Southern Swing, Part 2

On January 11, 2015 · 0 Comments

The second part of my quick southern trip moved west. We began in St. Augustine, Florida a couple of days earlier and now it was time to move on to family on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. This transformed into an exercise in county counting. My completion map of Florida counties changed dramatically for the better as we proceeded farther west along Interstate 10.


Florida County Outline Map
Florida Counties Visited, produced using Mob Rule

I grabbed an entire northern tier of Florida counties crossed by I-10, capturing new ones from Baker to Okaloosa. This added a dozen to my list: Baker, Columbia Suwannee, Madison, Jefferson, Leon, Gadsden, Jackson, Washington, Holmes, Walton and Okaloosa. I’d also visited one additional Florida county a couple of days earlier. I got out of bed at 5 a.m. one morning and snagged Clay County since it was only about a thirty minute round-trip. I returned to the hotel before anyone else in the family even woke up. They were never the wiser. That made the complete collection of new counties a nice Lucky 13 for the trip.

The northern tier of Florida felt unlike any of my earlier Florida experiences. It was a lot more hilly than I expected; the hills weren’t large although the terrain had a definite roll. Also pine trees dominated the landscape instead of palm trees, and of course there were no ocean views. Few people lived along the route except for those near Tallahassee and Pensacola. I put the car on cruise control and piled on the miles. It took most of a day just to get out of Florida before hitting Alabama briefly and then crossing into Mississippi.

I’ve been to Southern Mississippi many times. The challenge of writing this article would be avoiding places I’ve discussed before, or at least finding a new angle.


John C. Stennis Space Center


Stennis Space Center
Stennis Space Center

Anyone traveling through Mississippi on I-10 will drive right through the buffer zone of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) John C. Stennis Space Center. NASA designated 125,000 acres (195 square miles / 500 square kilometres) around the Center as a noise abatement area to dampen the deafening sounds of rocket engine testing. Private citizens still own land there and can have access to it although they cannot build homes upon it. The base itself is considerably smaller, 13,500 acres (21 mi2 / 55 km2). That space is tightly controlled and requires access through guarded gates.

I’ve watched the security evolve over the years. Anyone could drive onto the base and visit the StenniSphere, NASA’s visitor center, without any special permission prior to September 11, 2001. Of course the world changed after 9-11. NASA moved its visitor staging area to a nearby rest stop adjacent to Interstate 10. From there, tourists caught a shuttle bus which brought them onto the base and unloaded them at the StenniSphere. I guess that wasn’t secure enough or maybe it was simply an interim measure. Now, probably within the last few months, NASA opened a new visitor center next to the rest stop. It was completely outside of the base in a public area that they’ve named the INFINITY Science Center (map). Tourists can still hop on a shuttle bus for a driving tour of the large rocket testing platforms although they don’t have quite the level of freedom to roam around as before.

I’ve never been lucky enough to visit Stennis during an engine test. Testing is a bit random and isn’t announced ahead of time for security reasons. Nonetheless, the guides said any shuttle buses driving past the platforms at the right moment will stop at a safe spot to enjoy the show. Maybe next time.


Alligators


Insta-Gator Ranch
Insta-Gator Ranch

Down the road a bit in Louisiana, we stopped at the Insta-Gator Ranch & Hatchery near Abita Springs (map). I’d never been there before so that was a new experience. They raise alligators commercially to be turned into handbags, wallets, boots, belts and other accessories. The entire industry was overseen by the State of Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Alligator Program.

Since the inception of the Department’s program in 1972, over 810,000 wild alligators have been harvested, over 6.5 million alligator eggs have been collected, and over 3.5 million farm raised alligators have been sold bringing in millions of dollars of revenue to landowners, trappers and farmers.

Alligators were an endangered species in Louisiana prior to the program. The population rebounded dramatically. Each commercial rancher continues to return a certain percentage of its adult alligators to the wild as a condition of the program. Four year old alligators are large enough to avoid predation so they have a very high survival rate, leading to more eggs and more alligators. Eggs are laid only once per year and they hatch in late August-ish. Ranchers from Insta-Gator fly ultralight aircraft over the marshes and swamps to spot the nests, mark them with a flag, and return to collect eggs. They then raise hatchlings to adulthood, some destined to become handbags and some destined for freedom. I’ll offer some advise for any alligators being raised commercially: get a nick or scar on your belly because that gives you an imperfection and you’ll probably be freed. Nobody wants a handbag with a blemish.

The ranch had several alligators much older and larger than the rest. Those were used for movies, television and advertisements. It burst my bubble just a bit when I learned that many of those "reality" TV shows set in swamps and bayous use farm-raised gators. The scenes are staged.


Laurel & Hardy


Laurel and Hardy
Laurel and Hardy in Hattiesburg, Mississippi
via Google Street View, July 2014

This one is a bit of a non sequitur. Does anyone remember back in 2013 when I featured intersecting streets that formed the names of Comedy Duos? Like, someone in Washington Radley, Kansas lives at the corner of Abbot & Costello? It’s not that important so don’t worry about it if you don’t.

Anyway, I spotted this road sign in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and didn’t have enough time to pull out my camera so I’ve borrowed a Google Street View image. It wasn’t quite a crossroads like in the earlier article. Laurel, in this case, was a nearby town. Hardy was one of the primary streets in Hattiesburg; it went directly past the University of Southern Mississippi. I still laughed a little when I saw the unintentional reference to Laurel & Hardy.

Old Greer County

On December 31, 2014 · 0 Comments

I talked about the longest postal route in the United States recently, the saga of Jim Ed Bull and his 187.6 mi (302 km) daily slog from Mangum, Oklahoma extending through the rural countryside. I also discovered an interesting bit of trivia during my research. This little corner of southwestern Oklahoma used to be part of Texas until almost the 20th Century.

I’d stumbled across this historical marker.


Old Greer County Marker
Old Greer County Marker by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, on Flickr (cc)

OLD GREER COUNTY. S. and W. of North Fork of Red R. Greer Co. was named and governed as a part of Texas from 1860 until 1896 when U. S. Supreme Crt. decision made it part of Oklahoma Ter. This county area was claimed by 14 different governments from 1669 to Oklahoma statehood in 1907; since then it has been divided into 3 counties and the southern part of Beckham County.

I’ll maybe leave that "14 different governments" claim for another day. Right now I’ll focus on the first sentence, the one about being part of Texas from 1860 to 1896. That seemed easily verifiable and there were a number of sources available. I consulted the Handbook of Texas from the Texas State Historical Association, the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture from the Oklahoma Historical Society, and of course I went to a primary source, the actual U.S. Supreme Court decision, United States v Texas (1896).



I also took a shot at creating a map showing the approximate footprint of old Greer County, Texas, now divided into Greer, Jackson, Harmon and part of Beckham Counties, Oklahoma. This was the first time I’ve drawn something using Google’s Map Engine Lite now that the former Google Maps "My Maps" capability has been completely deprecated. I guess it turned out acceptably well.

The root of the issue extended all the way back to the Adams–Onís Treaty of 1819, that — among several things such as making Florida a part of the U.S. — formalized the boundary between the U.S. and Spain’s colonial territories in North America. The treaty relied upon the best map available at the time and referenced it by name, "Melishe’s Map of the United States, published at Philadelphia, improved to the first of January 1818."

The Melish Map had been drafted by John Melish, a Scottish immigrant with a penchant for detail and accuracy. He published his "Map of the United States with the contiguous British and Spanish Possessions" originally in 1816. It was the first map to depict the United States as extending to the Pacific Ocean. It also contained a couple of key problems that later created the situation in Greer County: the 100th Meridian was drawn about a degree too far east and the Red River was shown as having only a single branch.


Texas State Line-100th Meridian
Texas State Line-100th Meridian by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, on Flickr (cc)

Texas inherited the former Spanish boundary (later Mexican boundary) when it became an independent Republic and adhered to it when it became part of the United States. Texas also relied upon the most favorable interpretation of the Treaty. It used the Melish Map and its errors literally when it drew Greer County in 1860 and named it for the state’s former lieutenant governor John Alexander Greer who served 1847-1851. The Federal government disputed Texas’ interpretation. However the Civil War soon broke out and there were more pressing issues to address.

Greer County’s population grew tremendously in the post-war years. Only ten families lived in Greer in 1884 on expansive cattle ranches. Two years later, settlers established a county seat in Mangum. According to the Handbook of Texas, "A school system was set up, and by 1892 sixty-six school districts had been formed with an enrollment of 2,250 pupils." The population jumped from almost zero to several thousand in a decade. That amount of growth could no longer be ignored by the Federal government. President Harrison signed an act organizing the Oklahoma Territory and it contained a provision that required a solution. Otherwise the dispute would complicate eventual Oklahoma statehood. A Commission failed to reach an agreement and the case went to the Supreme Court.

The United States favored the true 100th Meridian and the Prairie Dog Town Fork (i.e., the southern fork; the main fork) of the Red River as the boundary between Texas and the Oklahoma Territory. Texas favored the 100th Meridian of the Melish map and the North Fork of the Red River, relying upon the explicit language of the Adams–Onís Treaty. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the United States and the disputed land became part of Oklahoma.

EPILOGUE: While Texas lost the case and was compelled to recognize the "true" 100th Meridian as its border with that part of Oklahoma, the two states continued to bicker about the accuracy of the survey that established the meridian. They didn’t agree on its permanent placement until 1930.

The full story has been preserved by the Old Greer County Museum in Mangum.

Can’t Get Enough of Kossuth

On November 30, 2014 · 0 Comments

The formation and expansion of Kossuth County in the 1850’s discussed in The Odd Case of Iowa’s Largest County pointed to a simple question. Who was Kossuth? That string led me to Lajos Kossuth. I was wholly unfamiliar with the name and I wondered why a county deep within the American heartland would honor a former Governor-President of Hungary. This area wasn’t settled by Hungarians.


Kossuth Lajos Prinzhofer
Lajos Kossuth via Wikimedia Commons, in the Public Domain

Iowa wasn’t the only Kossuth reference in the United States either. A quick check of the Geographic Names Information System uncovered additional populated places named for him in Indiana, Mississippi, Maine, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin, plus a Kossuthville in Florida. The geographic placement implied a couple of different thoughts since the Kossuth tribute phenomenon seemed to be confined primarily the eastern half of the U.S. First, the designations began in close proximity to Kossuth’s zenith at the midpoint of the 19th Century (before the western states became highly organized and started naming everything) and second, his place in the American memory must have been brief (because he was overlooked when the western states started naming things in earnest).



Budapest Street Directory #14: Lajos Kossuth/Kossuth Lajos utca
Budapest Street Directory #14: Lajos Kossuth/Kossuth Lajos utca by Istvan, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Lajos Kossuth de Udvard et Kossuthfalva was and continues to be a revered figure in Hungary. He sought an independent Hungary and for a brief period he actually achieved it. Hungary was under the control of Austria’s Habsburg Empire. Civil dissatisfaction and unrest had been ongoing for a number of years and finally sparked a revolution in 1848. Hungary declared its independence in 1849 with Kossuth serving as the Governor-President. It wouldn’t last long. The Austrian army teamed with Russia and invaded later that year. Kossuth was forced into exile where he continued to advocate tirelessly for Hungarian independence until he passed away in 1894.

There are tributes to Lajos Kossuth all over Hungary today, including his likeness within in the statue complex at Hősök tere (Heroes’ Square), a major plaza in Budapest. Street View gives Hősök tere decent coverage if you want a more expansive understanding of its geographic context. Certainly, one would expect numerous memorials and commemorations in Hungary. That didn’t explain his prevalence in the United States.



P20021116_105453_0028
Statue of Lojas Kossuth by warsze, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

There were distinct elements of Kossuth’s struggle that resonated with audiences far beyond Hungary, including those throughout Europe hoping to establish democracies as well as within the U.S. where a representative government had already been achieved. Kossuth drew inspiration from the American Revolution and in turn many citizens of the United States viewed Kossuth as carrying that same banner, an instrument for spreading American ideals to other parts of the world. It helped that Kossuth proved very adept at publicizing his cause through his skills as a prolific orator, writer and media sensation on both sides of the Atlantic.

Statues of Kossuth were raised in the United States too, such as the one in New York City, above (map).



Portrait with Kossuth
Portrait with Kossuth by Roman Boed, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Lajos Kossuth traveled widely after his exile to promote Hungarian independence, including a wildly-successful tour through the United States. As described by The Hill after the dedication of a bust of Kossuth placed in the U.S. Capitol building in 1990,

This Hungarian statesman’s presence in the U.S. Capitol might seem arbitrary, but in fact Kossuth’s life was intertwined with the life — and values — of American democracy… The U.S. assisted him in traveling to America, where he ultimately spent one year. Kossuth became one of the first foreign statesmen to address a joint session of Congress, speaking to the body in 1852 about democracy… Moreover, throughout his year in the U.S., Kossuth made more than 300 speeches to thousands of American citizens. It is estimated that more than half of the nation’s population at the time heard him speak

Sorry about the random person appearing in the photo, however, there weren’t any other decent photos available and one has to use what one can find. This much later tribute to Kossuth served a means to regenerate awareness of his deeds that have largely faded from collective consciousness in the United States. It was commissioned by The American Hungarian Federation and sponsored for placement by Rep. Tom Lantos, a native of Hungary and the only member of the U.S. Congress who was also a Holocaust Survivor.

Kossuth may have been largely forgotten in the United States, however his name would have been well-known in the 1850’s. Creating and naming Kossuth County in Iowa in 1851 would have been viewed as a popular and logical choice associated with notions of freedom and independence.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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