Adjacent Counties, Same Name, Different States

On May 16, 2010 · 9 Comments

We’ve had a lively interactive discussion within the comments section of the recent article, "For Aficionados of Counties." I’m not surprised. Many of my regular readers are indeed aficionados of counties. In fact I seem to have cornered a great deal of the market on geo-oddities at the tertiary level of US government, not that I have much competition.

Frequent reader "Craig" mentioned the peculiar situation of Kent County, Maryland and Kent County, Delaware. They are adjacent. They share a common name and a common border but they fall on different sides of a state boundary line. He wondered whether there were other instances of counties bordering their namesake in another state.

Here are the two Kents that launched an entire discussion:

Another loyal reader, "Mike Lowe" then mentioned Sabine Co., Texas bordering on Sabine Parish, Louisiana. Craig returned the favor by added Bristol Co. Massachusetts and Bristol Co., Rhode Island. I found a couple more examples and threw them onto the pile.

Then I got down to some serious searching. I determined that this topic isn’t very well known or understood on the Intertubes. It’s rare virgin territory and a grand opportunity for compiling a definitive list. I can’t promise that I found every instance of this phenomenon but I feel confident that it’s better than any other tally that exists publicly. It’s entirely possible that I overlooked something so please add them to the comments and we’ll make the list even better together.

I now present for your entertainment and amusement the (possibly) complete list of counties that border their namesakes in adjacent states.

  1. Big Horn Co., Montana/Wyoming
  2. Bristol Co., Massachusetts/Rhode Island
  3. Escambia Co., Alabama/Florida
  4. Kent Co., Delaware/Maryland
  5. Park Co., Montana/Wyoming
  6. Pike Co., Illinois/Missouri
  7. Sabine Co./Parish, Texas/Louisiana
  8. San Juan Co., New Mexico/Utah
  9. Teton Co., Idaho/Wyoming
  10. Union Co./Parish, Arkansas/Louisiana
  11. Vermil(l)ion Co., Illinois/Indiana

Note that I equate a Parish with a County which I think is proper, and I’ll explain momentarily why I believe the that spelling variation for the final entry still qualifies it for the list.

Big Horn Co., Montana/Wyoming: They are named after the Big Horn Mountains which run north-south through central Wyoming and extend up into Montana.

Bristol Co., Massachusetts/Rhode Island: This is convoluted so I’ll do my best to simplify it while trying to remain somewhat historically accurate. Think back to the settlement of the Plymouth Colony in the Seventeenth Century and recall that many of the early immigrants left from ports in southwestern England. Bristol, in England, lent its name to the Plymouth Colony town of Bristol, which in turn became the namesake and shire town (county seat) of Bristol County at its creation in 1685.

Forward another half-century and the Province of Massachusetts Bay arose from a conglomeration of various earlier colonies including Plymouth. Rhode Island was a separate colony and they disputed the border. Part of the disagreement involved Bristol County. They settled and both sides retained portions of Bristol County including its name, with the Town of Bristol falling within Rhode Island. I should note that Rhode Island doesn’t have functioning counties anymore. They exist primarily for national comparisons such as the Census which baselined at the county level long ago.

Escambia Co., Alabama/Florida: The name derives from the Escambia River. In Alabama the river is known as the Conecuh but the name changes to Escambia when it enters Florida. Nonetheless both counties call themselves Escambia. Conecuh had already been snagged by a neighboring Alabama county so the residents of the newly-formed county were left with second-best. The USGS says, "Although the name may be derived from the Spanish word ‘cambiar,’ meaning to exchange or barter, it more likely is from an Indian word of unknown meaning."

Kent Co., Delaware/Maryland: They are both named for the English county, Kent. Cecilius Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore and 1st Proprietor Governor of Maryland, was born in Kent so I’m thinking that could be a connection. I couldn’t find a likely reason for Delaware’s Kent County other than a general English heritage. That means I didn’t stumble across an answer in the first thirty seconds on Google. Maybe one of our Delaware experts knows the answer. Don’t smirk. We do have Delaware experts who read this blog.

Park Co., Montana/Wyoming: Yellowstone, the first National Park in the world, encompasses land within both counties and serves as their namesake.

Pike Co., Illinois/Missouri: Zebulon Pike, noted early Nineteenth Century explorer and soldier, inspired the naming of many geographic features. Pike’s Peak in Colorado is probably the most famous example. He died in 1813 during a military expedition against British forces in Canada in the War of 1812 (which ran until 1814, or 1815 if you count the Battle of New Orleans and other post-treaty actions). Both counties formed in the years immediately following Pike’s heroic death and bear his name as a tribute.

Sabine Co./Parish, Texas/Louisiana: Both counties abut the Sabine River and that’s where they derive their common name. The Spanish word for cypress, a tree found commonly along lower portions of the river, provided the inspiration. This was the Rio Grande of its day: an international border between the United States and Mexico during much of the first half of the Nineteenth Century.

San Juan Co., New Mexico/Utah: Four states join together at a common point at the Four Corners. New Mexico and Utah are cattycornered here. Their respective San Juan Counties meet at a single point directly upon the Four Corners monument. There’s a perfectly logical explanation for this choice of county names: The San Juan River begins in southwestern Colorado dips into New Mexico, clips Colorado once again and enters Utah before flowing into the Colorado River. It touches both San Juan Counties.

Teton Co., Idaho/Wyoming: The Teton Mountains came first and the counties were named accordingly. Conventional wisdom associates Teton with a rather colorful French derivation. It certainly lends a bawdy edge to Grand Teton, the principal massif summit. I love this area and I’ve traveled here several times over the years, often hearing and believing that version of the supposed etymology. However it actually appears to derive from the Teton Indians that predated any frustrated French explorers who may have wandered through the area. You can find a better explanation on if you truly want to know more.

Union Co./Parish, Arkansas/Louisiana: Union is a very popular county name that’s found in 18 states. It’s not too remarkable then, that two happen to abut each other purely by coincidence. The Arkansas version came out of a citizen petition, in the spirit of Union and Unity. The Louisiana version supposedly came from a quote by Daniel Webster, "liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable." I found both explanations on Wikipedia so take that into consideration.

There is a fascinating stone monument sitting on the border between the two Union Counties erected in the 1930’s. Check out Groundspeak for some background information, photographs and the text from a recent newspaper article.

Vermil(l)ion Co., Illinois/Indiana: The purists might not count this one because of the spelling variation. Red bluffs provide a descriptive term for the Vermilion River which in turn lends a name to both counties. Illinois spells Vermilion just like the river. Indiana adds an extra "l," thus Vermillion. However they both refer to the river.

On May 16, 2010 · 9 Comments

9 Responses to “Adjacent Counties, Same Name, Different States”

  1. gS49 says:

    Is it possible that the Teton tribe are named after the mountains? (Rather than a versions of a Native word) If not, then it’s more likely that the mountains were named after the tribe and the lascivious version is a folk etymology. (It has the flavor of folk etymology fur shur)

  2. Hamish says:

    Kent County Maryland is very important to that state. When the Calvert’s founded Maryland they brought with them the civil law from Kent in England. In Kent women were allowed to inherit property and this was continued in colonial Maryland. In many ways Maryland was a new Catholic Kent across the ocean.

  3. Bill Harris says:

    Kent County, Delaware is the “newest” of Delaware’s three counties, created in the late 1600’s. It was originally called St. Jones County after the St. Jones River (no one has knows who St. Jones is supposed to be). When William Penn took ownership of the county, he founded the City of Dover and the country was renamed to Kent, as Dover, England was located in Kentshire, England.

  4. Mike Lowe says:

    Nice blog subject. I’m glad I was able to help.

  5. Matthias says:

    Considering that a lot of names in the northwest (Nez Perce and Coeur d’Alene among others) come from the french language, I wouldn’t be surprised that the whole Teton package (mountains, tribe, counties) has a french etimology as well. Especially if we look at the Grand Teton mountain (meaning ‘great nipple’ in french).

  6. Steve says:

    That is the “Teton” story I always knew. In fact, I believe a Nat’l Park guide told it to us while there – that the French word for “great nipple/boobs” was the genesis.

    And those of us from northern New Castle County, Delware have nothing interesting or positive to say about Kent County. Or Sussex for that matter.


  7. Craig says:

    As a followup, I’ll add that Tioga County, Pennsylvania and Tioga County, New York used to touch before Chemung County was created from the latter in 1836.

  8. Craig says:

    Regarding @Steve’s comment, I have to wonder how many readers of Twelve Mile Circle are, like Steve and myself, northern Delawareans whether current or expatriate.

  9. Dave Berry says:

    How about two adjacent towns with the same name in separate counties? See Town of Thornton, Chester County, Pennsylvania and Town of Thornton, Delaware County, Pennsylvania. They were once one town until Delaware County split off from Chester County in 1789, primarily due to a political disagreement as to where the county seat, with its attendant courthouses, jails, and other county government buildings, should be located. Apparently, farmers in Thornton were allowed to choose which county they wanted their property to be in, resulting in the highly jagged county border between the two Towns of Thornton that persists to this day. Now each of the Thorntons has its own town government (with separate websites for those wishing to look them up).

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