Not the Usual State Capital Trivia

On July 1, 2014 · 5 Comments

It was time to clear my list of unwritten articles again and I noticed several of them involved state capitals, or their capitol buildings. I’m not sure what the "usual" State Capital trivia might be much less the unusual, so let’s consider this an article on topics that the average layperson may not know. The always astute 12MC audience probably knows many of these peculiarities already although I’m hoping everyone will walk away with at least one new bit of information.

Highest Altitude State Capital


New Mexico State Capitol
New Mexico State Capitol by Mr.TinDC, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license

I would imagine that the preponderance of the general public might think of Denver as the highest state capital as a matter of reflex. After all, Denver has long touted itself as The Mile High City and parts of it do measure up to a mile (1.6 kilometres) above sea level, and in some instances a little higher. Santa Fe, New Mexico blew that figure out of the water with an elevation of 7,199 ft (2,134 m) above sea level. I consulted an altitude calculator and measured the New Mexico capitol building (map) at 7,005 ft (2,135 m) at the actual seat of government. That still bested Denver by a remarkable amount.

If I were to hand out an award for the capitol that looked least like a stereotypical capitol I’d probably have to give it to Santa Fe, understanding that it would be a subjective determination. The capitol didn’t have a dome or many of the traditional architectural flourishes observed elsewhere. It was also the only ROUND capitol building in the United States, "designed to resemble the Zia Sun Symbol when viewed from above." That was bonus trivia.


A State Capital with Odd Governance


Michigan State Capitol
Michigan State Capitol by Graham Davis, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

It would seem to make sense that the seat of any state government would not be beholden to a local government. At the national level in the US, the District of Columbia was created as an independent entity removed from any state for that very reason. In 49 states, the state capital city also served as the local county seat of government. Michigan was the only exception.

Lansing (map), the capital of Michigan fell primarily into Ingham County, with a tiny sliver in Eaton County. Lansing was not the county seat of either county; Mason was the county seat of Ingham and Charlotte of Eaton. It came about as fallout from an unsuccessful attempt to locate the state capital in Mason:

In 1836 Charles Noble knew that Michigan would be seeking a central location for a new capital when it became a state. He purchased an area of forest, cleared 20 acres (81,000 m2), and founded Mason Center. The "Center" was soon dropped. In 1847, however, the state chose Lansing Township 12 miles (19 km) northward to be its capital due its potential for water power. Noble managed to make Mason the county seat instead.

The odd arrangement was a consolation prize for a pioneering settler.


Where the State Capitol is the Tallest Building in the State


West Virginia State Capitol
West Virginia State Capitol by Jonathan Rieke, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

There was one, maybe two with an asterisk, state capitol buildings that were the tallest buildings in the state. The West Virginia Capitol (map) at 293 ft (89 m) in Charleston was definitely one.

That might also be true for North Dakota:

The North Dakota State Capitol Building Tower is often lovingly referred to as "The Skyscraper on the Prairie" although it is only 241 feet 8 inches tall. Locally, we like to think of it as a "mini skyscraper" because of its sleek form and the fact that it happens to be the tallest manmade structure in the area.

However, depending on what one considers a building, the tallest might actually be the Antelope Valley Station power plant rising to 361 feet (110 m) in Beulah, ND. Additionally a real estate developer was hoping to construct the 252 ft (77 m) Dakotah Place tower in Fargo that "…would include a parking ramp, retail and office space, a hotel and high-end condos.."


State Capital on an International Border


State Capitol
State Capitol by cubby_t_bear, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license

This was a trick question revealed in a comment on State Capitals Meet Time Zones from August 2009. Juneau, Alaska (map) is the only state capital that borders another nation. The city and borough of Juneau unified in 1970. Naturally the unified entity filled the same physical space including a border with Canada ("The newly created boundaries of the City and Borough of Juneau consolidated the City of Douglas, the City of Juneau. and the Greater Juneau Borough."). Good luck trying to climb the mountains and cross into Canada, though.

The Alaska State Capitol building might also be a contender for least like a stereotypical Capitol, now that I think about it.

Make Tracks to Midland

On June 10, 2014 · 1 Comments

I had to admit it. My odd fascination with Every County’s slow-motion serial recitation of literally every county progressed towards an obsession. I couldn’t stop checking the author’s crawling pace once every few days. He arrived vicariously at Midland County, Michigan about a week ago where he noted that it "got its name because of its proximity to the center of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. The only other Midland County is in Texas."

Of course the wheels started turning as I wondered about that Texas county of Midland. Was it in the middle of Texas similar to the one in Michigan, and if not then what did its midpoint represent? What about Midlands in other parts of the United States and even internationally?

Midland, Texas, USA


Odesolate
Odesolate by Bo Nash, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

I began by examining Midland County, Texas, and discovered almost immediately that it wasn’t positioned at the center of the state. It did alright on latitude. However it skewed way towards the west for longitude (map). That wasn’t the answer.

I turned to Texas State Historical Association’s ever-useful Handbook of Texas for its Midland County page. Success. "The county was named for its location halfway between Fort Worth and El Paso on the Texas and Pacific Railway."

While that provide an acceptable answer it didn’t give the complete story. Midland County wasn’t the original midland in those parts. The county took its name from the town of Midland that existed there first. From the Handbook’s town page.

In late June 1881 the Texas and Pacific Railway, which was building its line between Dallas and El Paso, established Midway Station, a section house, halfway between those two cities… Because other towns in Texas were already named Midway, the site was renamed Midland to get the post office… When Midland County was organized in March 1885, Midland became the county seat.

Not all explanations for other places would be this clear-cut, I soon discovered.

The City of Midland prospered as a transportation hub. It became an integral part of the Midland–Odessa combined statistical area that provided a home to more than a quarter-million residents.

I’d hoped to examine other Midlands in the United States. However, the US Geographic Names Information System listed hundreds of different things Midland, including 84 results just its for it Civil and Populated Places groupings. Then, I noticed a pattern. "Middle" often referred to something related to railroads just as I’d observed in Texas.


Midland, Western Australia, Australia


Old Railway Workshops, Midland, Australia
Old Railway Workshops, Midland, Australia by Norman Jorgensen, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Perth, Western Australia included a burgeoning suburb called Midland, the council seat for the City of Swan on the northeastern side of a large metropolitan region. The growing suburbs may have begun to obscure Midland’s original purpose as a vital railway hub. As the City of Swan explained,

True to its name, Midland Junction was a junction for the roads north and east (now Great Northern and Great Eastern Highways) and the railway system… Between 1902 and 1904 the Western Australian Government Railway Workshops were relocated to Midland and they had a profound and lasting influence on the town… The Midland Railway Company was bought by the Western Australian Government Railways in 1964 and their land became the site of the Rapid Transit Terminal… The ‘Junction’ part of Midland’s name was dropped in 1961.

The Railway Workshops closed in 1994.

Additional context was provided by Wikipedia. The "midland" referred back to the name of the railroad, the Midland Railway Company, of which this site served as a terminus. I never did learn why the railway was named Midland and speculated that it may have had something to do with its line that ran along the middle coastline (map) of Western Australia.


Midland, Ontario, Canada


midland, ontario
midland, ontario by sara hattie, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

Another Midland, another railroad, this one in Ontario (map). The town offered its early history:

In November of 1871, the Midland Railway Corporation of Port Hope, Ontario, selected Midland as its western port and terminus. Adolphe Hugel and George Cox formed the Midland Land Company and purchased most of the acreage in the area from various farming families. In 1872, they had Peter Burnett survey the new village site, complete with large lots, wide roads and big plans for the future. They named the new community “Midland City.”

The company began as the Peterborough & Port Hope Railway, then became the Port Hope Lindsay and Beaverton Railway and changed its name to Midland Railway of Canada in 1869. I found plenty of sources that documented the name change including the actual Statute of the Province of Ontario although, once again, I never found an explanation. I guess it sounded less limiting.


The Midlands, England, UK


158A 2
158A 2 by Tony Hisgett, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Does referencing The Midlands count as cheating? It represented a broad somewhat amorphous geographic belt across central England, and the reason for the designation was obvious. It didn’t derive its name from a railroad, rather, the opposite condition was true. I included it because, well, just because. I was on a roll.

Not unexpectedly, there was once a Midland Railway and now a Midland Railway Society and a Midland Railway Study Centre. Also, let’s not forget about the Midland Railway – Butterley museum (map) "dedicated to the glory of the former Midland Railway." It houses the 158A, the oldest surviving Midland Railway locomotive, one of a type built sometime between 1866 and 1874.

The UK’s Midland Railway operated between 1844 to 1922.

Taking a Bath

On May 20, 2014 · 1 Comments

I continued to ponder how I might complete my county-counting adventures for the 133 counties and independent cities within the Commonwealth Virginia, with a dozen still remaining on my list. It might be feasible after a long weekend of concentrated efforts, I considered. Maybe someday. How lucky to be from somewhere like Delaware with only three counties to count. Completing my home state requires considerably more effort. That’s how I found myself pondering Virginia’s Bath County, one of the dirty dozen not yet captured by 12MC.

The name certainly highlighted the bathing angle that underpinned its economy. Geothermally warmed waters percolated to the surface from springs throughout Bath County containing various minerals considered beneficial and curative to its devotees. That explained towns named Healing Springs, Hot Springs, Millboro Springs, Warm Springs and West Warm Springs all within a few minutes of each other. That was a pretty impressive cluster for a county of fewer than five thousand residents.



(A) Healing Springs, (B) Hot Springs, (C) Warm Springs, (D) West Warm Springs, (E) Millboro Springs

That made me wonder about the actual springs themselves. A quick check of GNIS produced Big Spring, Blowing Springs, Bubbling Spring, Fowler Spring, Grose Spring, Muddy Run Spring, Sand Springs, and Warm Springs Baths.

Mountains and valleys defined Bath County. The Appalachians cut northeast to southwest, with two distinct valleys of the Jackson and Cowpasture Rivers (which join later to form the James River). The springs bubbled to the surface in lower elevations carved by these rivers and their tributaries. It’s a rugged and remote corner of the Commonwealth even today, with nearly 90% of Bath covered by forest and most of that included within the public lands of the George Washington National Forest.

The name derived from a shrewd Eighteenth Century business decision, a clear homage to the City of Bath in England. The English incarnation dated back to Roman times. It grew in popularity as a resort destination in the Stuart era and even more so in the Georgian era.



The Roman Baths in Bath, Somerset, England

The Commonwealth of Virginia formed a new county in 1790. What should they call it? The springs were long known to Native Americans and then to Colonial mountaineers and early settlers. Visitors trekked to this remote outpost in increasing numbers simply to relax in the soothing waters. A hotel had already been built as early as 1766 by Andrew Lewis and Thomas Bullitt to cater to them. Bath in England was also at the height of its Georgian glory at the time. Naturally the spring-fed mountains and valleys came to be known as Bath County, a name seemingly selected to leverage the popularity of the English resort in the hopes of attracting more tourism.


The Homestead, Hot Springs, Virginia - IMG_0599_DxO copy
The Homestead, Hot Springs, Virginia by Bruce Tuten, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Numerous spas continue to bring tourist dollars to Bath County more than two centuries later. The Homestead dominates Bath, a renowned resort built on the site of the original 1766 hotel, now part of the Omni Hotels & Resorts consortium. The property also includes the Jefferson Pools, "the cream of the crop of Virginia hot springs and have drawn visitors from across the country for centuries. The pools are named for Thomas Jefferson, who sojourned here in 1818 to spend three weeks relaxing…" I think maybe there is a law that every property in Central or Western Virginia has to have an obligatory connection to Thomas Jefferson in order to be taken seriously, and The Homestead has a solid one.

I could use a little pampering on my next county counting adventure.


Somewhat Related

I also noted Bubbling Spring Recreation Area as I checked GNIS. More specifically, I saw it included on the Nimrod Hall map. That map, in turn, got its name from an actual Nimrod Hall, a "summer resort and art colony" founded in 1783.

What did that have to do with anything? It represented one more site to add to 12MC’s Nimrod list!

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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