Good Fortuna

On February 22, 2015 · 0 Comments

Fortuna was the Roman goddess of prosperity and luck. That would be an excellent name for any location hoping for some of that mojo to rub off. I was aware of a Fortuna in California (map), probably the largest Fortuna in the United States. It was settled in the heart of redwood country.


Along the Avenue of the Giants
Along the Avenue of the Giants by Images by John 'K', on Flickr (cc)

I’m sure it’s very nice and I’d love to go there someday and take a drive down the Avenue of the Giants. However this Twelve Mile Circle wasn’t about that particular Fortuna. Maybe I’ll circle back to that eventually. Not today.


Another Fortuna

Rather, I became fixated on the Fortuna I’d uncovered as I investigated the intricacies of what divided Divide County in North Dakota. There sat tiny Fortuna, population 22, all alone on the Great Plains (map). Let’s ride along on a little driving tour given by some random guy on YouTube, shall we?



Hmmm… there wasn’t much there, was there? A church, a gun club, a curling club, a few houses and a senior center.

Don’t be deceived. Look below the surface and every place is a geo-oddity. I myself live in the smallest self-governing county in the United States. I’m sure your little corner of the world has its own unusual geographic distinction too. Fortuna (pronounced For-Toona) was fortunate enough to have two unusual features, one created by nature and one caused by the arbitrary placements of lines by man.

We already discussed the first condition in County Divided: the Brush Lake Closed Basin. Fortuna fell barely within the eastern edge of this endorheic basin. Sandwiched between Arctic and Atlantic watersheds, water falling in Fortuna wouldn’t flow to either ocean. Instead it drained to nearby Brush Lake just over the border in Montana where its overland journey ended, trapped in a gouge carved by ancient glaciers during the last Ice Age.


US-Timezones
US Time Zones via Wikimedia Commons, in the Public Domain

The second feature was somewhat more esoteric. According to North Dakota State University, Fortuna had the distinction of having the latest sunset on the summer solstice for any town in the Lower 48 United States, at 10:03 p.m. That occurred because of a confluence of a couple of different situations. Fortuna happened to be located at the far western edge of the Central Time Zone. The zone had a nub in northwestern North Dakota that made Fortuna considerably farther west than almost any other place along the time zone edge.

The exception was a corner of west Texas east of El Paso, say, somewhere like Van Horne (map). It was just a little farther west than Fortuna. However there was a different factor that more than made up the difference: latitude. I put the points into a great circle mapper and found that Fortuna was about 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometres) farther north than Van Horne. Thus, with that large of a difference I think it would be safe to speculate that sunset happened later on the summer solstice in Fortuna’s corner of North Dakota than anywhere else in the Central Time Zone. I suppose I could also check the other three U.S. time zones in the Lower 48 for their westernmost extremes although I’m simply not that motivated. The Intertubes said it was true and I left it at that.


But Wait, You Also Get This

Fortuna had history. I hardly would have expected anything of historical significance in such a remote area. Yet, ironically its remoteness actually created its importance. Out-of-sight places made ideal locations for a variety of Cold War artifacts.


Fortuna Air Force Station
Fortuna Air Force Station via Wikimedia Commons, in the Public Domain

The U.S. government constructed Fortuna Air Force Station just outside of town, a radar base operating from 1952 to 1984. It was designed to track enemy aircraft and coordinate their interception should Soviets bombers have attacked the United States. The site was completely abandoned once the Cold War faded and fell away. Ghosts of North Dakota visited the old station recently and noted,

We got word that this base was to be demolished in 2013, so we set out to photograph it before it was too late… The radar dishes and domes were removed long ago, and the site has since been heavily vandalized and scavenged. The salvage rights were sold some years back and the team that did the salvage knocked holes in the walls of most of the buildings to remove boilers and scrap metal.

The station may soon become just another patch on the plains before too long, however Veterans of the 780th AC&W Radar Squadron still keep in touch.

What does the future hold for the town of Fortuna? Perhaps something fortunate. This quadrant of North Dakota has boomed in recent years because of oil discoveries in the Bakken formation. The population of Divide County increased by more than 10% between 2010 and 2013 (the latest figures available) after decades of decline.

County Divided

On February 18, 2015 · 0 Comments

At the far northwestern corner of North Dakota, right up next to Canada and Montana sits a county with a curious name, Divide. It looked somewhat rectangular like many other counties on the sparsely-populated Great Plains where few natural features could take the place of arbitrary straight lines.


Canadian-US Boundary
Canadian-US Boundary by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, on Flickr (cc)

I’d encountered Divide County vicariously one time before without even realizing it as I researched infrequent border crossings between the United States and Canada a couple of years ago. The Noonan border station in Divide County was so lonely and isolated that it had only a single pedestrian crossing during 2011 (the most current data available at the time), although it also had motor vehicle crossings of course. This photo was actually another nearby crossing in Divide — I couldn’t fine one of Noonan — although notice the obelisk marker placed by the International Boundary Commission. I don’t know where I’m going with that. I simply liked the image and it probably looked a lot like the one at Noonan so feel free to use your imagination.

The international border probably wasn’t the divide that inspired a county’s name however, in spite of modern theories like that described by Dakota Datebook in 2007:

This time a name for the new county would be determined through a contest. The winning entry came from George Gilmore, a Williston attorney. Gilmore proposed the name Divide County. The Northern Continental Divide runs through the region. The county divides the United States from Canada. It divides North Dakota from Montana. And most importantly, the new county was a product of its division.


dakota
Divide County Courthouse by jeremiah.andrick, on Flickr (cc)

The part about the contest was true enough. Both Divide County and the Town of Crosby (the seat of county government) confirmed the story. It happened in 1910. Homesteaders were just then migrating into the area. There were just enough people to warrant a new county, thus dividing Divide from larger Williams County. The contest commenced, Gilmore won $5 for his efforts, and the name stuck. The preponderance of sources I consulted mentioned two divisions as the basis for the name, the divide from Williams County, and the continental divide. The notion of state and international borders inspiring a name were apparently modern contrivances.


Divide County North Dakota
Divide County North Dakota
Created Using USGS’s National Map Viewer

The continental divide fascinated me more in this instance so I went into the National Map Viewer and selected the watershed layer. Notice the dark purple line that marked the continental divide. Many people see "continental divide" and think reflexively of the Great Divide that separated west from east, the Pacific drainage area from the Gulf of Mexico. This wasn’t that divide. Rather this was the Laurentian Divide or the Northern Divide that separated water bound for Hudson Bay from that heading down towards the Gulf of Mexico.

Divide County’s northeastern quadrant and its county seat at Crosby fell within the Souris River watershed, which flowed into the Assiniboine River River then to the Red River of the North into Lake Winnipeg, then to the Nelson River and finally into Hudson Bay. Divide’s southeastern quadrant flowed a long distance too albeit with a more familiar set of names, from local tributaries to the Missouri River to the Mississippi River, and then to the Gulf of Mexico.

What about that curious notation on the map? The Brush Lake Closed Basin? Indeed, the western part of Divide County flowed just a few miles farther west and barely crossed the border into Montana before stopping at Brush Lake where it remained. A good 20% of Divide wasn’t part of either side of the continental divide, it fell within an endorheic basin created at the tail-end of the last Ice Age as glaciers gouged the plains.

The buried outwash gravels and the deeper river terrace gravels are very porous and support a controlled groundwater irrigation area, as well as supplying Brush Lake with a continuous flow of water through large springs in the lake. Being in a closed basin, summer evaporation serves as a pump to keep groundwater flowing into the lake. And since evaporation only takes pure water out, the minerals leached from the glacial gravels remain dissolved in the lake and accumulate, giving the lake its distinct color.



Brush Lake, Montana

Maybe we should track down Gilmore’s heirs and ask for the $5 back?

Beaufort or Badminton

On February 15, 2015 · 0 Comments

Two towns sharing the exact same name sat not too far from each other in the Carolinas. Colonial settlers arrived on various points along that swath of coastline at around the same time, increasing the odds of a relationship between identical names. That was the case albeit with a twist.



Beaufort to Beaufort

The Beauforts

Beaufort, North Carolina came first, founded in 1709. The town of the same name in South Carolina arrived a couple of years later, 1711. Both Carolinas also have counties named Beaufort. The South Carolina town is the seat of government for Beaufort County. North Carolina was a bit more complicated. The town of Beaufort was the seat of government for Carteret County. Beaufort County was a completely separate place and representative of a peculiar naming trend in North Carolina.

They all commemorated the same man, Henry Somerset, 2nd Duke of Beaufort (1684-1714), a minor nobleman. He wasn’t responsible for any noteworthy feats so his only significant New World namesakes happened to be a couple of coastal towns and a couple of counties.


Beaufort2
Henry Somerset, 2nd Duke of Beaufort
via Wikimedia Commons, in the Public Domain

He was Captain of the Gentlemen Pensioners (1712–1714), Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire (1710–1714), and Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire (1712–1714). Via his mother’s second marriage to John Grenville, 1st Baron Granville of Potheridge, Henry Somerset inherited this share of Carolina upon Grenville’s death in 1701. Upon the death of William Craven, 2nd Baron Craven on October 9, 1711, Henry Somerset, 2nd Duke of Beaufort was named the eighth Palatine of Caroline. Dying at the age of thirty, on 24 May 1714… His share of Carolina was left in a trust to his two living minor sons…

Here was the twist: In spite of being named for the exact same person, the location in North Carolina was pronounced BOW-fert and the one in South Carolina was pronounced BYOU-fert. I think the Duke himself would have pronounced it something closer to the North Carolina interpretation although I’ll leave that to 12MC’s UK audience to confirm.


Beaufort Origin

Charles II created the Duke of Beaufort as a Peerage of England in 1682. The name derived originally from a castle in Montmorency-Beaufort (map), France (apparently a beautiful fortress if one translates it from French to English literally), "the only current dukedom to take its name from a place outside the British Isles… Beaufort Castle was a possession of John of Gaunt, and the surname Beaufort was given to Gaunt’s four legitimized children by his mistress and third wife, Katherine Swynford."

The castle was reduced to rubble long ago. That didn’t stop the various Beaufort locations from reaching out to each other though, with the one in North Carolina taking a particularly active role:

The International Association of Beauforts was established in 1995 when Beaufort-en-Vallee, France hosted the first reunion of Beauforts. The Beaufort, North Carolina organization seeks to promote international cooperation, understanding and development through a variety of dynamic exchanges with cities and towns with whom Beaufort maintains active sister city partnerships.


The Badminton Connection


Badminton House
Badminton House by Graeme Churchard, on Flickr (cc)

The Dukes of Beaufort resided at the palatial Badminton House and Estate (map) in Gloucestershire. It may be known best today as the site of the Badminton Horse Trials held annually most years since 1949. The event has become immensely popular.

… the biggest day in the British sporting year. It is an event that brings in a crowd of 200,000 annually — a quarter of a million and more on a nice day. This makes it the third-biggest annual event in the world, after the Indianapolis 500 and the Indianapolis 500 practice day. It is the third day of the Badminton Horse Trials, when the cross-country is held.

With a peculiar name like Badminton, the estate seemed to beg for a connection to the sport of the same name featuring small racquets, net and shuttlecock.


IMG_5916
Badminton by gregouille, on Flickr (cc)

It did connect. At the very least, the sport took its name from the estate. Badminton House claimed the sport originated there in 1863. Other sources claimed the sport originated elsewhere before arriving at Badminton House:

Versions of the game had been played for centuries by children in the Far East, and were adapted by British Army officers stationed in Pune (or Poona), India in the 1860s. They added a net and the game became a competitive sport called "poona", with documented rules in 1867. In 1873 the sport made its way back to England and gained its current title after guests at a Badminton House lawn party held by the Duke of Beaufort introduced it to their friends as "the Badminton game".

The final mystery entailed the origin of the word Badminton. The Online Etymology Dictionary traced it to "Old English Badimyncgtun (972), ‘estate of (a man called) Baduhelm.’."

Beaufort, North and South Carolina, made the right call. It was much easier to deal with Beaufort than Badimyncgtun. Imagine the mispronunciations with the latter alternative.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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