The Geographic Names Information System had a little "frequently asked questions" page I somehow overlooked until a couple of days ago. Most of the FAQ dealt with mundane issues although a few gems hid within its midst. For example,
The most frequently occurring community name continues to vary. In the past year, it was Midway at 212 occurrences and Fairview at 202. More recently, Fairview counted 288 and Midway 256. The name Springfield often is thought to be the only community name appearing in each of the 50 States, but at last count it was in only 34. The most recent count shows Riverside with 186 instances in 46 States, only Alaska, Hawaii, Louisiana, and Oklahoma not having a community so named.
This compilation was great from a couple of perspectives. First, I found it interesting in its own right. Second, it meant that someone else did all of the dirty work today and I could simply
steal borrow the idea and elaborate upon it. 12MC didn’t mind getting a brief respite from research for once.
Jefferson Davis Monument by J. Stephen Conn, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license
The United States had more places with nice views than ones located equidistant from two points in recent years so I started there. I selected Fairview in Kentucky because the border separating Christian County from Todd County cut right through the settlement (map). I’d always favor a geo-oddity above the others.
It seemed familiar and then it clicked in my mind when I spotted Jefferson Davis Historic Site, a memorial to the Confederate President who was "born on this site on June 3, 1808." Reader Bill Cary brought this site to my attention in a comment after I posted the Jeff Davis article in April 2013.
The Jefferson Davis monument looked a lot like another object named for a different first president, the Washington Monument. I’m sure that an obelisk wasn’t a coincidence although it was considerably shorter in stature (351 feet/107 metres versus 555 ft/169 m). Jefferson Davis’ monument probably didn’t have a precious tip either.
Midway, Utah, USA
The wonderful thing about Midway was that every instance had a built-in story by definition. Someone once thought they should all be defined by their geographic placement between two or more other locations.
I focused on Midway, Utah because it was a Midway with a decent population (about 4,000) and an interesting explanation. As noted by the city:
A wagon road completed through Provo Canyon in 1858 brought the first settlers to the area. In the spring of 1859, many more families began moving farther to the west along Snake Creek. Two small communities were established, called the Upper and Lower Settlements… In 1866, Indian hostilities grew and territorial governor Brigham Young encouraged settlers to construct forts for protection. The two small settlements reached an agreement to build a fort halfway or midway between the two existing communities… thus the beginning of our modern day town named Midway.
The Simpsons house, remodeled, in Henderson, NV by rscottjones, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license
Springfield came next although there’s really only one Springfield that matters and it’s fictional. Maybe I’ll give a nod to Springfield, Oregon (map) because the town recently commissioned a Simpsons mural. Also it’s just down the road from Portland which may have inspired the cartoon Springfield so it had that geographic proximity going for it.
There were so many Riversides and I chose Riverside, California because of the Parent Washington Navel Orange. I’d visit it. The city even had a little park to protect the historic tree (map). I’ll let the University of California Riverside Citrus Variety Collection explain this particular specimen:
Washington navel orange is also known as the Bahia for the Brazilian city from which it was imported into the United States in 1870. Although its origins are uncertain, it is believed to come from a bud sport found in a Selecta orange tree in the early 1800s. Upon its arrival at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. it was propagated and trees were sent to California and Florida. Although the Florida trees did not flourish, those sent to Eliza Tibbets in Riverside, California found an ideal climate for their culture
Why focus on one specific navel orange tree in a tiny park in Riverside, California from amongst the millions of others in groves throughout the state? Because this exact tree was one of the first two original trees brought to Riverside in 1873, and the other one died in 1921. All California navel oranges descended from those two trees. They were the parents of the California citrus industry.
Twelve Mile Circle published a very rare guest post in March 2011 discussing Geo-Oddities of Portland, Oregon. It featured several unusual items including the famous Mill Ends Park (map). Readers might have been familiar with the spot because it garnered a lot of attention from mainstream sources over the years and has become a stopping point for tourists interested in such things. It might be the world’s smallest municipal park although naysayers questioned whether something the size of a flowerpot could truly qualify as a "park."
Mill Ends Park by Adam Lederer, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
Regardless, the city of Portland considered Mill Ends a park:
In 1946, Dick Fagan returned from World War II to resume his journalistic career with the Oregon Journal. His office, on the second floor above Front Street (now Naito Parkway), gave him a view of not only the busy street, but also an unused hole in the median where a light pole was to be placed. When no pole arrived to fill in this hole, weeds took over the space. Fagan decided to take matters into his own hands and to plant flowers. Fagan wrote a popular column called Mill Ends (rough, irregular pieces of lumber left over at lumber mills). He used this column to describe the park and the various "events" that occurred there. Fagan billed the space as the "World’s Smallest Park."
That was good enough for me. It was a park.
I thought about Mill Ends park from time-to-time for no obvious reason other than this type of minutiae sticks in my mind. I wondered what the smallest park in my community might be, the most diminutive public space in the smallest self-governing county of the United States, Arlington County, Virginia. This overall quest also connected with one of the very earliest concepts discussed on 12MC, Unusual Goes Very Local from June 2008, the simple notion that geo-oddities existed everywhere.
This park idea remained on my notoriously every-growing spreadsheet of potential 12MC topics for several years and I never did anything with it, and never had the heart to delete it either. Then I stumbled upon a sliver of land a couple of weeks ago as I pursued my quixotic Bike Every Street in Arlington project.
Arlington County actually considered this triangle bound by residential streets (map) a park, then covered the mound with attractive landscaping and declared it Nauck Garden. I’d discovered my smallest park, or so I thought, although I didn’t want to celebrate too quickly until I could confirm it. Going online, I learned the county published a Public Spaces Inventory with associated acreage. Unfortunately the file lacked a certain precision for my purpose although it helped me define the possibilities. It listed several sites including Nauck Garden as 0.1 acres.
This narrowed the candidates to:
- 18th Street North and North Lincoln Street Park
- 23rd Street South and South Eads Street Park
- Arlington View Park
- Belvedere Park
- Cleveland Park
- Nauck Garden
- Oakland Street Park
Arlington provided great real estate maps with precise parcel sizes for every privately-owned piece of property. It did not do the same, however, for public lands. Then I turned to the Arlington Parks maps and I did my best to transfer approximations of the seven candidate park boundaries to a mapping application that measured acreage within a polygon. I would have preferred greater precision. That wasn’t available so I made do with what I had at hand. Nonetheless this crude approximation was good enough to demonstrate that Nauck Garden was in fact not the smallest park in Arlington. My renderings pointed to the rectangle known as 23rd Street South and South Eads Street Park (map), roughly calculated to ~0.069 acres (e.g., ~3,000 square feet or ~280 square metres).
Screenprint from Arlington County maps gallery, Parks Map
I used to drive straight down 23rd Street twice each workday for nearly six years when I worked in Crystal City, and yet I had no memory of ever seeing that park. Naturally it became a great excuse to hop on my bike this morning and check it out.
My photo didn’t differ materially from what was available on Street View although now I could say I’d visited Arlington’s smallest park and that was important too. Go ahead and push the arrows on the image to see other pictures I took.
The tiny public space featured a couple of trees, a weird multicolor swirly design on concrete, a trashcan, two metallic tables with matching toadstool chairs complete with evidence that vagrants had been drinking there recently, and an inexplicable mailbox with graffiti. After visiting in person and comparing the space to the Arlington Parks Map, I believe it probably also included the sidewalk plus the landscaping behind the mailbox in order for it to equal 3,000 square feet.
Second place went to Oakland Street Park which was a blocked segment of roadway neatly landscaped and designed to prevent cut-through traffic (map).
Excluding 12MC readers from Portland, Oregon, does anyone have a bona fide public park any smaller than mine?
A Wikipedia page caught my attention lately, an article on the Languages of México. Spanish naturally came to mind and the vast majority of its 120 million citizens do speak that. I figured there were probably a number of indigenous languages as well and that was likewise true. For example at least a million people speak Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec people, either as a primary or as a secondary language primarily in central México. 12MC focused on the other end of the scale and went straight down to the bottom of the list to examine the least spoken of the 68 nationally-recognized Mexican languages.
The bottom three languages each had less than two hundred Mexican speakers. Sources varied on the exact number although each would be considered threatened or moribund, and possibly in danger of extinction.
I discovered a website previously unknown to me in the process, Ethnologue – Languages of the World. The source listed information more than seven thousand living languages. It became a great resource during my search and I’m sure I will return to it in the future.
Motozintla de Mendoza, Chiapas, México
Mocho’ (alternately Motocintleco, Motozintleco, or Qato’k) is a Mayan language found in the Mexican state of Chiapas, practically on the border with Guatemala. Two distinct dialects existed, in Motozintla (map) and Tuzantán (map). Ethnologue noted that this language was extremely endangered. It would be highly unlikely to encounter someone speaking Mocho’ in either of those towns by happenstance; it was spoken by "older adults" in "home only." There were no known monolingual speakers of Mocho’ either.
Kumeyaay Plaque by Steve R, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
Kumiai is a Yuman language spoken by the Kumeyaay (formerly Diegueño) people. Yuman languages occupied a relatively small geographic footprint even during its heyday, covering modern Baja California plus portions of adjacent California and Arizona on the US side of the border. As an historical footnote, these were the people who stood on the shore greeting Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo when he landed at San Diego Bay in 1542, the first European expedition to the west coast of the future United States. An exhibit recognizes the Kumeyaay contribution at Cabrillo National Monument on the southern tip of Point Loma (map)
Currently 13 bands of Kumeyaay live in the United States and 4 live in México. The southernmost grouping resides at La Huerta, "located on the edge of a remote mountain wilderness area about 70 miles south of the U.S.-Mexican border, and 30 miles east of Ensenada" (map). The Kumiai Community Museum in Tecate attempts to preserve some of their cultural heritage.
Ethnologue estimated about 370 Kumiai speakers spread across both sides of the border. None of them were monolingual. Kumiai was categorized as moribund although efforts are underway to teach it to new generations.
Tribal Dancer by Henri Louis Hirschfeld, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
Tohono O’odham, a Uto-Aztecan language, didn’t have many speakers on the Mexican side of the border although there were at least 14,000 speakers in the United States including at least 180 monolinguals. That was enough to qualify it as "only" threatened rather than moribund, exhibiting "vigorous" usage by people of all ages. In México, however, there may be as few as a hundred speakers. These people were once known as the Papago — a name that lives on in objects as diverse as a moth, a park, and a US Navy ship. That name was discarded in favor of Tohono O’odham because Papago had been foisted upon them by outsiders.
Tohono O’odham occupied an historical range throughout the Sonoran Desert, roughly southeastern Arizona through northwestern México. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the war between México and the United States in 1848 and then the Gadsden Purchase of 1853 established an international border directly through Tohono O’odham land. It wasn’t ever a problem until recently.
Initially, and for over one hundred years, the Tohono O’odham were able to pass freely over the border. However, in the mid-1980s the border was tightened in an effort by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to stop illegal immigration and drug trafficking. Consequently, a barbed wire fence dividing the reservation in half and increased border patrol has made passing across the border difficult for tribal members. Entry anywhere but official check points is illegal and the entry points nearest to the reservation are 90 to 150 miles away.
The Tohono O’odham people never recognized a border and moved freely amongst themselves, making it possible for them to maintain family ties and participate in festivals such as the annual pilgrimage to to Magdalena de Kino (map) in Sonora: "we do not see ourselves as living in the borderlands. That is the view of people who look on a map but not at our lives. The border does not define us." Tohono O’odham extend as far as 90 miles south of the border into México.