I requested an additional account on the Mob Rule county counting website recently. I’d been planning a couple of trips for 2016, including one focused primarily on adding new counties to my lifetime tally in an obscure geographic corner of Appalachia. I’d been using the spare account to calculate "what-if" scenarios and I didn’t want to disturb my existing map in the process. Twelve Mile Circle readers will likely see maps generated by this account over the coming months and years as I chart further adventures.
It occurred to me that I will need to hit backroads a lot more often as I fill in the blanks and doughnut holes in my personal capture map. Those will diminish my pace although they will also allow me to experience out-of-the-way places where few people tread. It made me wonder exactly how much of the United States one would miss using only the Interstate Highway System. It wasn’t a question that demonstrated any greater practical purpose although that never stopped Twelve Mile Circle from going down a rabbit hole before. It wasn’t completely pointless I rationalized, because the results could be used to separate the "easy" counties from the more difficult ones, roughly speaking. Amateur county counties would stick primarily to the Interstate Highways while the truly dedicated hunters such as myself would need to veer into the empty white spaces. I supposed it made me feel more serious about my pursuit by separating me from the pack. It fed into the mythology of not being able to truly appreciate the United States until exiting the highways.
Naturally, I began by making a map of counties served by Interstate Highways, both two-digit and three-digit. Readers would probably want to open the image in another tab to get the full-sized image.
I couldn’t guarantee that I marked every county served by an Interstate Highway because I created this manually — I was still finding new ones that I’d missed hours after I thought I’d fnished it — although this should be close. Please feel free to offer corrections and I’ll update the map. For those wondering about the odd title, "Travels of T. H. Driver, " that was simply my initials plus the word Driver. I had to give the dummy account a name and that seemed as good as anything.
One of the features of Mob Rule that I’ve enjoyed over the years is its simple statistics to catalog counties visited by state. It produced a nice summary table of counties visited and percentages of states covered. I placed those data into a Google Docs Spreadsheet that readers should feel free to review if interested. Mob rule assumed everyone knew the 2-letter postal code abbreviations for each state so I can’t help you if you don’t know them because I didn’t feel like typing them out. Wikipedia provided a nice cross-reference. I sorted states by percentage completed from highest to lowest although one could rearrange the table in reverse order, alphabetically, or whatever might be desired and it won’t harm the underlying document.
Some observations jumped out. For example, county counters who stuck solely to Interstate Highways wouldn’t even visit half of the counties in the United States. The total would hit 44% but who’s counting? The chart also sifted winners from losers. I discarded the District of Columbia’s 100% although it was considered both a state and a county for county counters (in reality neither) because it was such a specialized case. Discounting that, Interstate Highways served 7 of 8 counties (87.5%) in Connecticut for the top spot, ranging all the way down to 16 of 77 counties (17.2%) for Nebraska at the bottom. Results followed intuitive patterns. Small northeastern states with large populations contained numerous Interstate Highways. Large, expansive Great Plains states with smaller populations featured fewer of them. New York and Pennsylvania posted particularly impressive results given the number of counties contained within each of them, hitting above 70 percent.
There were some anomalies. Someone would likely mention the paradox of Interstate Highways in Hawaii so I’ll simply link to the Federal Highway Administration’s explanation (i.e., "the Interstate System is more than just a series of connected highways. It is also a design concept") and get that out of the way. The same condition existed in Alaska although the roads weren’t signed as Interstate Highways (I included all of the so-called Secret Interstates too).
However, I’d been unaware of the bizarre disconnected set of Interstate Highways in the southernmost tip of Texas, Brownsville and McAllen. They formed a rough U-shape, outlined by I-69E, I-2 and I-69C (for central?). One would need to hop a plane or drive through Mexico to capture these Interstate counties without disturbing non-Interstate counties surrounding them, which nobody would ever do because it would be absurd.
I enjoyed the exercise even if it didn’t serve much of a useful purpose. It did confirm to me that Interstate counties were visited more frequently in general than non-Interstate counties, not that there was an underlying controversy. That could be observed quite easily when comparing the map I created with Mob Rule’s composite map of all county counters. The patterns looked strikingly similar.
Twelve Mile Circle has been on a bit of an odd placenames fixation as of late. I found a few more examples although they didn’t have enough of a story behind them to justify an entire article on any one of them. I figured I’d resurrect an earlier series and title this "Even More Weird Placenames" in continuation of the theme. This will also help me whittle-down my ever persistent list of possible topics I’ve been compiling since I began this site.
A anonymous 12MC visitor landed onto the site by chance seeking information about Knockemstiff. I didn’t know anything about it and had nothing prepared so I supposed they left disappointed. Even so, it sounded like a suitable topic and I knew I’d explore it eventually. It took little effort to find Knockemstiff once I got around to it, a crossroads in Ohio near another place featured on these pages previously, Chillicothe.
Knockemstiff served as the backdrop for a series of short stories published in 2008 by local writer, Donald Ray Pollock, in a book with the same title. One review said Pollock "presents his characters and the sordid goings-on with a stern intelligence, a bracing absence of value judgments, and a refreshingly dark sense of bottom-dog humor." His literary works received national attention including the New York Times which profiled the settlement of Knockemstiff, attempting to learn the story behind its unusual alias.
The town’s name is a source of folklore and conjecture… a resident saying that the origins dated far back, perhaps 100 years, to an episode in which a traveling preacher came across two women fighting over a man. The preacher said that he doubted the man was worth the trouble and that someone should "knock him stiff." But variations on that story exist, as do ones that say the name is associated with moonshine and bar fights.
That was a long way of saying that no definitive explanation existed. The story had been lost to history. Nonetheless this brief summary will be waiting here for the next unknown visitor who may stumble onto 12MC searching for Knockemstiff.
Ennis in Ellis
Bluebonnet Sunrise – Ennis, Texas by Kelly DeLay on Flickr (cc)
The City of Ennis fell within the confines of Ellis County, Texas. Ennis had been named for a railroad official, Cornelius Ennis. Ellis probably referred to Richard Ellis, who headed the commission that declared Texas’ independence. The two men had no connection or relationship that I was aware of, although that was completely irrelevant to this story anyway. My fascination centered on the peculiar notion that if one replaced the “nn” in Ennis with “ll” it became Ellis. I was unaware of any other town-county combination where one could make a simple letter substitution in the town’s name to transform it into the county name. Of course I didn’t look too hard trying to find other examples either. I’d like to say that I wanted to reserve that puzzle for the 12MC audience although the real reason was my laziness.
Completely unrelated, the aforementioned Ennis in Ellis "was designated by the 1997 State Legislature as the home of the ‘Official Texas Bluebonnet Trail’ and was designated the ‘Official Bluebonnet City of Texas.‘" That was a pretty big deal considering the prominence of the bluebonnet in Texan culture. The Department of Horticultural Science at Texas A&M University elaborated,
As historian Jack Maguire so aptly wrote, "It’s not only the state flower but also a kind of floral trademark almost as well known to outsiders as cowboy boots and the Stetson hat." He goes on to affirm that "The bluebonnet is to Texas what the shamrock is to Ireland, the cherry blossom to Japan, the lily to France, the rose to England and the tulip to Holland."
During times when bluebonnets weren’t in bloom, no worries, one could always visit Bluebonnet Trail — not the trail itself, rather a street named Bluebonnet Trail — in a local trailer park (map).
Welcome to Brazil, Indiana by Jimmy Emerson, DVM on Flickr (cc)
I’m sure if I thought long and hard enough I could figure out a few similarities between Brazil and Indiana. Nonetheless I still found it strange to see a town named Brazil in Indiana (map). It wasn’t a small place either. It had eight thousand residents and served as the seat of local government in Clay County. I wished I could have found a decent explanation. Several sources pointed back to the naming of a local farm in the 1840’s, designated Brazil because the nation had been in the news frequently during the era, supposedly. The town then adopted the name of the nearby farm when it was founded in the 1860’s. I guess I could accept that even though I couldn’t find any solid attribution. I’ve heard of stranger explanations for town names.
High Point, Palm Beach Co., Florida
I didn’t know what to make of High Point in Palm Beach County, Florida, except that I wished I’d known about it when I wrote High Level some time ago. What point of High Point was actually high? It’s total elevation barely broached 20 feet (6 metres). It wasn’t even the highest point in Palm Beach, where two separate spots reached pinnacles of 53 feet (16 metres) according to the County Highpointers Association. I realized those two co-highpoints didn’t have magnificent summits either, although 53 feet completely dominated 20 feet. I guess it didn’t matter. High Point and its condominium community were in the process of being annexed by the nearby city of Delray Beach, anyway. The name will probably disappear.
Continuing on the theme of items uncovered while researching Geographic Matryoshka with US States and in recognition of the Presidential primaries that will be held in Iowa in a couple of weeks, I felt an Iowa topic might be appropriate. I’d uncovered a wonderful triple sequence formed by Iowa Township in Iowa County in the state of Iowa. That put it right up there in exalted territory along with Oklahoma City/Oklahoma Co./Oklahoma and New York Co. (i.e., Manhattan)/New York City/New York. The latter two were a little more obvious and significant. I hadn’t anticipated Iowa.
Homestead in Iowa Twp., Iowa Co., Iowa, USA
Iowa Township was rather obscure. There were only 148 people living in Homestead, its principal settlement, as of the 2010 Census. That made it just a tad less meaningful than the more obvious trifectas of Oklahoma and New York. Still, the relationship existed and it counted as much as the others for purposes of this exercise. The triple layer arrangement had been around for a long time, too. I turned to the History of Iowa County, Iowa (1881) which helpfully noted that Iowa Township existed ever since Iowa County was first subdivided in 1847. It was one of the county’s original townships in a much larger form until chipped away to create additional townships in later decades, as more people moved in to farm its fertile soil.
One never knows what one may uncover while searching for information on obscure jurisdictions. Often it was very little. However the History of Iowa County turned out to be a goldmine. That little Iowa Township tucked within a rural county of the same name hid quite a colorful past, particularly in its former Brush Run community. Brush Run sounded like a quiet, relaxing name and yet the History claimed "… the first settlers along the section of country where Brush Run is were very depraved…" I’ve consulted a lot of similar county history books over the years and they’ve tended to be puff pieces exclaiming the wonders of their out-of-the-way domains. I’d never seen any of them refer to settlers within their own boundaries as depraved. It got better:
Though Brush Run is scarcely any run at all it is noted in history. No creek or flow of water in Iowa county has witnessed so many deeds of love and hate, so many scenes of joy and sorrow, so many drunken revels and fights, so many suicides and murders… the headquarters of drunkards and cut throats.
It then kindly offered several examples of depravity and debauchery, most distressingly,
A child six years of age was attacked with delirium tremens one day in November, 1857, at Brush Run. The father was in jail at Iowa City for selling whisky, and the mother, in a fit of drunkeness had recently fallen and killed herself.
Brush Run did not appear on any modern maps, nor did it receive a mention within the records of the US Geological Survey’s vast database of place names, past or present. I supposed it should be expected given Brush Run’s notoriety. They erased the name from the map. However, the paper trail hadn’t disappeared completely and I was able to trace its evolution. Brush Creek soon faded, to be replaced by Homestead at the same approximate location.
Homestead by Jon Taylor on Flickr (cc)
Homestead bore no resemblance to Brush Creek whatsoever, in fact it was pretty much its polar opposite. Homestead was designed as a rail depot and shipping point for the nearby Amana Colonies. Amana had its roots in a religious movement arising in Germany that settled on the American prairie to escape persecution.
In 1855 they arrived in Iowa. After an inspired testimony directed the people to call their village, "Bleibtreu" or "remain faithful" the leaders chose the name Amana from the Song of Solomon 4:8. Amana means to "remain true." Six villages were established, a mile or two apart, across a river valley tract of some 26,000 acres – Amana, East Amana, West Amana, South Amana, High Amana and Middle Amana. The village of Homestead was added in 1861, giving the Colony access to the railroad.
Homestead was the only one of the seven Amana villages in Iowa Township. The remainder were across the nearby border in Amana Township. Homestead didn’t receive much attention after that except for the meteorite that exploded directly overhead.
The Amana Meteorite flashed into Iowa between 10:00 and 11:00 pm on Friday February 12, 1875. Its bright fireball was visible from Omaha to Chicago and St. Paul to St. Louis… it exploded over Amana, producing a meteorite field approximately 3 miles wide and 5 miles long. A total of about 800 pounds of the Amana meteor, classified as a dark chondrite, were recovered from this field, the largest fragment weighing about 74 pounds.
Don’t be fooled by references to the "Amana" Meteorite. The closest settlement was Homestead, and indeed the Meteoritical Society declared Homestead as the meteorite’s OFFICIAL name. People still search for fragments of it today.
Things remained quiet in old Homestead for more than a century after that, remaining in obscurity until Ashton Kutcher grew up there. Recently he even renovated his childhood home. He was one of the few people who could claim that he lived in Iowa Township in Iowa County in the state of Iowa.
Somehow I never saw that one coming.