Saint Alban Spreads

On March 30, 2017 · 4 Comments

Various saints appeared in recent Twelve Mile Circle articles, most recently On the Feast Day. I didn’t intent to fixate on them. The names of saints, both notable and obscure, kept coming to my attention as I researched other articles. I couldn’t simply ignore them. Take Saint Alban, for instance. Perhaps if I lived in England I might have known something about him. That’s the place where his story began. English explorers, colonists and settlers took his name and spread it wherever they migrated. I saw a town by that name in the United States and I naturally wondered, who was this Saint Alban?

The Saint’s Story


Martyrdom of Saint Alban
Martyrdom of Saint Alban. Photo by Lawrence OP on Flickr (cc)

Saint Alban figured prominently in the cast of revered characters of England’s Christians. Many considered him the English protomartyr, the original Christian martyr for the nation. The Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban later rose near the site of his martyrdom in Hertfordshire (map). The surrounding town took his name too. However, during the Roman period, somewhere around the third century, they called it Verulamium and they did not tolerate Christians.

Alban sheltered a stranger who happened to be a Christian priest, the legend said. The priest practiced a forbidden faith, an act punishable by death. Alban learned more about the priest’s religion as he hid him from capture, leading to Alban’s conversion to Christianity. Meanwhile the authorities continued searching for the priest so Alban swapped clothes with him so he could escape. This angered the local magistrate who decided to punish Alban the same way he intended to punish the priest. He ordered Alban’s beheading on a hillside just outside of town. Alban became an instant martyr. Even now, 1,700 years later, pilgrims return to the site of St. Alban’s martyrdom, especially on his feast day, June 22.

The story evolved over the centuries, and in reality St. Alban may or may not have actually existed. Nonetheless, that didn’t matter. He meant a lot to Christians in England and his name spread as they sailed around the globe.


St. Albans, West Virginia, USA


WV-St_Albans-8367.jpg
St. Albans, WV Station. Photo by Bunny & Norm Lenburg on Flickr (cc)

Actually, I first noticed the name in West Virginia. St. Albans sat just a few miles west of Charleston on the southern bank of the Kanawha River (map). The town began as Coalsmouth in the late eighteenth century at a place where the Coal River joined the Kanawha, thus at the mouth of Coal. I guess that sounded like an odd name for a town. Coalsmouth got a new name when it incorporated in 1872; "named by the chief counsel of the C&O railroad and close friend and railroad builder Collis P. Huntington, H. C. Parsons, in honor of his hometown in Vermont."

What about the town in Vermont, though? That one (map) got its name in 1763 from the St. Albans in Hertfordshire, England.


St. Alban’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada



St. Alban made it over to Canada too. There it retained a possessive apostrophe, the Town of St. Alban’s on the island of Newfoundland (map). The original settlers arrived at this spot on the Bay d’Espoir sometime around the middle of the nineteenth century. They called it Ship Cove. However, that caused problems.

… the community’s name was changed in 1915 at the suggestion of parish priest Father Stanislaus St. Croix, in order to avoid confusion with numerous other Ship Coves. The present name of the community honours an English martyr and was chosen to reflect the fact that St. Alban’s is one of the few predominately Roman Catholic communities in Newfoundland where the majority of inhabitants are of English (rather than Irish or French) origin.

Logging once generated most of the jobs in St. Alban’s. Today aquaculture and hydroelectricity fuel its economy.


St. Albans, Victoria, Australia


St.Albans, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 2007:04:03 15:30:56
St.Albans, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Photo by s2art on Flickr (cc)

Another continent, another St. Albans (map). I didn’t find much specific about this particular representation, though. In fact, even the History of St. Albans said,

Surprisingly for a neighbourhood as old and as big as St Albans, there is very little written about its particular history, i.e. its own history as a neighbourhood. This is because it developed across the boundary between Sunshine and Keilor and was thus divided between these two municipalities.

First came a railway station named St. Albans in 1887. The town grew around it after land speculators purchased small farms nearby. One gentleman, Alfred Padley, actively subdivided many of the plots and resold them. His wife, according to the website, had a family link back to the St. Albans in Hertfordshire. Thus the name transferred to the station and to the town.

One publication called St. Albans "the homicide capital of Victoria." It experienced sixteen homicides in two years. There are cities in the United States that probably experience that many homicides in a week. Sixteen — while certainly tragic for those involved — didn’t seem extreme enough to warrant such an onerous label.


St. Albans, New Zealand



I figured I might as well finish my virtual world tour by taking a look at New Zealand. Yes, a St. Albans grew there too, as a suburb of Christchurch. Look at its splendid border. The jagged edge made it appear like somebody tore it from a sheet of paper. I wondered what led to such an unusual shape, seemingly skipping or included houses and businesses at random. Alas, I never found out. However I did discover how it got its name. Apparently, before the town existed, St. Albans was the name of a local farm. The owner, George Dickinson, named it for a cousin. She was Harriet Mellon, the Duchess of St Albans.

More Oddities from Independent Cities, Part 2

On March 26, 2017 · 7 Comments

Virginia’s independent cities continued to offer their peculiar geographic secrets. The earlier part of this series explored tendrils and quadripoints. However, other strange features hid within their twisted layouts. I turned my attention to enclaves and pinches next. Those unusual features probably came from heated negotiations between cities and counties during drawn-out annexation hearings. In Virginia, that involved a special court held specifically for that purpose, overseen by a three-judge panel.

Two separate cities included enclaves within their borders. Those little doughnut holes belonged to the counties that surrounded the cities.

Enclave within Fairfax City


Fairfax Enclave
Enclave within Fairfax City

Fairfax City became an independent city in 1961. The county surrounding it — also called Fairfax — extended much farther back in history. English colonies, including Virginia, still hugged North America’s Atlantic coastline when Fairfax County appeared in 1742. The county built a courthouse in a convenient, central location in 1799. That became a seat of local government and a little town grew around it. Eventually the town evolved into Fairfax City.

Fairfax County remained quiet and rural for the next several decades. However, it did not escape the Civil War unscathed. Virginia joined the Confederacy. Union troops crossed the Potomac River as the conflict began, capturing a chunk of Northern Virginia. This protected its capital city, Washington, DC. It also put Fairfax directly on the border between two hosile armies. Troops from both sides crisscrossed Fairfax repeatedly between 1861 and 1865, each occupying the courthouse at different times.

The war’s first death of a Confederate officer took place on the courthouse grounds in 1861 when Union troops shot Captain John Quincy Marr during a skirmish. Two years later, Confederate forces from the legendary Mosby’s Rangers paid a visit.

Mosby’s most famous raid occurred in March of 1863, inside Union lines at Fairfax County Courthouse, when he captured Brigadier General Edwin H. Stoughton. Mosby found Stoughton asleep in bed. Awakening the General with a slap to the rear, Mosby asked "Do you know Mosby, General?" The General replied "Yes! Have you got the rascal?" "No," said Mosby. "He’s got you!"

Obviously Fairfax County didn’t want to give up its historic courthouse when Fairfax City split from it. The two carved-out an enclave around the courthouse grounds that remained part of Fairfax County. I confirmed this arrangement on the Fairfax City zoning map.


Enclave within Manassas


Manassas Enclave
Enclave within Manassas

A little hole also sat within the independent city of Manassas, although it didn’t offer the same historical pedigree as the one in Fairfax. Nonetheless, it existed for a similar reason. I confirmed its existence in the Manassas zoning map and then I drilled-down to check it out. Manassas carved its territorial independence from Prince William County, however, the county courthouse already stood there. It became an enclave. The space contained the Prince William District Court, an Adult Detention Center, the Health Department, a senior center and some associated parking, all part of Prince William County, not Manassas.

Then I spotted something truly surprising. Somehow a single residence remained within the Prince William enclave. An entire neighborhood became part of Manassas except for 9210 Peabody Street for some unknown reason. Zillow dated its construction to 1965 and Manassas gained its independence in 1975, so the house definitely existed before the city changed its status.

The family residing there lived in Prince William County. However, they would need to cross completely through Manassas if they wanted to visit anyone else living in the county. On the other hand they wouldn’t have to cross a border if they ever got arrested. I’m sure they’d have other concerns in that situation anyway.


A Pinch to Grow an Inch


Grayson Pinch
Grayson County Pinch

A different oddity came into view in Galax. Here, a county line complicated a border. The line originally separated Grayson County from Carroll County. Galax grew right atop the line, which annexed land from both counties. The western side of Galax also contained a nob. It extended almost all the way to the county line and then stopped a tiny bit short. That prevented Galax from pinching-off a piece of Grayson. My eyeball estimate concluded that it fell just about seventy feet (21 metres) short of creating a Grayson exclave.

It was awfully nice of Galax to keep Grayson intact. Theoretically the farmer that lived inside that pinch remained connected to the rest of the county. However it didn’t really matter much because the only road access to the farm came from Galax. That made it a "practical exclave."


Bonus Avoidance



Staunton, Virginia

Check out the eastern border of Staunton along Interstate 81. I found several examples of Staunton drawing its border to avoid highway infrastructure maintenance. At the northern end where I-81 diverged from Staunton, the border turned northwest along Route 262 to avoid the cloverleaf. Near the midpoint, New Hope Road crossed above I-81 so the border did a zig-zag around the bridge. Approaching the southern end, the border avoided Route 250’s cloverleaf and then turned to the west, making sure to skip the Interstate 64 interchange. These was classic behaviors influenced by the anti-city provisions of the Byrd Road Act.

More Oddities from Independent Cities, Part 1

On March 23, 2017 · 7 Comments

The recent Prince George Exclave article explored Virginia’s unusual laws and how they created an unexpected result geographically. It didn’t end there. I reexamined the borders of each of the states’ independent cities for additional anomalies. The intersection between complicated annexation procedures and disparate city-county interests created some rather dysfunctional situations.

All base maps and boundaries came from the excellent Mob Rule website, and its "county lines imposed on Google maps" option. I added labels and arrows for clarity.

Avoidance


Chesterfield's Tendril
Chesterfield County Tendril

Presumably independent cities submitted annexation proposals because they wanted something attractive, like adjacent parcels with favorable businesses and residential density. Conversely, they would also want to avoid certain pieces of land. That seemed to be the case with the Prince George exclave where the City of Hopewell didn’t want to use its own tax receipts to maintain the Route 10 bridge. I think something similar may have happened when the city of Colonial Heights gained independence in 1961.

For whatever reason, Colonial Heights didn’t seem to want to deal with the Appomattox River. Maybe road and bridge maintenance figured into this, or maybe the city viewed owning a bunch of uninhabited river islands as inconvenient. Who knows. Regardless, Chesterfield County’s original border on the eastern side of the river remained in place. The judicial panel that granted this annexation approved Colonial Heights’ border on the western side of the river. That created a long, narrow tendril of Chesterfield wrapping around the eastern and southern flanks of Colonial Heights. It also prevented Colonial Heights from ever sharing a border with Prince George County, separated by only a tenth of a mile at one place along Route 144, Temple Avenue.

Also unbeknownst to me, I never knew that I’d driven through a tiny sliver of Chesterfield while traveling between Colonial Heights and Petersburg on Interstate 95. I’ve taken that route probably a hundred times over the years. Google Street View images revealed no highway signage for that anomaly. It’s no wonder I hadn’t figured it out until now.


James City Boundary Cross


James City Boundary Cross
James City County Boundary Cross

Quadripoints can be a lot fun. I certainly enjoyed my trip to the Four Corners marker in the southwestern United States a number of years ago. However there existed an even stranger version of this phenomenon, the elusive quadripoint boundary cross. These occurred when a section of a territory — national, provincial, county, etc. — connected to its affiliated territory by only a single point. Twelve Mile Circle featured a trio of such international quadripoint boundary crosses in its earliest days (Jungholz, Baarle-Hertog, and the since-eliminated Cooch Behar situation).

I found it difficult to describe the phenomenon. Maybe the image above conveyed the situation better. Notice the border between James City County and the independent city of Williamsburg. A chunk of James City, almost completely surrounded by Williamsburg, connected to the remainder of James City only at the boundary cross. Also the name bothered me. James City County sounded a bit schizophrenic. Did it want to be a city or a county? Make a choice, James. They might be forgiven though. The name went all the way back to the original colonial James City Shire established in 1634. Government officials simply carried its historical designation forward. Either way, it was definitely a county and not an independent city despite the name.

There seemed to be no compelling reason for this nearly disconnected chunk of James City County. A parking lot and part of a medical center occupied most of its space (Street View). I had visions of city and county attorneys battling back-and-forth during the annexation hearing. Maybe this reflected the results of a heated negotiation. James City County managed to hold onto that little corner.


Bristol Boundary Cross


Bristol Boundary Cross
Bristol Boundary Cross

A similar situation existed at the northern edge of the independent city of Bristol. Washington County surrounded Bristol everywhere except on the southern side where the state of North Carolina Tennessee bumped up against it. Bristol’s northern appendage seemed to be bolted-on to the remainder of the city, somewhat haphazardly. The initial nub contained public space, the Sugar Hollow Park. I supposed every city deserved a good park and this one featured camping, sports fields, picnic pavilions, bike trails and a pool. That was a logical annexation. Nicely done, Bristol. The next nub farther up surrounded a reservoir built in 1965, Clear Creek Lake. A golf course hugged it eastern shore. Kudos again to Bristol for its strategic annexation, even if the space attached to the rest of the city by only a hundred-foot neck.

However, the Sugar Hollow Park nub also connected to an even smaller parcel of Bristol through a quadripoint boundary cross. This parcel accommodated a single house on several acres of forested land. I dug a little deeper and found its address: 13174 Topeka Drive. According to Zillow this 1939 home had 2 bedrooms, 1 bath, and 1,034 square feet of livable space. The estimated value was $89,101. Someday I’d love to know the sequence of events and special reasons that led to this single home becoming a part of Bristol. Did the mayor live there or something? It made no sense.

The independent city oddities continued although I got tired of typing. Part 2 will explore enclaves within the cities and pinches that came close to creating the same.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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