channel silted-up over time. And by the way, Indiana shouldn’t have waited several decades to start complaining either.
As the Supreme Court said in 1890:
Our conclusion is, that the waters of the Ohio River, when Kentucky became a State, flowed in a channel north of the tract known as Green River Island, and that the jurisdiction of Kentucky at that time extended, and ever since has extended, to what was then low-water mark on the north side of that channel, and the boundary between Kentucky and Indiana must run on that line, as nearly as it can now be ascertained, after the channel has been filled.
"Indiana v Kentucky" continues to be cited as precedence for an entire class of internal U.S. border disputes up to the present. It also resulted in some interesting implications on the ground over time. Green River Island, Kentucky is situated directly outside of Evansville, the largest city in southern Indiana.
We’ve seen before what can happen at a border between jurisdictions with different levels of taxation or permissiveness. Green River Island caters to a couple of different vices.
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Indiana didn’t have any horse racing tracks or parimutuel betting until a couple of decades ago and Kentucky, well, Kentucky had its famous Derby and a huge entrenched horse racing industry. It didn’t take a genius to sense a business opportunity. Sure enough, the Ellis Park horse track sprouted on Green River Island in 1922 where it remains to this day. The island sits at the doorstep of a metropolitan area with upwards of 350,000 residents.
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Gambling wasn’t the only vice-based business opportunity on Green River Island. I zoomed-in on the northern tip and found another: Marina Pointe Tobacco Outlet. It maintains an Indiana address according to its website (1827 Waterworks Road, Evansville, IN) BUT it also advertises "Kentucky Prices." It appears that the smoke shop actually sits on the Kentucky side of the border. I checked a USGS topographic map and it appears the border drawn by Google Maps is essentially correct in spite of the oddly-placed road. As the website explains, "Ed knew way too many people who were making a weekly pilgrimage across the Ohio River to save a few dollars on tobacco, and he decided to do something about it."
Indeed, cigarette excise taxes vary greatly by state. A carton of cigarettes in Kentucky will cost almost $4 less than an identical carton in Indiana due solely to tax rate differences.
I found one other interesting feature on Green River Island where the state border cuts through its present-day tip. This has absolutely nothing to do with vices or business opportunities. Rather, it’s a museum, the USS LST Ship Memorial: "The LST (Landing Ship, Tank) is an amphibious vessel designed to land battle-ready tanks, troops and supplies directly onto enemy shores." The ship moored at the museum is the LST-325 and it served in World War II, Arctic operations and the Greek Navy before coming to the museum in 2000.
Thus, the museum is in Indiana while the ship itself is in Kentucky!
I’m going to have to add Green River Island to the list of places I hope to visit someday.
I’ve received a steady stream of visitors far removed from the geo-geek community on my Smokey and the Bandit Route article over the last several months. I didn’t anticipate or perhaps didn’t appreciate that the geographic construct behind a movie made over thirty years ago would still elicit much curiosity. Apparently I was wrong. Released in 1977, Smokey and the Bandit rode the tail-end of a Citizens’ Band radio frenzy that crested in the mid-70′s and ran through the end of the decade.
One leading theory links this broad cultural touchpoint to the disruptive nature of the 1973 OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) fuel embargo. As postulated in "’I Can’t Drive 55′: The Economics of the CB Radio Phenomenon" published in the Winter 2011 edition of The Independent Review – a Journal of Political Economy:
The CB craze of the mid- to late 1970s is thus an archetypical case of an entrepreneurial response to a change in relative prices. Because the relative price change of the altered time constraint was enacted so swiftly over such a large economy and the subsequent boom in CB sales and usage was so immense, a case study of the CB phenomenon of the 1970s merits the attention of economists.
I love it when someone describes a popular cultural event in even geekier terms that I would use. Broadly, the United States enacted a nationwide 55 mile per hour (88.5 km/h) speed limit to reduce fuel consumption in the wake of an uncertain, possibly permanently decreasing supply from OPEC. This impacted long-haul truckers disproportionally since slower speeds meant longer (fewer) trips and less income. CB’s became a tool to evade speed limits and avoid law enforcement. The public-at-large didn’t have as much of an economic incentive, however CB’s allowed them to act mildly subversive and pretend they were outlaws. They could become antiheroes like the truckers, stiking it to The Man.
[turn sarcasm filter on]
Thus, a conglomeration of middle-eastern nations were responsible for a cultural shift that led downstream to the Daisy Dukes phenomenon, which is ironic considering their conservative views on appropriate dress.
[turn sarcasm filter off]
Let me see if I can pull this conversation back to the point. There is a geography topic here, I promise.
The CB craze was already in full swing several years before Dukes of Hazzard and even prior to Smokey and the Bandit. One manifestation was a 1975 novelty song created by C.W. McCall titled "Convoy" It included a number of geographic references, some obvious and some not. For example:
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- "It’s clean clear to Flagtown" – Flagstaff, Arizona
- "We is headin’ for bear on I-one-oh" – Interstate 10
- "’Bout a mile outta Shaky Town" – Los Angeles, California
- "By the time we hit that Chi-town" – Chicago, Illinois
I think my favorite one is Shaky Town for Los Angeles, an apt reference to its seismic instability.
These are indicators of an argot (e.g., "a specialized idiomatic vocabulary peculiar to a particular class or group of people, especially that of an underworld group, devised for private communication and identification"). The unusual anti-language developed by long-haul truckers and their wannabe automotive kin conveyed a wide spectrum of descriptions for their business needs — the movement of goods from one location to another as quickly and efficiently as possible. It made sense, given their objective, that CB slang would encompass alternate names for various geographic locations and features.
There are countless websites that catalog CB slang. I can’t guarantee that names I’ve chosen to highlight are definitive versions or are even still in use today. Any given town may have had several variations that fell into or out of favor. I’m not in the industry and I’m relying on the Intertubes so take that into consideration. Nonetheless and with all due caveats noted, I’ll share a few of the more memorable and less intuitive examples I uncovered.
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- "Big Stink" – Las Cruces, New Mexico. Alleged to have been derived from a sewage plant found in proximity to Interstate 10.
- "Bubble City" – Champaign, Illinois. A reference to the sparkling wine spelled slightly differently, champagne.
- "Cactus Patch" – Phoenix, Arizona. I suppose this could apply to any number of places in the southwestern desert, although Phoenix is one of the larger so maybe that’s why it stuck.
- "Capital J" – Jackson, Mississippi. Jackson is indeed the capital of Mississippi.
- "Circle" – Indianapolis, Indiana. There are several different slang terms for Indianapolis, generally derived from the annual Indy 500 automotive race. Technically the track is an oval so does the same apply here too or does it refer to the general design of the Interstate Highway around the city?
- "Divorce City" – Las Vegas, Nevada. A location well-known for its quickie divorces.
- "Ghost City" – Casper, Wyoming. Casper, the Friendly Ghost!
- "Hot Town" – Atlanta, Georgia. Atlanta, sometimes Hot-lanta, shortened even further.
- "Nickel City" – Buffalo, New York. From the U.S. coin minted between 1913-1938, even though the animal is technically a bison not a buffalo. Not that it really matters.
- "Taco Town" – Corpus Christi, Texas. I’m going to hope that this is named for its geographic proximity to the Mexican border rather than taking a swipe at its residents. There is a subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, bordering on offensive thread running through CB argot that tends to denigrate those who are not part of its stereotypical trucker demographic.
There are hundreds, literally hundreds of other geographic references incorporated within CB slang. I’m sure this extends internationally although I’ve focused solely on the United States.