Streets and roads appear frequently on Twelve Mile Circle. So do patterns. The two can be combined as seen with a logical street grid featuring either numbers or letters. I’ll focus on the latter. Lists of alphabetical patterns can be found elsewhere on the Intertubes so I sorted through a multitude of possibilities and selected a few of my favorites. This was not intended to be an exhaustive examination.
Notice the Address on the Sign in this Low-Quality Video I Took a Few Years Ago
My fascination probably originated with my longtime hometown, Arlington, Virginia. The north-south streets fell nicely into order for three complete alphabets plus the first letter of a fourth alphabet, as the county explained. The number of syllables represented alphabet sequences, so Arizona Street — four syllables — fell within the fourth alphabet and became the final street on the grid (map). This location was actually a triple-geo-oddity: (1) the only Arlington street in the 4th Alphabet; (2) a practical exclave separated by road from the rest of Arlington and approachable only through Fairfax Co. or the City of Falls Church; and (3) the location of the West Cornerstone of the original District of Columbia.
I was also quite familiar with the Washington, DC alphabet system for east-west streets, which went first with single letters of the alphabet, then two-syllable words, then three syllable words, and finally and somewhat enigmatically with flowers and trees. Greater Greater Washington provided the best concise explanation I’ve seen. The final District street all the way up next to the North Cornerstone was Verbena Street. I wasn’t familiar with Verbena although apparently it’s a flowering plant.
Before we proceed I’ll note that I found anomalies and exceptions on all of the grids so there’s no need to point them out unless something truly bizarre comes to light. For instance, Washington, DC doesn’t have a "J" Street, which is something already well known and cited frequently.
I think Tulsa might have been my favorite occurrence. North-South avenues located east of Main Street got alphabetic names of cities geographically east of Tulsa; those west of Main were named alphabetically for cities west of Tulsa. The pattern continued for quite a distance, too. Heading east it appeared to run for about two-and-a-half alphabets ending with Maplewood (map), which could represent a town in Minnesota or New Jersey.
I stumbled upon a wonderful explanation and a detailed map that I can’t possibly improve upon at Streets.MN, which somehow snagged a Mongolian IP address that shares a common abbreviation with Minnesota (".mn"). Maybe I should grab a domain from Monaco so the 12MC website could become 12.mc?
The Twin Cities, Minneapolis and Saint Paul, and immediate environs developed an absolutely crazy number of alphabets. The website I referenced suggested a naming convention extending all the way to the second letter of the eighth alphabet, Brockton Lane. Another site with a very old school design explained the source of the names behind many of the streets in the grid’s first alphabet.
Denver and surrounding areas certainly rivaled and maybe exceeded the Twin Cities for alphabetical street naming wackiness. The alphabets went on-and-on even into distant rural areas in the vague hope that maybe someday the matrix would fill-in. The last one seemed to be Calhoun-Byers Road, a distance of 45 miles / 73 kilometres (map) from the grid’s baseline intersection at Ellsworth Ave. and Broadway!
A lot of 12MC readers live in New York City and I’m sure many were already wondering whether I’d mention Alphabet City in the East Village. The name derived from Avenues A, B, C and D, which ran through the neighborhood, the only single-letter avenues in Manhattan (map). That was nice and such, although it represented a measly four letters of the alphabet.
There were better alphabets in NYC. However one must leave Manhattan and enter Brooklyn to experience them. The Greenpoint neighborhood, just across the East River from Manhattan incorporated a partial alphabet from Ash through Quay with a couple of letters missing (map).
Travel farther into Brooklyn and one can experience Avenues A through Z (map). This might lead one to wonder — well, it lead ME to wonder — if the Sesame Street parody musical Avenue Q happened to be named for this particular alphabetic progression. It’s claimed that it was not:
The set of Avenue Q depicts several tenements on a rundown fictional street located “in an outer borough of New York City.” This fictional Avenue Q could be in the Midwood and Gravesend area of Brooklyn, where there are Avenues A through Z, with a few exceptions. One of those exceptions is Avenue Q. The street between Avenue P and Avenue R is known as Quentin Road, named for the youngest son of President Roosevelt. The Q subway train, whose symbol used to be a Q in an orange circle resembling the Avenue Q logo, travels through this neighborhood. However, the authors have stated that Avenue Q is fictional and is not related to this or any other particular street.
I’m not sure I necessarily believe that, though. Or maybe I don’t want to believe it.
What if I said that I could drive from Atlanta to Detroit, or Cleveland to Santa Fe, or Miami to Memphis in an hour and a half? How about driving from Jacksonville to Buffalo in an hour? No, I didn’t say fly, I said drive. My apologies in advance to the international audience that may not have an intuitive understanding of distance in the United States. I’ll simply state that road times like these would have to be dismissed immediately as completely insane on their surface. A motorist would serve jail time for attempting any of these suggestions.
That’s if one tried to accomplish those feats between cities most recognizable for those names. However I was intentionally vague as I’m sure the astute 12MC audience already guessed. I’m referring to towns by those same names in Texas, or as they’re fond of saying, It’s Like a Whole Other Country.
I noticed the anomaly as I researched DeKalb. Texas had a DeKalb so I took a closer look. I spotted Atlanta, Boston and Pittsburg (a near match, missing only the final "h" at the end) all within close proximity of DeKalb. That prompted a wider search for additional Texas towns sharing names with other places in the United States more famous and recognizable. I found several.
This likely had to do with the immense size of Texas. Traditionally each post office within a single state had to be given a different name. That might not be a problem in smaller states or those more sparsely settled. However, Texas had 1,490 post offices including historic locations in the latest listing of the Geographic Names Information System. Imagine trying to find unique names for every one of those settlements, and in fact that became a recurring problem as townsites sprouted on the frontier in the latter part of the Nineteenth Century.
I turned to one of my favorite sources, the Handbook of Texas Online from the Texas State Historical Society for explanations. Some towns drew inspiration from better-known namesakes while other chose completely independently. I culled historical origins from the Handbook and present them below.
Columbus: Someone who once lived in Columbus, Ohio proposed the name (which in turn derived originally from Christopher Columbus of course).
Detroit: Town founders needed a name in 1887 and the local railway agent once lived in Detroit. Problem solved.
Jacksonville: named for two early settlers — William Jackson and Jackson Smith, one a doctor and the other a blacksmith. The weird first-name, last-name nexus must have made the town seem inevitable I guess.
Memphis: This one was worth quoting directly, "For a time the new town was without a name. Several suggestions were submitted to federal postal authorities but with negative results. Finally, as the story goes, Reverend Brice, while in Austin, happened to see a letter addressed by accident to Memphis, Texas, rather than Tennessee, with the notation ‘no such town in Texas.’ The name was submitted and accepted, and a post office was established…" (the name in turn derived originally from the Memphis in Egypt).
Miami: I’m not sure I buy the Handbook explanation. Allegedly a Native American word for "sweetheart?" Really? Even though there was an actual Miami tribe one state over in Oklahoma?
Pittsburg Water Tower by J. Stephen Conn, on Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license
Pittsburg: An early settler, William Harrison Pitts, came to the area in 1855. The source didn’t explain why founders chose Pittsburg rather than the more expected Pittsburgh with an h.
Reno: It was originally the name of a switching station placed along the Texas and Pacific Railway circa 1876. The town came later and adopted the name. I couldn’t find an explanation for the switching station named Reno, though.
Santa Fe: In recognition of the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway that was built through the area in 1877
I found other themes and variations, like:
Colorado: Denver City; Breckenridge and Colorado City
My little corner of Northern Virginia: Arlington; Clarendon; Crystal City; Gainesville; Fredericksburg and Mount Vernon
International: Paris; London; Palestine; Victoria and Edinburg (again with the missing "h" What’s with Texas hating burghs?)
I wonder how many other coincidental variations can be drawn from the vast Texas town list?
Knowing how much the Twelve Mile Circle audience loves little puzzles, I thought I might try to fold a couple of related ideas that have fascinated lately into a single entry. I looked back to one of the more popular 12MC concepts, the Longest Google Maps Routes from about eighteen months ago. It continues to be a popular page with various social media and aggregator sites "rediscovering" it from time-to-time, giving it new life. It’s quieted down a bit since the comments period closed after a year, a duration I’ve had to specify reluctantly for all articles to try to tame a never-ending torrent of comment spam.
The second related page focused on my journey to Kentucky last summer, specifically the tremendous amount of time and distance I covered before I ever left the Commonwealth of Virginia. The drive was a bit exaggerated because I took a small detour to capture the independent city of Norton which counted as a county-equivalent for county counting purposes, although the journey was impressive even discounting the jog. I knew about all of that ahead of time of course, however understanding something and experiencing it in person were two different concepts entirely as far as I was concerned.
With all that in mind, I’d begun to wonder about the longest Google Maps default drives in layers of geography that mattered to me, specifically my home county, state and nation. I made the rules simple. It had to be the primary default point-to-point route suggested by Google and it could not cross the borders of the home jurisdiction. I couldn’t add intermediate points manually and I had to remain within the lines. Bridges were fine. Ferries were not. I couldn’t use the Alaska Marine Highway System to link Alaska to the Lower 48, as an example. Those were completely arbitrary rules designed to create some focus and structure.
One shouldn’t expect remarkably long distances in the smallest self-governing county in the United States (25.98 sq miles or 67.3 square kilometres) and that was the obvious result. I managed to eke out an 11.5 mile (18.5 km) route entirely within Arlington. Google offered 12.4 miles (20 km) as a second option which I discarded because it wasn’t the initial suggestion. Flipping the route didn’t help either; it produced a longer result although it also detoured the path into neighboring Alexandria and thus violated one of my arbitrary rules. The odd thing I’ve learned from Google Maps over the years is that some other person submitting the same endpoints might get the second option as the first one, or that the recommended route could change over time. I can say only that the solution I found this morning worked, and it could be completely different for you either today or if you came back in six months.
These county estimates were difficult to determine because county lines in Google Maps disappear at a critical point as one drills-down. One has to have a pretty good mastery of the boundaries before starting and then go through a bit of trial and error.
It turned out that my lengthy drive completely within Virginia’s borders was impressive, although nowhere near as long as theoretically possible. For that, one would need to start from the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge (my visit) on the Atlantic Ocean, on Virginia’s eastern shore, to some random point west of Big Stone Gap near the Kentucky border, or vice versa. The distance going either direction came to 576 miles (927 km).
I felt considerably less confident in my result for the United States. I found a decent distance and I think 12MC readers should be able to improve upon it, perhaps considerably. The route from Key West, Florida to a very westerly point on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula near Flattery Rocks National Wildlife Refuge stretched to 3,661 miles (5,892 km), a smidgen longer than the reverse of those same directions. One should be able to finish that journey by automobile with 55 hours of continuous driving. I wouldn’t recommend it.
This exercise could be expanded to other geographic territories, perhaps ones meaningful to individual 12MC readers. I played around with Canada a bit. The biggest challenge was Google’s bias towards U.S. highways to route Canadians around various Great Lakes. I also took things to a somewhat ridiculous extreme by examining Luxembourg, where I uncovered a 119 km (74 mi) route. I even went Down Under to New South Wales, Australia where my best find stretched to 1,797 km (1,117 mi).