The Odd Case of Iowa’s Largest County

On November 26, 2014 · 0 Comments

I had a fascinating Twitter conversation with Steve from Connecticut Museum Quest recently. He has a much more interesting Twitter feed @CTMQ than my mundane @TheReal12MC. Seriously, I don’t have much to say on Twitter other than using it to announce each new article and maybe posting a few beer pictures occasionally. A few people seem to follow it and sometimes I get article ideas so its useful to keep it going. You should subscribe and maybe I’ll start being more diligent. Anyway Steve wanted to know about the oddly over-sized Kossuth County on the northern edge of the state. It appeared as if it got a double scoop of territory when the authorities doled-out portions.

That’s exactly what happened although the story was a little more complicated.

Few people lived in Iowa in the earliest part of the 19th Century although settlers began to arrive in greater numbers as the decades passed. Iowa gained sufficient critical mass to become a state in 1846. It didn’t have a lot of counties yet and that was starting to create a problem. The county structure looked like this when Iowa joined the Union:


Iowa Counties in 1846
Iowa Counties in 1846
Generated From Newberry Library Atlas of Historical County Boundaries

There were plenty of counties in the southeastern quadrant where pioneers had settled although the rest of Iowa remained largely unorganized at the local level. The Iowa Legislature addressed the governance gap by establishing forty eight new counties in 1851 all at once. The configuration then matched essentially the same structure that exists today. It wasn’t completely identical, however. A few tweaks happened over the next few years, including some involving Kossuth County and its neighbors.

I’ve color-coded Kossuth and its surrounding counties to help explain the situation that was described in detail in the History of Kossuth County, Iowa (1913). My summary derived largely from that source unless otherwise noted.


Kossuth County in Iowa
Kossuth and Surrounding Counties in Iowa

Kossuth County Judge Asa C. Call became a driving force during this formative period. Practically nobody lived in Kossuth when the Call brothers, Asa and Ambrose, arrived in 1854. Judge Call recalled,

I made my first settlement in the county in July 1854. At that time there was no settlement north of Fort Dodge which was forty miles from us and no one on the east nearer than Clear Lake. I brought my wife to the new settlement on the 4th of November.


Algona, Iowa, High School
Algona, Iowa, High School by photolibrarian, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The two brothers founded the town of Algona and it became the county seat. They named it for a Henry Schoolcraft (remember him?) corruption of an indigenous word meaning "Algonquin Waters," I suppose it was done in recognition of the Native American tribes that were forced from the area only a couple of years earlier. The local tribes were Sioux, not Algonquin, although that didn’t seem to matter. An Indian was an Indian to those early pioneers. It was better than the original proposal though, Call’s Grove.

In the beginning, with the creation of those new counties in 1851, Kossuth was the same size as its neighbors to the west and east, Palo Alto and Hancock. However, Judge Cass was an ambitious man, a beloved figure and well-connected politically. He noticed Bancroft County immediately to his north and figured it would make a mighty fine addition to Kossuth, seeing how practically nobody lived there so it couldn’t defend its own interests. He also pondered Humboldt County to his immediate south. It would be helpful for Algona to sit near the center of the county if it were to be an effective seat of government so Kossuth had to pick up some southern territory too.

Webster County, south of Humboldt, also wielded power. Fort Dodge was its county seat. Webster was well organized politically and structurally due to the earlier establishment of Fort Dodge as a military outpost. Kossuth managed to grab all of Bancroft in the 1855 Legislative session. However, it had to split Humboldt with Webster. Bancroft and Humboldt counties, caught in a squeeze, disappeared. This was called "The 1855 Freak Legislation." I’m not making this stuff up.

Right now the 12MC audience is saying, "but wait, I see Humboldt County on the map!" That’s right. Judge Call learned about schemers in Webster plotting to expand farther, and they hoped to grab a large chunk of Kossuth in a subsequent session that would leave it vulnerable to being obliterated entirely. He foiled the plot by colluding with former Humboldt officials. He managed to reestablish Humboldt so it could act as a buffer between Kossuth and Webster. It was better to give up some of the larger Kossuth than to jeopardize its future existence. However, Webster was able to hold onto the bottom tier of Humboldt’s former townships and that left the restored Humboldt appreciably smaller than the original.

That explained why Kossuth became the largest county in Iowa, Humboldt was so small, and the neat latitudinal lines across Iowa created in 1851 fell out of alignment in the the north-central part of the state.

81 on 81

On October 12, 2014 · 7 Comments

I’m planning a quick trip down to southwestern Virginia and neighboring West Virginia, intending to count some new counties along the way although primarily for other purposes. I wish I could say it was entirely about the counties and I could finally finish Virginia. That will have to wait for another day.

Being true to my nature, I’ll completely over-prepare with multiple maps, both electronic and paper, even though I’ve driven the vast preponderance of the route multiple times and understand it intuitively. I’ll have lat/long coordinates prerecorded in my GPS, turn-by-turn directions printed from my preferred map website, and a battered dogeared Triple-A road atlas as a backup should a solar flare destroy every navigational satellite and should an asteroid bust the car window and suck the printouts from the dashboard. Nobody will be getting lost. No way, no how. Logic has no bearing here. Preparations will be ridiculous.

Patterns often appear on 12MC and another one emerged as I plotted waypoints. Most of the path involved Interstate 81, the primary route along the western diagonal of Virginia (map). Many of those waypoints fell awfully close to longitude 81 West. This type of reasoning often leads me to trouble. Was there a place, I wondered, where 81 West crossed Interstate 81? It seemed like it would offer a nice bit of numerical symmetry.

In fact a golden spot existed at 36.938110°,-81.000000°, just a stone’s throw from the Wilco Hess Truck Stop – Wytheville. Or the Flying J. Or Galewinds Go Carts & Mini Golf although apparently it’s closed now so scratch that suggestion.

Were there other Primary (e.g., one or two-digit) Interstate Highways equally blessed with similar golden spots? Why yes there were. Longtime readers already knew that I’d have to map them.



View Interstate-Coordinate Confluences in a larger map

I noticed that spots concentrated in the eastern half of the nation, many in the Upper Midwest. I think I found all of the possibilities although there might be others lurking out there. Let me know if you find any that I overlooked and I’ll add them to the map.


Interstate Longitude Confluences


Chicago Skyline During Sunrise from Lombard, Illinois
Chicago Skyline During Sunrise from Lombard, Illinois by Corey Seeman, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Longitude possibilities were limited to feasible values between 67 (easternmost whole number longitude) and 99 (highest possible 2-digit Interstate Highway). I found a total of seven places where a longitude crossed an Interstate highway with the same number, including the original example I discovered on I-81.

Some of those spots saw more traffic than others although I’d be surprised if even a single person recognized the significance. Why would they? Only a geo-oddity aficionado would find the topic even mildly interesting. One such location fell in Lombard, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. I was surprised to find a photo of the Chicago skyline captured from an upper floor of a hotel less than a mile away from I-88/88°. That amused me for some weird reason.


Interstate Latitude Confluences



Lincoln Village, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin

There were fewer latitude opportunities, limited to values between 25 (southernmost whole number latitude in the Lower 48 states) and 49 (northernmost). I found only two occurrences.

Once again I was lucky to find something to illustrate a nearby area, the Lincoln Village neighborhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I-43 formed its eastern boundary including the segment with I-43/43°.

The overall champion had to be Interstate 94. It shared a confluence with longitude 94° West. It was also concurrently signed with a stretch of I-43/43° North and I-90/90° West.


Confluences Outside of the United States


Penllergaer
Penllergaer by stu, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Similar confluences existed outside of the United States. I found a couple of occurrences between motorways and longitudes in the United Kingdom. One fell near a lovely waterfall at Penllergaer Valley Wood (M4/4° West).

I even discovered one in Ireland, M8 and 8° West: 52.356181°,-8.000000°.

Then I grew tired of the exercise.

Skewed Perspective

On September 24, 2014 · 10 Comments

There was a time in the early days of Twelve Mile Circle when I used to devote entire articles to differences in distances that didn’t seem plausible, although of course the actual measurements didn’t lie. For example, sticking with the Twelve theme, the twelfth article I ever posted on 12MC all the way back in November 2007 dealt with a whole list of state capitals located closer to southwestern Virginia than to its own capital in Richmond. I loved those little counterintuitive notions although I haven’t posted any in a long time probably because they’re kind-of mindless.

I recalled some of my Riverboat Adventures the other day while speaking with some friends and remarked how crazy-long it took to drive across the entire length of Tennessee. We drove through only two states on the way back, Tennessee and Virginia, and it took something like thirteen hours. That prompted me to hit the maps and resurrect the long-neglected genre.

Driving from Memphis


Mud Island
Memphis. My own photo.

The Tennessee leg of our return followed Interstate highways from Memphis to Bristol, specifically I-40 and I-81. I used one of my favorite mapping tools to create a circle around Memphis that extended to Bristol. That’s where the fun began. Memphis was closer to Oklahoma City, Dallas, New Orleans or Kansas City than it was to Bristol. It was even closer to Davenport, Iowa!

Two could play at that game so I created a similar circle around Bristol extending to Memphis. Bristol was closer to Detroit and Jacksonville than it was to Memphis, and about the same distance to Chicago or Philadelphia.


Back in Virginia


Casbah, Algiers
Casbah, Algiers by Nick Brooks, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

I then drew some latitudes, returning my focus to the Commonwealth of Virginia. I noticed that there were parts of Africa farther north than parts of Virginia. I let that rattle around in by brain for awhile. Sure the overlap wasn’t much although definitely factual. Algiers and Tunis on the African continent were farther north than Danville and Suffolk in Virginia.


Dueling Portlands


Keep Portland Weird
Keep Portland Weird by Christopher Porter, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Again with the latitudes, I compared Portland, Oregon with Portland, Maine. It reminded me of a quote in a guest post that Marc Alifanz contributed to 12MC in March 2011, Geo-Oddities of Portland, Oregon:

Portland was originally founded by Asa Lovejoy from Boston, Massachusetts and Francis W. Pettygrove of Portland, Maine. Each wanted to name the new town after their place of origin. They flipped a coin, and Portland won. It’s probably a good thing it worked out that way, because two Bostons of very large size would have created more confusion than big Portland, OR and littler Portland, ME do now.

That was an interesting aside, although referring back to the latitudes, Portland in Oregon is actually farther north than Portland in Maine. That seemed odd because Maine bordered Canada and Oregon had an entire state (Washington) between it and Canada. Yet, that’s what the line revealed.

And speaking of Portland, Maine, I drew another circle and examined the results. Portland Maine was closer to Caracas, Venezuela than to Portland, Oregon.


A Canadian Example


old cayenne 6
old cayenne 6 by Nicholas Laughlin, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

All of the results seemed astonishing to me although I recognized that a lot of this had to do with my very specific geographic perspective. I doubt the measurements and observations had anywhere near the same impact for people living elsewhere. So I tried an example in Canada. St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador was closer to: Bratislava Slovakia; Murmansk, Russia; Cayenne, French Guiana; or anywhere in Western Sahara as it turned out than it was to Vancouver, British Columbia.

Similar observations could be made about the distance between Vladivostok and Moscow, Russia, I supposed. Ditto for Sydney and Perth, Australia. Have fun and let me know the most counterintuitive observation you discover.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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