New reader "Thomas" sent an email to 12MC concerning an institution of higher learning seemingly out of place geographically. The University of California has a number of affiliated campuses, although none of them are located in Pennsylvania. Yet, oddly there’s a California University of Pennsylvania. As always, there was a twist to the situation as I looked closer. The university was placed in a town called California outside of Pittsburgh. The town was founded in 1849, presumably in commemoration of the California Gold Rush that was happening at the same time. The university simply took the name of the town and the state. I replied that it reminded me of another geographically counterintutive institution from the same state, Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
California University… of Pennsylvania
This could provide an exceptional opportunity for mischief, I thought as I considered the possibilities further. What if people wanted to misrepresent where they earned their diplomas, maybe pad a résumé or impress their friends, or for some other unknown reason? Maybe it would be easier or cheaper to attend a soundalike institution instead. If miscreants said that they’d graduated from Cal, would it be their fault if others assumed they were referring to UC Berkeley instead of lesser-known Cal U in PA?(¹).
I am certain that all of the similarly-named colleges and universities are perfectly fine places with solid reputations. However, the better known versions could convey additional benefits or prestige whether academic or athletic if used deceivingly. Those of questionable moral standing could easily employ a bait-and-switch.
I was curious to discover the prevalence of such opportunities even though I don’t condone improper use. The examination began with a listing of colleges and universities in the US, UK and Canada. I sorted for similarities and compiled a lot of close matches in a shared Google Doc. I distilled that down to a handful of optimal deceptive options.
Spring @ Cornell by matt.hintsa, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
Several options presented themselves for those unable to gain admission to an Ivy League school or those unwilling to shoulder a six-figure student debt upon graduation. I called these choices the "Cheap Ivies" (not to be confused with the Public Ivies).
How about Cornell College in Iowa instead of the Cornell University in New York? They were founded by distant cousins from the same family so they’re practically the same. Any of the Columbia Colleges (Missouri, South Carolina, Illinois) could substitute for Columbia University. Finally, nobody would really need to know that Penn referred to William Penn University instead of the University of Pennsylvania.
Notre Dame Band, Notre Dame Stadium, University of Notre Dame DDZ_0303 by NDomer73, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), license
Not everyone will want to attend a big-time athletics school. Those universities tend to have tens of thousands of students. They can be very impersonal places. However everyone wants to be associated with a winner, right? A certain image would come across if someone mentioned he was a Notre Dame grad. It could quickly become a launching point for a thousand barroom conversations (or brawls) as long as he didn’t mention his preference for the Notre Dame Falcons from Ohio instead of the Fighting Irish. Similar situations existed for Georgetown in Kentucky, and Miami University of Ohio. How about Pitt? One could easily substitute Pittsburg State University in Kansas for the University of Pittsburgh.
Was it be Seton Hall University or it’s nearly identically-named Seton Hill University? They’re both named for the same person, Elizabeth Ann Seton, so go for it.
Cambridge University by Caffeinehit, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license
The University of Cambridge and its 31 constituent colleges in England are known throughout the world. There have been 90 Nobel laureates affiliated with the university. Stephen Hawking has long been associated with Cambridge. Isaac Newton went there. Its long list of famous alumni have made some of the most important contributions to mankind for the last several centuries. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to pursue a degree from Cambridge College in Massachusetts? "I completed my studies at Cambridge" would be a completely true statement.
Other substitutions could include Ottawa University in Kansas in lieu of the University of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada. Then there were the Yorks. There are York Colleges in Nebraska, New York and Pennsylvania, along with York University in Ontario and the University of York in England. Go ahead and substitute any one for any other.
Guess I should use one of my own photos while I’m at it
I found a similar situation with the Lincolns. There were Lincoln Universities in Missouri and Pennsylvania and a University of Lincoln in England. None of those were the unusual one. That honor went to Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee. Someone could have so much mischievous fun with Lincoln Memorial.
It wasn’t their fault, though. The founders established Lincoln Memorial University in 1897. The Lincoln Memorial — the edifice in Washington, DC — wasn’t constructed until 1922.
(¹) Actually that would be completely and utterly wrong so don’t do that.
There are very few places in the world that have never sent a visitor to Twelve Mile Circle in the several years since I started the site. Nonetheless I check my access statistics for any new arrivals occasionally along with all the rest of my borderline obsessive-compulsive reader behavior examinations. I conducted the last comprehensive check for first-time countries in April 2013 and I expected few additions. A handful of locations continued to cling stubbornly to the No Visitors list. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I’d added seven new locations since that time as the map slowly nears completion. I’d observed a couple of them when they arrived while the others somehow slipped past my attention. The most recent additions were Burundi, Cape Verdi, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Norfolk Island, Saint Helena and South Sudan.
I was particularly pleased by the African additions. I’ve attracted very fewer readers from Africa per capita most likely for a variety of reasons, probably involving the rate of Internet penetration in some of the less affluent corners of the continent combined with large percentages of people speaking languages other than English. A site such as mine oriented towards geo-oddities primarily within North America and Europe and written completely in English would be less relevant to much of that audience than perhaps to other topics.
The Burundi hit may have been the most interesting of the new batch from Africa. The reader appeared to have a fascination with U.S. county boundaries as displayed on Google Maps. What was the story behind the story? What unusual set of circumstances led that reader to 12MC? Was this the sign of a budding County Counter? An American expat planning a return trip to a native land? Those are the kind of topics that run through my mind whenever I spot a visitor anomaly like this one.
The hit from South Sudan was also a great pickup. I’d already captured Sudan, the larger version, before South Sudan seceded in 2011. I’m sure that people of South Sudan had bigger issues on their mind than the hole their independence created on my African visitors map. Nonetheless a large empty spot appeared that day and it took two years to finally fill it back in.
I also continued to capture various islands although they didn’t have quite the dramatic visual impact on my map since they were so small and widely scattered. A couple of them fit both the African and island definitions, though. Cape Verde is an archipelago off the coast of western Africa originally settled by the Portuguese. Also, Equatorial Guinea includes both an island component and mainland component, and it’s one of the few areas of Africa where Spanish has been among its official languages. I can’t comprehend why my visitor from Equatorial Guinea wanted to take a ferry from Maryland to Virginia although that’s what he or she apparently hoped to do, so best of luck on that idea. It’s not an easy feat to complete even for those of us living in close proximity.
Then I got to the truly crazy catches: Norfolk Island, a largely self-governed area of Australia; and Saint Helena, part of a British Overseas Territory. Granted, English would be an official language on either island and that should increase the odds of attracting readers, however Norfolk had only 2,300 residents and Saint Helena 4,200. That led me to speculate whether one or both may have involved a regular 12MC visitor on holiday who happened to know I enjoyed hits from odd places. It’s happened before so a big Thank You if that’s the case.
The 12MC family likes to go to the beach in the Winter. I realize that sounds completely counter-intuitive, to put it nicely. However, the crowds are gone, hotels are available and at much cheaper rates, and I don’t enjoy lying on the sand in the sun anyway. Sitting in a single spot actually increases my anxiety. We went to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware for the weekend, returning early on Sunday morning to avoid an ice storm.
16 Mile Brewing Company
What does that have to do with anything?
That allowed us to chart a course through Georgetown, Delaware, the location of an article I posted called 12 Mile Circ… no wait, 16!. I love it when I’m able to visit a place in person that I’ve featured online.
It also combined two things of interest to me, geo-oddities and beer. Georgetown was the home of the 16 Mile Brewing Company, a microbrewery (not a brewpub). There I enjoyed a beer sampler at their attractive tasting room. That’s a fairly recent trend, by the way. Microbreweries used to not cater much to beer tourism. They’ve become more like vineyards in recent years, learning from their wine making cousins that tasting rooms serve as excellent advertising and as a means to cut-out the middleman.
Of course, my mind was drawn to a large map posted on a nearby wall explaining the significance of the 16 miles, which matched with what I reported in the earlier article. I’ll note that I was the only person standing in front of the map, gawking. Everyone else seemed happy to sit at the bar or at a table and sip their samples.
Naturally I stopped at Dogfish Head’s brewpub Rehoboth Beach, which I’ve visited several times before, although the shark adorned festively with a Santa hat was a nice holiday touch.
As always, I enjoyed my brief visit to Delaware, the tiny state with more geo-oddities per square mile than any other place on the planet.
Many municipalities have considered or have already started to provide broadband services to their residents directly, bypassing numerous commercial enterprises that specialize in those functions. There were more than 100 cities doing that already just in the United States alone in 2011. Reasons included control over speed and pricing, as well as a desire to provide service directly to every residence within its boundaries. In Chattanooga, Tennessee earlier this year for instance, Governing.com noted that the city had:
… leapt to the forefront of American cities with ultra high-speed broadband service and has accomplished the feat in a surprisingly old-fashioned way: the city’s municipally-owned electric utility provides the service. Tennessee’s fourth-largest city is now a member of a small, but elite group of world-class cities that can offer residents and businesses Internet service of up to one gigabit per second, 200 times faster than the average broadband speed in America.
I thought it might be interesting to take a look at that "old-fashioned way" and see how it was doing today with another communication medium, the land-line telephone. While somewhat maligned now and overtaken largely by cellular and Internet technologies, wired telephony was a leading-edge technology in the previous century. Back then towns and cities worldwide built and owned their own local telephone systems for many of the same reasons why they’re exploring municipal broadband today.
I wondered if any municipalities still provisioned their own telephone service. Very few, it turned out. I confirmed only three instances. I’m certain a handful of others must exist in small pockets elsewhere, particularly in the non-English speaking part of the world that I found difficult to parse with typical Internet searches.
Pineville, North Carolina, USA
Pineville, North Carolina
The Pineville Telephone Company bills itself as,
… a full service telecommunications provider, which has supplied quality service to Pineville’s business and residential community since it was established in 1937. PTC is currently one of only two municipally owned telephone companies operating in the United States. Because PTC is municipally owned, we are able to offer our residential customers some of the lowest rates in the state.
Pineville was once a distinct location although it’s largely evolved into a suburb blended within the larger Charlotte, North Carolina metropolitan area, and wedged-in by a state border with South Carolina. Its practically unique telephone system harkened back to an earlier time when Pineville was a more isolated pocket of population drifting upon a rural landscape. I’m not sure how Pineville knew that there were only two occurrences in the United States, however that’s all I could find so there might be some truth to their statement unless someone else can uncover another one.
Barnesville, Minnesota, USA
Barnsville, Minnesota, USA
Barnesville, unlike Pineville, continued to retain its original rural charm, with an annual Barnesville Potato Days held each August as an example. The bare-bones City of Barnesville Municipal Telephone website explained its entire set of offerings on a single page, and explained,
In 1901 the City of Barnesville became the first city in Minnesota to own a municipal phone service. The phone service has always generated substantial revenue, and profits from the system have helped keep property taxes lower… Municipal ownership of these important utilities ensures resident of cutting edge technology at affordable prices.
Barnesville also provisioned its own cable television network so municipal ownership was a model that obviously worked well for them. The city seemed have a good set of reasons to retain their telephone system. That didn’t prevent the vast preponderance of other municipalities similarly situated from divesting over time, however.
I also noticed a statement on the Barnesville site that happened to reference two municipally-owned telephone systems in Minnesota without additional explanation. If true, I couldn’t find the other one.
Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
There might be only a single remaining example in all of Canada, at Thunder Bay, Ontario. The Thunder Bay Telephone Company, which has since been renamed Tbaytel, traced its origins back to 1902. If it’s not the only municipally-owned telephone company in Canada it’s certainly the largest, and its likely larger than either of the remaining examples in the United States. Tbaytel also expanded into cellular service with a significant subscriber base throughout Northern Ontario.
There were other examples in Northern Ontario until recently. The Kenora Municipal Telephone System (KMTS) became a division of Bell Aliant in February 2008 as did the Dryden Municipal Telephone Service (DMTS) in January 2013. Many Internet sources were still catching-up with that news.
Kingston upon Hull, England. Nope.
Kingston upon Hull, England
Kingston upon Hull, frequently referred to simply as Hull, retained a municipally-owned telephone system for a very long time, a final holdout from British Telecom, BT. Somehow Hull resisted national utility consolidations successfully. Hull’s municipal provider, Kingston Communications, traced its origins back to the earliest days of the 20th Century. Later it became KCOM Group, and its history page explained what happened next: In 1999 "The Kingston Communications Group was partially floated on the London Stock Exchange, with the City Council retaining its interest with a 44.9 per cent stake." Then in 2007, "Hull City Council [sold] remaining stakeholding in the Group." KCOM Group became a fully publicly-traded company at that time. It maintained its practical monopoly on telephone services in Hull albeit no longer as a municipally-owned entity.
White Classic Phone Boxes of the Hull Telephone Company Hull Town Centre East Yorkshire Sep 2013 by calflier001, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license
The most interesting and visible quirk, in my opinion, was that Kingston upon Hull did not field the iconic red British telephone box because BT did not provide service the area. Rather, Kingston Communications fielded a box that had been described either as white or cream. Telephone boxes have become such an anachronism that perhaps even that one simple individualistic distinction will fade over time as well. Look at them while you can (e.g., Street View image that I expect to disappear someday).