Going Postal, Part 1

On December 14, 2014 · 0 Comments

I alluded to postal ZIP codes in the recent Zip Lines and I’ll carry that theme through the next couple of articles. I’d stumbled upon the United States Postal Service’s Fun Facts. Someday maybe I’ll explore what exactly makes a fact "fun" although for now I think I’ll simply steal liberally from that page and ponder some of its claims in greater detail. Today I’ll focus on post offices and in the next article I’ll shift to methods of delivery. Spoiler alert: don’t visit that USPS page unless you want to ruin the surprises.

Highest



Alma Colorado 2010
Alma Colorado 2010 by Gord McKenna, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


There was a surprising amount debate about the town with the highest elevation in the United States. I explored that previously in something I wrote a couple of years ago. Was it Leadville, Colorado, was it Alma, Colorado or was it some poseur town that annexed an adjoining ski resort? There was no doubt, however, about the post office building with the highest elevation. Clearly, that was the one in Alma (map) at 10,578 feet above sea level, serving ZIP Code 80420.

Rocky Mountain High, indeed. I’ll refrain from making any jokes about the highest post office being located in Colorado where a certain herbal substance has been legalized. We’re talking strictly about elevation here.


Northernmost and Westernmost – 48 Contiguous States



La Push to Sumas, Washington

It’s not that I don’t love Alaska and Hawaii, its that they skew anything to do with directional superlatives in the United States. I’ll give a little nod to Alaska momentarily although for purposes of northernmost and westernmost post offices I’ll focus on the contiguous 48 States. They were both in Washington and not too distant from each other. Best of all, the preferred route calculated by Google required a ferry. That would put it pretty high on the 12MC list of sites I’d like to visit someday. I’ll bet readers in Seattle could probably accomplish this easily. Wouldn’t it be cool to tell folks that you’d been to the northernmost and westernmost post offices in the Lower 48 in a single day? Perhaps mail yourself a letter from each spot? Maybe I’m the only one who would find that interesting. I don’t know.

The northernmost post office served Sumas, Washington, Zip Code 98295. The ZIP Code abutted the Canadian border although that wasn’t special. Lots of other locations shared that attribute. What made Sumas different, however, was the physical location of its post office building just a stone’s throw away from the actual border. I also wondered about the name Sumas. The City of Sumas provided an explanation. It also provided a website that looked like it had been transported through a dial-up model directly from the 1990’s. Wander over there if you’re ever feeling nostalgic about how the Intertubes used to appear including the use of 3-D buttons as links, educating people to "click here" and the placement of a site counter at the bottom of the page.

Sumas (pronounced Soo’mass) means "land without trees". Although lake and swamp once covered most of the area there was also a considerable area that because of natural flooding was a wide open grassland.

The westernmost post office, on the Olympic Peninsula, served ZIP Code 98350 in La Push, Washington. Its name also had an interesting etymology: "La Push is from French La Bouche, meaning ‘The Mouth’ of the Quillayute River, adapted into Chinook Jargon."


Coldest


Barrow, Alaska
Barrow, Alaska by NASA ICE, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

The USPS bestowed a tie for the coldest post offices, for Barrow, ZIP Code 99723 and Wainwright ZIP Code 99782, both on Alaska’s North Slope along the Arctic Ocean. The site didn’t offer an explanation for "coldest" although I knew that neither of those locations represented the lowest temperature ever recorded in Alaska. That happened that at Prospect Creek on January 23, 1971, when the thermometer fell to -80°F / -62°C. Rather, I believe the claim was based on average temperature. Barrow routinely remains below freezing for eight months of the year, often considerably below. However its oceanfront location and lack of elevation variation tends to keep its very cold temperatures relatively stable versus the spikes and drops found farther inland. It’s also getting warmer.

Instrumented weather and climate observations were first made at Barrow during the first International Polar Year in 1881-82. The modern era of weather observations commenced in 1920. Climate observations have continued uninterrupted to the present. These observations support what every resident in America’s northernmost town can see: climate change is happening—right now—in obvious and dramatic fashion.


Smallest


Ochopee Post with flag
Ochopee Post with flag by Chris Griffith, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Look at the cute little post office for Ochopee, Florida, (map) serving ZIP Code 34141. Just look at it. The entire building covers only 61.3 square feet (5.7 square metres). A nearby historical marker explained the situation.

Considered to be the smallest post office in the United States, this building was formerly an irrigation pipe shed belonging to the J. T. Gaunt Company tomato farm. It was hurriedly pressed into service by postmaster Sidney Brown after a disastrous night fire in 1953 burned Ochopee’s general store and post office. The present structure has been in continuous use ever since-as both a post office and ticket station for Trailways bus lines-and still services residents in a three-county area including deliveries to Seminole and Miccosukee Indians living in the region. Daily business often includes requests from tourists and stamp collectors the world over for the famed Ochopee post mark. The property was acquired by the Wooten Family in 1992.

It wasn’t a joke. It was a temporary fix that became permanent due to inertia.


Oldest in the Same Building


110708 207
Hinsdale Post Office by Doug Kerr, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I don’t know why this one fascinated me. Nonetheless it seemed remarkable that the post office serving Hindsdale, New Hampshire (map) had remained in the same building for two centuries, or about a century and a half before ZIP Code 03451 even existed. It didn’t have much of a backstory beyond its age. The town said its "1,327 square foot building was constructed on September 25, 1816, following the appointment of Hinsdale’s first postmaster in 1815." From an architectural perspective, "A Field Guide to American Houses describes this design as a Gable Front Family Folk house common on the East Coast of the U.S. before the Civil War." That was about all I found.

The Odd Case of Iowa’s Largest County

On November 26, 2014 · 1 Comments

I had a fascinating Twitter conversation with Steve from Connecticut Museum Quest recently. He has a much more interesting Twitter feed @CTMQ than my mundane @TheReal12MC. Seriously, I don’t have much to say on Twitter other than using it to announce each new article and maybe posting a few beer pictures occasionally. A few people seem to follow it and sometimes I get article ideas so its useful to keep it going. You should subscribe and maybe I’ll start being more diligent. Anyway Steve wanted to know about the oddly over-sized Kossuth County on the northern edge of the state. It appeared as if it got a double scoop of territory when the authorities doled-out portions.

That’s exactly what happened although the story was a little more complicated.

Few people lived in Iowa in the earliest part of the 19th Century although settlers began to arrive in greater numbers as the decades passed. Iowa gained sufficient critical mass to become a state in 1846. It didn’t have a lot of counties yet and that was starting to create a problem. The county structure looked like this when Iowa joined the Union:


Iowa Counties in 1846
Iowa Counties in 1846
Generated From Newberry Library Atlas of Historical County Boundaries

There were plenty of counties in the southeastern quadrant where pioneers had settled although the rest of Iowa remained largely unorganized at the local level. The Iowa Legislature addressed the governance gap by establishing forty eight new counties in 1851 all at once. The configuration then matched essentially the same structure that exists today. It wasn’t completely identical, however. A few tweaks happened over the next few years, including some involving Kossuth County and its neighbors.

I’ve color-coded Kossuth and its surrounding counties to help explain the situation that was described in detail in the History of Kossuth County, Iowa (1913). My summary derived largely from that source unless otherwise noted.


Kossuth County in Iowa
Kossuth and Surrounding Counties in Iowa

Kossuth County Judge Asa C. Call became a driving force during this formative period. Practically nobody lived in Kossuth when the Call brothers, Asa and Ambrose, arrived in 1854. Judge Call recalled,

I made my first settlement in the county in July 1854. At that time there was no settlement north of Fort Dodge which was forty miles from us and no one on the east nearer than Clear Lake. I brought my wife to the new settlement on the 4th of November.


Algona, Iowa, High School
Algona, Iowa, High School by photolibrarian, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The two brothers founded the town of Algona and it became the county seat. They named it for a Henry Schoolcraft (remember him?) corruption of an indigenous word meaning "Algonquin Waters," I suppose it was done in recognition of the Native American tribes that were forced from the area only a couple of years earlier. The local tribes were Sioux, not Algonquin, although that didn’t seem to matter. An Indian was an Indian to those early pioneers. It was better than the original proposal though, Call’s Grove.

In the beginning, with the creation of those new counties in 1851, Kossuth was the same size as its neighbors to the west and east, Palo Alto and Hancock. However, Judge Cass was an ambitious man, a beloved figure and well-connected politically. He noticed Bancroft County immediately to his north and figured it would make a mighty fine addition to Kossuth, seeing how practically nobody lived there so it couldn’t defend its own interests. He also pondered Humboldt County to his immediate south. It would be helpful for Algona to sit near the center of the county if it were to be an effective seat of government so Kossuth had to pick up some southern territory too.

Webster County, south of Humboldt, also wielded power. Fort Dodge was its county seat. Webster was well organized politically and structurally due to the earlier establishment of Fort Dodge as a military outpost. Kossuth managed to grab all of Bancroft in the 1855 Legislative session. However, it had to split Humboldt with Webster. Bancroft and Humboldt counties, caught in a squeeze, disappeared. This was called "The 1855 Freak Legislation." I’m not making this stuff up.

Right now the 12MC audience is saying, "but wait, I see Humboldt County on the map!" That’s right. Judge Call learned about schemers in Webster plotting to expand farther, and they hoped to grab a large chunk of Kossuth in a subsequent session that would leave it vulnerable to being obliterated entirely. He foiled the plot by colluding with former Humboldt officials. He managed to reestablish Humboldt so it could act as a buffer between Kossuth and Webster. It was better to give up some of the larger Kossuth than to jeopardize its future existence. However, Webster was able to hold onto the bottom tier of Humboldt’s former townships and that left the restored Humboldt appreciably smaller than the original.

That explained why Kossuth became the largest county in Iowa, Humboldt was so small, and the neat latitudinal lines across Iowa created in 1851 fell out of alignment in the the north-central part of the state.

India Loves 12MC

On November 23, 2014 · 1 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle noticed increasing visitor traffic from India over the last couple of years and particularly within last several months. Maybe that’s a recognition of growing Internet access within the subcontinent and perhaps a general improvement in its technological infrastructure. I’d prefer to think of it in simpler terms. India loves 12MC. This wasn’t the first time I’ve focused on people who love 12MC. I’m always on the lookout for new constituencies who appreciate this humble little geo-oddity site. There aren’t many of us. We need to stick together.


India Loves 12MC
Twelve Mile Circle Readership from India in 2014

On the other hand, India is a nation of more than 1.2 billion people, and 12MC can only attract a few hundred visitors in an entire year? Does that sound like love? Well, everything is relative of course, and the readership has much improved within that geographic area. That’s a fact. Also traffic wasn’t coming from a single person returning to the site day-after-day. Hits were coming from all over. The larger blobs on the map represented numerous readers from metropolitan areas such as Mumbai, New Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata.


Kolkata
Kolkata by Flip Nomad, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I’m not sure my culturally insensitive mind will ever get used to the name Kolkata. My brain reflexively seemed to drive towards the westernized colonial imperialist version, Calcutta, instead. Kolkata sounded too much like Cold Cuts. It would compare favorably with other foodie-sounding places such as Turkey and Chile (and why not Hamburg and Frankfurt while I’m at it). I’ve really got on a tangent this morning. I’ll see if I can pull it back together.

Then I noticed that Kolkata fell within the West Bengal State, an area of peculiar geographic shape.


WestBengalDistricts numbered
West Bengal Districts via Wikimedia Commons,
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic

West Bengal included two narrow necks of less than 20 kilometres across as it ambled north from the Bay of Bengal, past Kolkata, and onward towards India’s borders with Nepal and Bhutan. Bangladesh pinched West Bengal from the east and other Indian states pushed from the west. I took a closer look at the lower neck, a place anchored by Farakka on the Ganges River. One corner was called Farakka Barrage Township (map), which I considered an unusual name that might benefit from further investigation.



A barrage in a military context would turn into an unpleasant experience rather quickly. It would likely include heavy artillery bombardment. Fortunately that wasn’t the case in Farakka. It didn’t reference a barrage from an historical context based on warfare.

Barrage derived from a French word meaning "barrier." Militarily, artillery could be used either as an offensive or defensive barrier. In a peaceful situation as in Farakka, a barrier could be used against natural forces such as water. A barrage was a very specific type of dam used to control the flow of water instead of creating a reservoir. At Farakka, "The purpose of the barrage is to divert 1,100 cubic metres per second (40,000 cu ft/s) of water from the Ganges to the Hooghly River for flushing out the sediment deposition from the Kolkata harbour without the need of regular mechanical dredging."



Enclaves and Exclaves of the India / Bangladesh Border

West Bengal also included the famed Cooch Behar district, a distinct section of border between India and Bangladesh noteworthy for its particularly complicated intertwining of the nations. As I noted in that previous article, "Within this odd borderland are 106 exclaves of India within Bangladesh and 92 exclaves of Bangladesh within India, including numerous exclaves within the exclaves." It also included a number of quadripoints and boundary crosses.

Anyway, Twelve Mile Circle extends a hearty welcome today to readers who hail from India (and everyone else of course).

Purpose
12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
Subscribe
Don't miss an article -
Subscribe to the feed!

RSS G+ Twitter
RSS Twelve Mile Circle Google Plus Twitter
Categories
Monthly Archives
Days with Posts
December 2014
S M T W T F S
« Nov    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031