A mine is a hole in the ground owned by a liar (attributed to Mark Twain).
I began some initial planning for a brief county counting trip to West Virginia that I hope to undertake in a couple of months. Examining potential routes, I noted a county called Mineral that I would hit in some of the likely scenarios. I’d crossed into Mineral before, as recently as last year, right across the north branch of the Potomac River from Cumberland, Maryland. I’d never really thought about it at the time. Now I wondered, how did Mineral gets its name? What mineral came in such abundance to deserve its own county?
I also found three more Mineral Counties, a total of four. They seemed interesting in their own ways.
Many minerals came from the mountains surrounding Creede (map), the local seat of government in Mineral County, Colorado. However, silver put it on the map. Prospectors came to Colorado first for gold beginning in 1859 and then for silver a decade alter. Colorado underwent a protracted Silver Boom during the last three decades of the 19th Century. Booms jumped from place to place, the final one happening in Creede in 1890.
The town leapt from a population of 600 in 1889 to more than 10,000 people in December 1891. The Creede mines operated continuously from 1890 until 1985. Creede’s boom lasted until 1893, when the Silver Panic hit all of the silver mining towns in Colorado. The price of silver plummeted and most of the silver mines were closed. Creede never became a ghost town, although the boom was over and its population declined.
Robert Ford also lived in Creede. Ford originally belonged to Jessie James’ criminal gang and reputedly killed James to collect a reward in 1882. He died in Creede in 1892, shot in the back by Edward O’Kelley. O’Kelley came to be known as "the man who killed the man who killed Jesse James." A policeman, Joe Burnett, shot and killed O’Kelley in Oklahoma City in 1904. That made Burnett "the man who killed the man who killed the man who killed Jesse James." The chain stopped there. Burnett died of a stroke in 1917.
Mineral County, Montana felt so superior that it named the county seat Superior (map), although it may have been named for the founder’s hometown in Wisconsin. Gold became Mineral’s namesake mineral originally, triggered by a rush on nearby Cedar Creek in 1869. However silver also existed in abundance.
The history of Mineral County is steeped in the tales of rich gold and silver mines. From the first mining efforts in the early 1860s to the present day, mining has been important to the people who first settled here and to those who now live in this county. Today, people still actively work mining claims, which are an important part of the county economy and heritage.
Neither gold nor silver made the greatest contribution to Mineral County history. That distinction went to sheets of paper in the form of a Bible’s printed word. Gideons International placed its very first Bible in the Superior Hotel in Superior, Montana. A Gideon named Archie Bailey stayed at the hotel regularly and sought permission to place a Bible in each of the hotel’s 25 rooms in 1908. Gideons followed that simple act with another 2 billion Bibles left in hotel rooms around the world for the next century and counting.
Hawthorne Army Depot
Twelve Mile Circle featured a town in what later became Mineral County, Nevada, in Aurora: A County Seat in Two States. Simultaneously! I’ll summarize the situation briefly. Gold brought prospectors to the area in 1860. The border between California and Nevada left a lot to be desired and both states claimed the same strip because of its mineral wealth. A later, more definitive survey placed Aurora in Nevada although it didn’t matter in the long run because everyone abandoned Aurora when the gold ran out.
Mineral County survived because of its other important feature, a bunch of nothing. What better place for the Federal government to locate the largest ammunition depot in the world? It covered 147 thousand acres (230 square miles; 600 square kilometres). Hawthorne Army Depot (map) grew around Mineral’s county seat at Hawthorne on three sides. It dated back to 1930 and continues to operate today, underpinning the entire economy of the county.
Mineral County is on the left bank of the river. My own photo.
None of the other Mineral Counties rivaled the one in West Virginia with its nearly 30 thousand residents (map). Ironically, I found fewer stories about this one than any of the others. The mineral in question may have been iron ore or maybe coal. However, coal derived from organic material so it didn’t actually meet the definition of a mineral. Neither did I find any cool stories. Sure, George Washington owned some of the land, and some minor Civil War action happened there. The same could be said for nearly every other county within a couple hundred miles.
I selected Michigan for our summer holiday this year. I won’t pretend that the drive was fun or easy although depriving greedy airlines of revenue certainly enhanced the appeal. I described my distaste for airlines before and I reveled in the many hundreds of dollars I denied them with this trip and several others over the years. We loaded the Family Truckster and pointed our sights northwest on a track towards Lake Michigan.
I considered multiple factors before choosing Michigan. I always want to go someplace I haven’t covered in depth before. It needed to have interesting hooks. It needed to be low-hassle, with room to stretch out. It needed to interest the rest of the family while indulging my geo-geeky curiosity. The southwestern corner of Michigan met many of those criteria, and I will describe what we found in subsequent articles. County Counting always fell high on my list and that may have been the most important factor this time around. I’d skirted edges of Michigan previously although I’d never pushed deep into its interior.
Maybe it was the second most important factor. I’ll save that for next time. Subscribers to the 12MC Twitter feed probably already guessed the other major reason based on my frequent tweeting as I rolled along.
Grand Rapids became our home base for the week. We took the fastest route available on the way up, shooting along the Pennsylvania and Ohio Turnpikes into Michigan, and staying overnight in Cleveland along the way. I gained no new counties during this initial leg until we passed Detroit. We arrived in Grand Rapids the second day and radiated from there on side trips, filling in much of southern Michigan with county captures.
Only once did I make a specific effort to prevent a doughnut hole. I noticed that none of our daily excursions went through Barry County (map), southeast of Grand Rapids. It fell within a ring formed by Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek and Lansing with no major highway running through it. I got up early one morning for a half-hour drive to fill the void. I spared the rest of the family. I’m sure sure they appreciated sleeping more than the possible irritation of leaving a stranded county behind. Somehow they didn’t feel the same pain.
We came home via a longer route, swinging south and staying overnight in Columbus before cutting through West Virginia. I picked up a bunch of new counties. I’d also never seen Ohio’s Appalachian corner either. Who knew Ohio had mountains? I plan to keep Ohio’s Hocking Hills on the list of places I want to see again someday, and them visit in a more proper manner.
Schoolcraft and Cabinets
Two distinct forces contributed to the designation of Michigan counties. Henry Schoolcraft named many of them in the mid Nineteenth Century, a curious case I discussed in Schoolcraft Daze. He made them up, drawing from pseudo-Native American etymologies blended with Latin, Greek or whatever else came to mind. The Schoolcraft counties included Alcona, Allegan, Alpena, Arenac, Iosco, Kalkaska, Leelanau, Lenawee, Oscoda and Tuscola. I captured Lenawee and re-visited Allegan.
Michigan also contained the Cabinet Counties. The Michigan Territory hoped to curry favor with President Andrew Jackson in a border dispute with Ohio involving the Toledo Strip — I’ll talk about the Strip a little more in a future installment so hang on — and named a bunch of its southern counties for Jackson and his Cabinet:
Barry: Postmaster General
Berrien: Attorney General
Branch: Secretary of the Navy
Calhoun: Vice President
Cass: Secretary of War
Eaton: Secretary of War (prior to Cass)
Ingham: Secretary of the Treasury
Livingston: Secretary of State
Van Buren: Secretary of State (prior to Livingston; later Vice President and President)
My final count of Cabinet Counties lacked only Cass by the time I finished the trip. I’d captured Berrien and Van Buren previously, and hit the other seven for the first time during this latest excursion. Incidentally, while Jackson signed a bill making Michigan a state in 1837, the Toledo Strip went to Ohio. The county name pandering failed to produce its desired result although Michigan did get the Upper Peninsula as a consolation prize.
Grand Rapids in Kent Co., MI (my own photo)
I did well during this exercise, tallying initial visits in three different states.
Sixteen in Michigan (Barry, Branch, Calhoun, Clinton, Eaton, Hillsdale, Ingham, Ionia, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Kent, Lenawee, Livingston, Muskegon, Oakland and Washtenaw)
Seven in Ohio (Athens, Delaware, Hancock, Hocking, Marion, Washington and Wyandot)
Three in West Virginia (Doddridge, Ritchie and Wood)
That came to a respectable Twenty Six new counties.
The Counties that Got Away
I could have visited more, and in fact that had been my original plan. Several years ago I visited Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and I thought the kids would enjoy it. However they were simply too tired from our relentless touring to drive another six hours in a single day. We hung around Grand Rapids that day instead. I willingly abandoned the opportunity to capture seven counties to preserve family peace. I took that as a sign I needed to visit again someday!
Each road trip I took offered different opportunities for County Counting, whether as a stated goal or as an amusing side project. I examined the situation carefully before departing so I could see how I might augment my lifetime list. I’d done pretty well in New England during previous visits. Nonetheless those earlier trips had occurred for different purposes. Their distinct objectives left behind a number of unsightly doughnut holes of yet-to-be-visited counties. My map looked something like this prior to my departure:
Those counties in white represented places I hadn’t captured. Some were contiguous and could be combined into sets. Overall they were spread into distinct pockets cast broadly across Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. That presented some challenges. I needed to devise a plan that aligned with race locations and minimized detours. The Mob Rule county counting website and its driving directions utility helped immensely. I could enter exact latitude/longitude coordinates while drafting prospective routes, overlaying my map of visited counties to see see how and where I needed to move. I designed a target course that in fact I finished in its entirety:
Readers familiar with highways in the northeastern United States probably noticed that I avoided the most obvious, most direct route between Virginia and New England; the dreaded Interstate 95. We left on a Friday and I didn’t want to thread the needle in narrow windows that avoided morning and afternoon rush hours in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston. Also, nobody could ever predict when an accident might clog I-95 with a multi-hour delay. That route was too unpredictable. Instead I decided to take a wildly inefficient path that would grant me an opportunity to fill a few doughnut holes in Pennsylvania and New York along the way.
We began heading due north into the heart of central Pennsylvania, then due east, essentially two legs of a triangle where the hypotenuse of course would have been the shorter I-95. That allowed me to pick up two clusters of previously non-visited Pennsylvania counties: first Northumberland, Montour and Columbia, and later Carbon and Monroe. Next the path cut diagonally across the lower corner of New York — although way beyond the sprawl of New York City — capturing Sullivan and Columbia (not to be confused with the Columbia County in Pennsylvania). We hadn’t arrived at our primary destination and I’d captured seven counties already!
The three New Hampshire counties were easy grabs. Carroll and Belknap needed only tiny detours. Cheshire fell directly on the path between races and I didn’t have to detour at all. Massachusetts was similarly easy. One of the races took place in Franklin County so that was certainly convenient. Hampshire County was just a short drive south so I snagged it with little effort.
Then there was Vermont
I agonized over Vermont as I planned the trip. The drive between our New Hampshire race and Vermont crossed the southern tier of both states, a direct route that would take about an hour under ordinary circumstances. I needed to drive the length of Vermont and loop around its northern tip along winding country roads to visit three scattered counties. That would turn a single hour trip into a six hour expedition for little payday. It seemed excessive and I planned to pass it up. However, little else seemed to interest me along the most direct route. I’d scoured that corner for attractions during a previous trip back in 2010, and I’m not one who generally wants to see the same place twice. How many times does someone need to visit the Phineas Gage Monument? I’d undertaken more elaborate efforts than this six hour county counting quest, I supposed, so that’s how it unfolded. We ran into a couple of interesting places along the way so it all worked out. For instance, I didn’t realize ahead of time that Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory fell directly along our path until we drove through Waterbury. Nothing said Vermont more than Ben and Jerry’s and that became a nice break after several hours on the road.
I also spotted a sign for a brewery as we drove through the town of Morrisville, the Rock Art Brewery, and the place was open. That was another nice break. Beer Geeks might wonder why we didn’t stop at Alchemist Brewing as we drove through Stowe. It was closed to the public at the time.
I am a meticulous planner. That’s just the way my mind works. Nonetheless it was enjoyable, and perhaps a bit liberating to go largely unscripted for much of a day. We discovered plenty of unexpected amusements as the path unfolded. I was exhausted as the sun set and we had another race at 6:00 am the next morning. I’d have to think twice about taking such a long detour next time for the sole purpose of counting counties.
My total hit 100% completion for three new states by the end of the trip; Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. I also filled in doughnut holes in Pennsylvania and New York, bringing the total haul of new counties to 15. I left a good reason to return, too. I am now only three counties away from finishing all of New England. Someday I’ll have to travel to the northern tip of Maine and get those final three. Maybe I could combine it with a trip to Atlantic Canada.