A random one-time reader landed on Twelve Mile Circle recently. That unknown visitor sought information about the Prime Meridian, and I’ll get to the specific request in a moment. I knew I’d discussed this meridian before. However, in searching my archives and after examining the Complete Index I discovered that I’d never actually marked the place where it all started in Greenwich, England (map).
More than nine years writing 12MC and no photo? Really? We’ll fix that right now.
I won’t spend a lot of time talking about it because I think most of us already know the story. Greenwich appeared in a number of 12MC articles, for example from an American perspective. The agreed-upon line went through the Royal Observatory for a number of historical reasons. I’ll borrow some text directly from its website.
In 1884 the Prime Meridian was defined by the position of the large ‘Transit Circle’ telescope in the Observatory’s Meridian Observatory. The transit circle was built by Sir George Biddell Airy, the 7th Astronomer Royal, in 1850. The cross-hairs in the eyepiece of the Transit Circle precisely defined Longitude 0° for the world. As the Earth’s crust is moving very slightly all the time the exact position of the Prime Meridian is now moving very slightly too, but the original reference for the prime meridian of the world remains the Airy Transit Circle in the Royal Observatory, even if the exact location of the line may move to either side of Airy’s meridian.
Modern calculations placed the meridian about 100 metres east of the line where all the tourists commonly gather. The Daily Telegraph noted that a rubbish bin marked the actual line, not the fancy marker.
A wonderful arch crossed motorway Autopista del Nordeste (AP-2) at kilometre 82 outside of Candasnos, Spain (map). This was the object my random visitor hoped to find on the 12MC website. It very much marked the Prime Meridian and the search engine link landed on my Prime Meridian Through Spain. However I didn’t include anything about the arch on 12MC because I didn’t know it existed. Whoever it was left disappointed, probably never to return.
That troubling outcome, of course, led me to search for the arch and I found it without too much trouble. Unfortunately I never uncovered any information about its construction, who commissioned it, when it happened, or any other details. Precious little information even existed about the town of Candasnos itself. I consulted the Spanish version of Wikipedia to see what I could learn. It told me that the economy depended on agriculture and people exiting the Autopista for services as they drove along through the countryside.
That little exercise turned out to be a bit of a bust. I came across an interesting website however, devoted entirely to Prime Meridian markers. I could appreciate something like that, and I did, a kindred spirit who enjoyed a very specific geographic peculiarity. Why not use that as a source for finding a couple more fascinating Prime Meridian markers? That sounded like a great idea. Let’s do it.
Rue du Méridien; Neuvillalais, Pays de la Loire, France
The meridian went through France so that seemed like a good place to hunt for more markers. I found a particularly nice one in the village of Neuvillalais (map) in the Pays de la Loire region. According to French Wikipedia, the name traced back to Latin, nova villa, meaning new town. Its residents did not have a demonym until 2016 when the municipal council declared they were all "les Neuvillalois." That shouldn’t have fascinated me, yet somehow it did.
They named the primary road through town Rue du Méridien. Only one business existed within the village boundaries, a bar-restaurant-grocery store called Le Méridien. A line made of cobblestones marked the Prime Meridian as it traversed a roadway intersection near the center of town. A giant globe marked its passage where it crossed the front yard of a church. More recent photos suggested that the globe might have disappeared sometime in the last couple of years. What a pity.
Meridian Rock; Tema, Ghana
I always try to feature content from Africa because I don’t think the continent gets enough attention. However, many times I find it difficult to find any good material on the Intertubes. I struck pay dirt down in Ghana though. The line passed all the way through there, a fact I once recognized in Prime Meridian Capital Cities.
The notion seemed daunting when I heard about Meridian Rock (map) in the city of Tema, just east of Accra. Literally, it was a rock, and it sat just offshore of a local beach. Like I could find Street View coverage or a Creative Commons photo of a rock in the water? That’s why I practically did a cartwheel when I found a YouTube video of this obscure object. The same gentleman also posted a video of another meridian marker in Tema, on the grounds of the "Presbyterian Church of Ghana on the Greenwich Meridian." That was the actual name of the church. Awesome.
In 2014, the Ghana Tourism Authority launched an effort to mark the meridian in various parts of the country. They hoped to turn them into "a hot tourism spot."
…we are looking at erecting signages to indicate the imaginary line… we are also looking at developing special places within the settlements where people can visit, and we are also looking at erecting a ‘Wall of Fame,’ where people can say that ‘I have crossed the Greenwich Meridian’ in, say Salaga, for instance, so that he can pay something small and have his name inscribed on the wall.
I don’t know where the project stands today. I don’t think I’d go to Ghana solely to visit the line although I’d certainly seek it out if I happened to be there for some other purpose. Maybe the GTA could sponsor me?
It’s been awhile since I thought about Time Zones. However recently I happened to be looking at a map and I remembered the peculiarities of Greenland. I did scratch the surface of this a long time ago in Islands Split by Time Zones. Now I wanted to revisit Greenland in more detail because it offered such a strange situation. Four distinct Time Zones crossed its boundaries. Segments fell within Coordinated Universal Time (UTC)±0, UTC-1, UTC-3 and UTC-4. Strangely enough, no portion fell within UTC-2 (except during Daylight Saving Time). I found logical reasons for each one of the zones, though.
Both by land and by population, the vast preponderance of Greenland observed UTC-3 (UTC-2 during Daylight Saving Time). It aligned quite nicely with another place along a similar line of longitude, eastern Brazil, which also followed UTC-3. That put Greenland three Time Zones behind Denmark (Greenland being an autonomous entity within the Danish Realm) although the time it followed made perfect geographic sense.
Nearly everyone in Greenland lived in this Time Zone. It wasn’t all that many people however because fewer than sixty thousand people in total inhabited that entire massive island. After all, one percent of Greenland’s population once lived in a single building (since torn down) in the capital city, Nuuk. One can make all kinds of weird statistical comparison using Greenland’s tiny population.
Ittoqqortoormiit (map) used to be called Scoresbysund. I’m not sure I could pronounce either name although I agreed with its redesignation. An Inuit name probably applied better than a Danish one. No wonder they changed it. However, anyone wanting to visit will need to plan well. Some call this place "the most isolated town in Greenland"
… just getting to Ittoqqortoormiit is in itself an adventure, as the town is almost as far as one can get from any other inhabited area in Greenland. The closest neighbour is the world’s largest national park with the Danish Sirius Patrol as the only human presence in a vast landscape dominated by small game, birds, polar bears, musk oxen, reindeer, walrus and 18.000 kilometers of rugged, pathless coastline.
A scant 450 people live within this isolated village, cut off from shipping channels for nine months out of the year. A couple of airline flights per week make it there, weather permitting. To top it all off, very few inhabited places on the planet experience colder temperatures. It averaged -8.6° C (16.5° F) annually.
Ittoqqortoormiit observed UTC-1 (and UTC±0 Daylight Saving Time). I figured with their remote location and frigid conditions they could observe any darn time they liked.
The name Danmarkshavn meant "Denmark Harbor" in Danish. Danmarkshavn (map) offered another interesting case. It served as a weather station. Ships couldn’t sail any farther north during normal circumstances so it seemed a fine spot to place a small settlement. The station observed UTC±0 year round with no Daylight Saving Time. That didn’t impact too many people directly. Only eight researchers usually lived at Danmarkshavn at a single time.
The Danish Meteorological Institute operated the station year-round. The staff followed a regular protocol, taking surface observations every three hours and releasing a weather balloon twice a day. Some might wonder why anyone would care about weather in a remote corner of Greenland. However, it actually mattered immensely. Its importance led several European countries to band together to provide funding to keep it running, including a complete update and modernization in 2001. Weather observations made at this point accurately predicted weather that would hit northern Europe in the following days. Danmarkshavn provided vital advance notice and warning.
The Time Zone made perfect sense, even its complete lack of Daylight Saving Time, by aligning with UTC±0. It had everything to do with Europe and nothing to do with the rest of Greenland.
Thule Air Base
While Danmarkshavn aligned its observation of time to Europe, Thule (pronounced TOO-lee) Air Base focused in the other direction (map). This northernmost base of the United States Air Force observed UTC-4 (and UTC-3 during Daylight Saving Time), just one hour removed from the eastern U.S.
The base traced back to World War II. Germany occupied Denmark and the U.S. pledged to protect Denmark’s Greenland colony and prevent its capture. After WW2, another threat emerged as the world entered the Cold War. Thule offered a place to watch for Soviet missile strikes against North America. The U.S. Air Force even added a long runway for B-52 bombers that could strike deep into Soviet territory if necessary. Those bombers no longer use Thule although missile warnings, space surveillance and satellite controls remain among its active missions. Several hundred American and Danish soldiers along with their contractors still occupy the base.
Stars and Stripes recently described living conditions there. As one inhabitant said, "You either become a chunk, a drunk or a hunk." That’s because there wasn’t much to do other than eat, drink or exercise at the gym. The article also explained that,
Thule.. is a Greek word that first appears in the writings of the explorer Pytheas, from roughly 330 B.C., and the term "ultima Thule" in medieval maps denotes any distant place beyond the "borders of the known world."
For once I wasn’t looking for the geographic center of something, as problematic as that could be given various definitions. Not in Michigan. And for the record, the town of St. Louis claimed to be the "middle of the mitten." It moved to a spot a few miles north-northwest of Cadillac taking the Upper Peninsula into account. However, that was beside the point. Instead I came across two Michigan place names while searching for completely different things. Their similarities deserved closer scrutiny.
Actually I started by investigating Warren, Michigan and I noticed a hole. A big one. A nice rectangle right in the middle of it (map). Naturally I drilled down and discovered the town of Center Line. The much larger city of Warren completely surrounded it. Center Line described itself as "a small close-knit community of 8,257 residents… nestled inside the state’s 3rd largest city"
Warren and Center Line both began as villages in a rural corner of Macomb County. However, Center Line incorporated first, becoming a city in 1936. Warren also started growing rapidly around that same time. Warren Township minus Center Line incorporated as a city in 1957. It simply exploded in population to the point that it completely overshadowed Center Line over the next couple of decades.
I also wondered about the name. There didn’t seem to be any line and it certainly didn’t seem to be the center of anything other than the city of Warren itself, which it predated anyway. The town’s website mentioned "several theories" which also meant nobody really knew the answer. The most plausible explanation seemed to be,
There were three Indian trails leading from the fort at Detroit to other trading posts in the northern wilderness. The first was the river trail which followed the river and ended at Port Huron; the second was the Saginaw trail and ended at Mackinaw at the Straits of Mackinaw. Through the center of the two trails, the Indians had beaten a trail which followed the "center line" [as observed] by the French.
Later I also discovered Michigan Center. Center Line and Michigan Center fell nowhere near each other. A good 85 miles (140 kilometres) separated them. Nonetheless finding a second Center in Michigan excited me. It doesn’t take much to get me going.
The name derived from the Michigan Meridian. Benjamin Hough surveyed the meridian in 1815, marking 84° 21′ 53″ west longitude. Settlers then moved into the area and platted Michigan Center a few years later in 1837. However, the meridian didn’t pass directly through Michigan Center. I measured it. The meridian ran between Michigan Center and the neighboring town of Jackson. I guess they figured it was close enough. Who would really know? Seriously.
Then I went down a little tangent. I wondered why Hough followed such an odd longitude when he surveyed the Michigan Meridian. The line actually pointed farther south into a neighboring state. There stood Fort Defiance at the confluence of the Auglaize and Maumee Rivers (map). A town called Defiance, Ohio later grew up there.
Following the Battle of Fallen Timbers, Wayne utilized Fort Defiance as his base of operations. He ordered the destruction of all American Indian villages and crops within a fifty-mile radius of the fort… Until the War of 1812, Fort Defiance served as one of America’s western-most outposts in the Ohio Country and helped protect local citizens from American Indian attacks…
Fort Defiance also figured in the 1807 Treaty of Detroit. The United States negotiated the treaty with several Native American tribes, namely the Chippewa, Ottawa, Potawatomi and Wyandot. Land to the east of a line drawn due north of Fort Defiance came under American control. That’s why Hough needed to survey that line. It served briefly as an international boundary.