Rivers can make great boundaries when they cooperate. Frequently they do not. These creatures of nature flow where they want to flow. Sometimes they erode deep furrows through solid rock, changing course only after eons pass. Other times they cross alluvial plains, shifting into multiple ephemeral streams awaiting the next flood. Problems will undoubtedly occur when people rely upon frequently-shifting rivers as boundaries. The shifts create winners and losers.
Two recent border situations came to my attention, handled in distinctly different ways by those involved.
The Red River
Reader Glenn seemed amused by the craziness of the border between Texas and its neighbors — Oklahoma and Arkansas — along the Red River, in an email he sent to 12MC a couple of months ago. The border rarely followed the river exactly, it reflected a version of the river that existed a long time ago. Many of the cutoffs on the "wrong" side of the river still retained names from a bygone day; Eagle Bend, Horseshoe Bend, Whitaker Bend and Hurricane Bend. Others seemed to represent the year of the flood that changed the underlying channel; such as 1908 Cutoff and Forty-One Cutoff.
Fixing the Border
Bend in Red River, Texas. Photo by brewbooks on Flickr (cc)
I might have left it at that, a simple observation of a messed-up situation. However, the decision to use the Red River beginning with the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819 continues to reverberate today. This treaty between Spain and the United States addressed a host of boundary issues. A line along the Red River remained in place when México gained independence from Spain in 1821, when Texas gained independence in 1836 and when Texas joined the United States in 1846. The river had different intentions though and meandered as it pleased.
The Red River figured prominently in a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Oklahoma v. Texas, 260 U.S. 606 (1923). The Court noted that even though the river wandered, it remained within two "cut banks" broadly defined.
… we hold that the bank intended by the treaty provision is the water-washed and relatively permanent elevation or acclivity at the outer line of the river bed which separates the bed from the adjacent upland, whether valley or hill, and serves to confine the waters within the bed and to preserve the course of the river, and that the boundary intended is on and along the bank at the average or mean level attained by the waters in the periods when they reach and wash the bank without overflowing it.
The Court set the boundary between Texas and Oklahoma on the south side of the Red River. Surveyors then marked and set the boundary.
The Current Dispute
Except the river kept changing while the boundary, as determined by the Court in 1923, remained fixed. The latest dispute began within the last several years. It got much more complicated. While the line between Texas and Oklahoma began at the south bank, the Federal government held the portion from the middle of the river to the south bank in public trust for Native Americans. This formed a narrow strip, a 116 mile (190 kilometre) ribbon. Much of that strip is now on dry land. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management estimated that 90,000 acres actually belong in the public domain, and not to the people living there, farming it or grazing their cattle for the last century. Lawsuits continue to rage.
The River Meuse
Netherlands / Belgium Border Adjustment
Underlying Map from OpenStreetMap
Reader Jasper sent me a heads up that Belgium shrank and the Netherlands grew on November 28, 2016. The two sides came to an amicable agreement and adjusted their border. Didier Reynders of Belgium and Bert Koenders of the Netherlands signed a treaty in Amsterdam, in the presence of their respective monarchs, King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, and King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima. The announcement came in a Press Release with coverage in local media (Google Translation of an article in Flemish).
The areas in question fell along the banks of the River Meuse, forming a portion of the boundary between the two nations. They established their original border there in 1843. However, these neighbors decided to straighten their common river to improve navigation in stages between 1962 and 1980. This left a piece of the Netherlands and two pieces of Belgium on the "wrong" side of the river between Visé and Eijsden (map). Police could not access these spots easily and they became havens for illegal activities. This included a situation where a headless body washed ashore on one of the exclaves. Territorial complexities hampered the investigation.
In an unusual twist and in a supreme act of neighborly cooperation, the two nations simply agreed to swap their stranded parcels. It seemed the most logical option, and yet, it remained exceedingly rare in other border situations worldwide. Nobody wants to be the loser. Belgium simply gave up 14 hectares (35 acres) in the deal and called it good.
With a name like Triangle, I expected some actual triangles. I pondered that possibility as I sat on Interstate 95 during heavy weekend traffic, returning from an overnight trip to Richmond. I found plenty of time to consider that notion too as I traveled through Triangle on the interminably slow route on a notoriously congested highway.
National Museum of the Marine Corps. My own photo.
In truth, I already knew about Triangle although I never thought about its name before. It stood just beyond the gates of Marine Corps Base Quantico. The Marines built a wonderful museum bordering Triangle that I visited a couple of years ago. I guessed Triangle must have been roughly triangular. That seemed to be the case when I checked later (map). No online source confirmed it definitively, though. The source of this triangle remained a mystery.
Research Triangle Park, North Carolina
That didn’t keep me from finding other triangles. A famous one sat just one state farther south at Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. The triangle in question referenced three local cities anchored by three major universities: Raleigh (North Carolina State University), Durham (Duke University) and Chapel Hill (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). The state government, local governments, the universities and private interests banded together in the 1950’s to create a research-friendly area managed by a non-profit organization. Their foresight worked spectacularly.
Today, we share our home with more than 200 companies and over 50,000 people with expertise in fields such as micro-electronics, telecommunications, biotechnology, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and environmental sciences. Industries invest more than $296 million in R&D at the region’s universities each year – double the average R&D investment for innovation clusters elsewhere in the nation.
Identifying triangles only got more difficult from there.
Junction Triangle, Ontario, Canada
Junction Triangle map on Wikimedia Commons (cc)
Canada offered a recent example with Junction Triangle. It didn’t have much of a name nor much of a presence during most of its history, an isolated parcel on the western side of Toronto. Industry clustered there, and then so did immigrants that worked in the factories through much of the 20th Century. They came from places like Italy and Poland, and later from Portugal. The Portuguese came in such great abundance that soon they dominated the area. Factories declined precipitously and so did the neighbourhood as the century came to an end. However, conditions changed once again in recent years as young professionals began to covet its inexpensive, conveniently-located housing. The neighbourhood needed a fancy new name to match its changing fortune. A contest in 2010 resulted in hundreds of suggestions. The name Junction Triangle (map) won after officials tallied the votes.
Why Junction Triangle? Railroads hemmed the neighbourhood in on three well-defined sides. They formed a fairly decent approximation of a triangle.
Zimbabwe Sugar Cane Train. Photo by Ulrika on Flickr (cc)
Teasing out the triangle in Triangle, Zimbabwe took a great deal more effort (map). Nothing of roughly triangular shape could be discerned anywhere on the nearby landscape. The town existed solely to service a collocated sugar refinery operated by an agricultural conglomerate, Tongaat Hulett Sugar. It processed up to sixty thousand tonnes of white sugar per year along with related products such as molasses and fuel-grade alcohol. Sugar cane was grown there since the 1930’s on a large property called the Triangle Plantation. Logically, the name of the town derived from the name of the plantation.
I discovered the source of the plantation’s name from Murray MacDougall and the Story of Triangle. Murray MacDougall was a fixture in the area and was primarily responsible for developing the sugar industry there.
They named the property Triangle after the registered cattle brand which Mac purchased from a fellow farmer named Van Niekerk, as the poor chap was going out of business and had a very simple brand which almost defied alteration in a period when rustling and brand-changing was not uncommon. For a few pounds Mac purchased both the registered brand itself, in the shape of a simple triangle, and the branding irons to go with it.
MacDougall followed a number of agricultural pursuits including ranching before striking success with sugar. He used the name of the brand that he purchased for his property and retained the name as his enterprise grew.
A number of years ago, Twelve Mile Circle featured ten county seats in North Carolina with the same name as a different county. The concept continued to fascinate me ever since even as I doubted I’d find anything quite so remarkable. Places kept making it onto my mental list over the years so I decided to feature a few of them.
Macon, Georgia isn’t in Macon County
Macon, Georgia, Neon Sign by tom spinker on Flickr (cc)
I’ve followed the still unresolved Bibb – Monroe border dispute for years. Most people who lived in Bibb County resided in the city of Macon, a name established at its founding in 1822. Nathaniel Macon served numerous terms in the United States Senate and House of Representatives from North Carolina. Consequently, places in several states bore his name even during his lifetime. That often happened to major politician during an era when the population expanded and created lots of new places. New settlements needed names. Macon died in 1837 and Georgia apparently felt it needed to honor him again. That’s when Georgia established Macon County (map), with its seat of government in Oglethorpe. Come to think of it, I found an Oglethorpe County in Georgia too, yet another example of the phenomenon.
Except the city of Macon just changed its name and somehow I missed it. Voters approved a referendum in 2012 to consolidate the city with the county. The merger happened in 2014, creating the conterminous Macon-Bibb County (map). They disincorporated the only other city in the county, Payne City. They deannexed portions of Macon that crossed the border into an adjacent county. Now an elected mayor and county commission govern the consolidated Macon-Bibb.
That left Georgia with both a Macon and a Macon-Bibb County. I’m sure that won’t cause any confusion. Of course not.
Hettinger, North Dakota isn’t in Hettinger County
Hettinger, North Dakota by Andrew Filer on Flickr (cc)
Confusion surrounded the whole Hettinger situation too. Counties in North Dakota formed rather late in U.S. history, crossing into the 20th Century. Hettinger County (map) dated its formation to 1883 although it remained unorganized for another couple of decades without a fully-functioning government. The name honored Mathias Hettinger, an Illinois banker who probably never set foot in North Dakota. His daughter Jennie married Erastus Appleman Williams who served in the North Dakota territorial legislature. That’s all it took to get a county named for someone back then.
North Dakota finally took action to make Hettinger a functional county in 1907. However, it split Hettinger into two portions. The upper half remained Hettinger County. The lower half became Adams County. Around that same time, a town in what would become Adams County blossomed along the path of the Milwaukee Road railroad’s new Pacific Expansion line. Residents decided to name it Hettinger(map), supposedly "by popular demand for the county from which this area was about to separate as a new county." That seemed like an odd development although I’ve seen stranger explanations for town names so let’s go with it.
Lake Itasca, Minnesota isn’t in Itasca County
My own photo from Walk Across the Mississippi River
Henry Schoolcraft created one of his made-up names to recognize the consensus source of the Mississippi River in 1832. He coined Itasca, by combining two Latin words, veritas meaning "truth," and caput meaning "head." He often liked to craft fake Native American words so he took the last four letters of veritas and the first two letters from caput, making Itasca. That Schoolcraft guy deserved credit creativity. Lake Itasca (map) gained quite a bit of recognition for its geographic significance.
Anyone looking at a map would quickly figure out that Itasca County, Minnesota did not overlap with Lake Itasca. In fact it sat nearly a hundred miles (160 km) to the east. How could that possibly be? Again, county structures formed quickly on the frontier during that period. Itasca County originally covered a lot more land when established in 1849. It stretched over a large portion of northeastern Minnesota. Government officials carved away at it repeatedly as it formed new counties and the chunk that retained the Itasca name (map) separated from the lake by quite a distance.
Jackson, Mississippi isn’t in Jackson County
Hinds County (MS) District 2 Courthouse by NatalieMaynor on Flickr (cc)
The capital city of Mississippi took its name from General (later President) Andrew Jackson, to honor his victory at the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. Jackson County did the same thing and for the same reason around the same time. Both fared well over the years. The city of Jackson flourished as the state capital. The county of Jackson grew to a population of nearly 150 thousand, a center of ship building and oil refineries on the Gulf Coast.
I shifted gears as I researched Hinds County, where most residents of the city of Jackson lived. Sure, Jackson fascinated me because of its extinct volcano. The Hinds co-county seat interested me more, at least today. Several counties in Mississippi had more than one county seat, a strange situation common to the state although quite rare elsewhere. Jackson claimed the state capital but it still shared the distinction of county seat with tiny Raymond (map) with barely 2,000 inhabitants.
Jackson and Raymond started out around the same time. Officials selected Raymond as one of the seats of government due to its prime location near the center of Hinds County. Jackson grew due to its status as a state capital. Raymond, well, Raymond didn’t do much. It still had a courthouse that continued to serve legal functions although it quickly became subordinate to Jackson.