Random search engine queries recorded in my user access logs often inspire articles on the Twelve Mile Circle. I found one earlier this week that went something like this: "only ky bridge that leaves one state, crosses a river, comes back into the same state." That sounded like it could be an interesting adventure so I set off virtually to discover the bridge.
It shouldn’t be too difficult to open up one of the map websites on my browser, pan around the Kentucky perimeter, and find a bridge that happened to clip one of the bordering states. Rivers define Kentucky’s borders perhaps more than any other state. They envelope three of Kentucky’s four boundaries: the Mississippi River to the West; the Ohio River to the West and North; and the Big Sandy River and Tug Fork to the East. These waterways twist and turn tightly and frequently, sometimes leaving slivers of the state on the "wrong" side of the river as they change course, so I felt confident I would solve this mystery without any trouble.
Except I couldn’t find it.
After way too much time spent hunting, pecking and Googling for that needle in a haystack, I think I finally solved the mystery. It’s not a single bridge, rather it’s a series of bridges spanning between short land-based segments. A driver heading north on a stretch of concurrent U.S. Route 52/119 heading out of Williamson, West Virginia will encounter the phenomenon I’ve marked on this map.
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The driver will start in West Virginia and in a space of two miles will enter Kentucky, return to West Virginia, enter Kentucky again, and finally return to West Virginia for good. I’ve presented this on a topographic map to help explain the reasoning. This is the path of least resistance to accommodate a modern four-lane highway as it negotiates the narrow ledges of the Tug Fork valley, hemmed in by the Appalachian Mountains on both sides.
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I think some of the confusion in the original query may have arose because of the way U.S. Route 52/119 has been designed. Portions of roadway have almost a bridge-like appearance because of the way it was excavated from of the mountainsides. Much of it sits high above the river with concrete barriers, giving the illusion perhaps that it’s all part of a single "bridge."
I found a couple of other interesting Kentucky border anomalies while I was searching. I followed the Tug Fork a few miles south of Williamson and encountered what I thought was a road disappearing into one of the mountains and reappearing on the other side. It’s not a highway however, rather it’s part of the Norfolk Southern Railroad and I’d stumbled across a feature known as the Hatfield Tunnel.
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Why is this so fascinating? Because it cuts directly through a narrow neck of Kentucky with West Virginia at either end. However the Kentucky portion is almost entirely underground. This provides a rather unique geo-oddity for the railroad workers bringing coal trains out of Appalachia. I even found a YouTube video posted by a user named 1jackdk. You’ll enjoy this if you’re a railfan. If not you’ll probably enjoy about the first ten seconds.
This area has a violent, bloody history. It’s right in the middle of Hatfield and McCoy territory — ground zero for the infamous Nineteenth Century feud. A couple generations later it was the site of the Matewan Massacre. Anyone with an interest both in Appalachian history and geo-oddities should put Tug Fork on the list of places to visit. I know I’ve added this to mine.
I also found another anomaly on the opposite side of Kentucky — I told you I spent way too much time pondering this — near the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.
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Here it is possible to drive through three states, Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri in the space of about a mile. Cairo, Illinois is the dominant town in this area so it makes sense to put a bride across the river at that location. It is alleged by some sources that this creates a situation where Kentucky and Missouri are the only two states that border each other that do not have a direct road connections between them. I pondered that for a moment and quickly proved it false in a couple of different ways:
- There is a direct road connection between Missouri and at least one of the slivers of Kentucky now on the west side of the Mississippi River due to a change in the river course. I know, that one feels like a technicality. How about…
- Reference my favorite anomaly, the Four Corners, and it simply cannot be disputed that Utah borders New Mexico and Colorado borders Arizona (albeit at a single point). However no direct road connects Utah to New Mexico or Colorado to Arizona.
I think we call that "fact" debunked.