A Prisoner to Geo-Oddities

On September 17, 2014 · 2 Comments

I noticed a reference to a prison in Alaska that turned out to be located not too distant from where I roamed around the Kenai Peninsula during my journeys a few summers ago. It was a prison with a view, in fact it was located somewhere (map) in the background of this photo I took from Seward’s Waterfront Park.

View from Seward, Alaska. My own photo.

This was the Spring Creek Correctional Center, the state’s maximum security prison for its most hardened criminals. One would never want to spend time there except perhaps as an employee, and none of us will likely ever find ourselves there as permanent guests unless county counting, state highpointing or extended road tripping suddenly become illegal. Nonetheless, from a purely geographical placement, the inmates have something pleasant to ponder through the slots of their tiny cell block windows during their lengthy incarcerations.

That got me to wonder what other prisons might be advantageous should, you know, one suddenly fall into an alternate universe where the laws are completely different. What correctional institutions would a criminal geo-geek mastermind appreciate?

Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola, Louisiana, USA

Offenders Artwork at Angola Prison Rodeo
Offenders Artwork at Angola Prison Rodeo by crawford orthodontics, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

One the surface, the Louisiana State Penitentiary might seem to have a lot to offer with its annual Angola Rodeo and art show. Seriously, the prison started a rodeo in 1965 and spectators flocked to the site in droves each year ever since.

That would be a nice diversion from toiling in the fields although a true geo-geek would crave more. Knowing that Turnbull Island (map) — a disconnected piece of West Feliciana Parish separated from the rest of the parish by Concordia Parish — was visible on the other side of the Mississippi River, well that would be priceless.

Alexander Maconochie Centre, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

Alexander Maconochie Centre

Geographically savvy Australian prisoners might appreciate being being locked-up at the Alexander Maconochie Centre assuming anyone could truly appreciate such a loss of freedom (map). It was constructed within the borders of the diminutive Australian Capital Territory.

Why would this tiny dot upon the Australian continent require its own prison? Primarily for a single reason: "prisoners were transferred into the New South Wales prison system and the ACT reimbursed NSW for the cost of holding those prisoners." ACT believed it would be cheaper to handle its own prison population instead of paying NSW. Also prisoners would be closer to their families for visitation purposes.

I couldn’t find any photos of the Alexander Maconochie Centre with the proper licenses to share. The centre was new, accepting prisoners only since 2009, so there wasn’t much available. The Canberra Times offered a a representative slideshow though.

San Marino

San Marino
San Marino by fdecomite, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

On the subject of small, I imagined geo-criminals might commit felonies in various microscopic nations simply for the novelty. San Marino appeared to be a decent possibility (map). The European press seemed enamored of San Marino’s prison population, too. The Telegraph featured The ‘world’s most pampered – and bored – prisoner’ in 2011.

The 30-year-old man has his meals brought to him from a local restaurant because it is not economical to lay on a canteen service for him alone. He enjoys the exclusive use of a gym, library and television room and occupies one of six cells which make up San Marino’s only jail, which is tucked into a wing of a former Capuchin monastery… But his lonely penance is about to come to an end – a second inmate is expected to be incarcerated in the next few days.

Der Spiegel followed up in 2014 with "San Marino: Tiny State, Big Baggage." It focused on inmate Piero Berti, a former national head of state who’s holiday meal "consisted of risotto with parmesan, followed by roasted turkey with seasonal vegetables, and fruit for dessert. It was accompanied by wine."

Sing Sing Correctional Facility, Ossining, New York, USA

Sing Sing Correctional Facility

On the other hand, Sing Sing was a much more notorious place in spite of it’s charming Hudson River views and its 4-star rating on Yelp. This was a dismal place designed for hardened criminals since the 1820’s, with several hundred people executed onsite using the legendary electric chair Old Sparky.

Sing Sing didn’t make the list because of its accommodations. I added it because the Metro-North Railroad’s Hudson Line commuter train ran directly through the facility! Walkways crossed above the tracks connecting both sides of the prison (for guards I’d suppose, not prisoners). Imagine hanging out in the prison yard and watching the trains pass through all day long. Better yet, imagine commuters riding through a prison, hearing a thunk and wondering if an inmate had jumped onto the roof of the car in an escape attempt like in the movies.

Surely there must be better geo-oddity prisons. How about the Federal Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Maryland? It’s surrounded by West Virginia on three side. Are there other candidates?

More Geo-BREWities

On August 7, 2014 · 3 Comments

My geography and brewery interests collided a few months ago. The happy result produced Geo-Brewities. Google says I own that term now, a pseudo-portmanteau of geography + brewery + oddities. I don’t expect it to become part of the popular lexicon. It’s not that catchy.

I took a different approach on the second and possibly final round of this series. The renewed effort began as I noticed a lot of breweries and brewpubs with numbers incorporated into their names. Once again I started with the Brewers Association directory of breweries. It included 5,309 listings for the United States alone. That’s why this might be the last time. If I check again will be more — a lot more — and I’m not sure I can withstand that level of tedium one more time.

From that nearly overwhelming universe, I distilled a couple of hundred breweries that matched my numerical criteria. I’ve documented them in a spreadsheet and shared it with the 12MC audience. The usual caveats applied: omissions and spelling errors were unintentional; the file is only as good as the source and it only applies now (August 2014). It will be out of date if you happen to read this article in the distant future.

16 Mile Brewing Company Bottle
This episode brought to you by the number 16; from 12MC’s private collection

That left me with a big list of breweries that incorporated numbers in their names. What should I do with it? Examine it and look for patterns that might align with 12MC’s geography themes, of course. It encompassed every cardinal number from 1 through 16. A prospective brewer wishing to be original would have to start with 17. The smallest number was fractional (several breweries with half of this-or-that) and the largest was 5050 (FiftyFifty Brewing of Truckee, California). I ignored zero and infinity although they both existed in Vermont for some odd reason.

Patterns revealed themselves.

Area Codes

312 Urban Wheat
312 Urban Wheat by david mcchesney, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

The first time I recall a telephone area code associated with brewing was Goose Island’s 312 Urban Wheat. I’m not sure when it first hit store shelves although Beer Advocate reviews extended back as far as 2004. Since then, 312 Urban Wheat won a slew of awards at the Great American Beer Festival and became one of Goose Island’s flagship brews. Those three simple digits associated strongly with a specific geography, downtown Chicago, and resonated with a customer demographic that the brewery hoped to reach. It worked. A similar premise served as inspiration for an episode of Seinfeld that aired in 1998, focusing on the 212 area code of New York City. Clearly an area code could serve as a strong brand identifier and a marketing mechanism.

Regardless of the original inspiration, a solid association between area codes and the craft brewing industry spread nationwide.

  • 303 Brewing; Denver, CO (planned)
  • (405) Brewing Co; Norman, OK (planned)
  • 406 Brewing; Bozeman, MT
  • (512) Brewing; Austin, TX
  • 515 Brewing; Clive, IA
  • 603 Brewery; Londonderry, NH
  • 612Brew; Minneapolis, MN
  • 903 Brewers; Sherman, TX

Area code 903 covered Sherman, Texas and yet the telephone phone number for 903 Brewers listed a 214 area code (Dallas and its eastern metropolitan area). I’ve yet to figure out that paradox.

Admission to the Union

US Naval Jack.svg
US Naval Jack“. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Twelve Mile Circle discusses individual US states all the time so it was nice to see a set of brewers who paid attention and took lots of notes during their mandatory state history classes back in junior high school. They incorporated the correct order that their respective states joined the Union.

  • 12th State Brewing; Greensboro, NC (planned)
  • 14th Star Brewing; St. Albans, VT
  • 38 State Brewing; Littleton, CO
  • 49th State Brewery; Healy, AK
  • 1912 Brewing; Tucson, AZ (planned)

Arizona joined the Union in 1912 in case anyone wondered about that last one. Extra credit went to 1st Republic Brewing. It was named for a government that existed briefly (1777-1791) prior to Vermont becoming a US state. Before anyone mentions Bear Republic Brewing in California, let’s recognize that it didn’t have a number in its name so it fell outside of the rules for this article.

Let’s also recognize breweries that referenced the United States Constitution since we’re already on an historical theme: 21st Amendment Brewery (ended prohibition on alcohol); 1933 Brewing (year that prohibition ended); and my favorite, 8th Amendment Brewing (prohibits cruel and unusual punishment).


Highway 101

There were numerous instances of breweries named for minor streets, plus others named for street addresses, mile markers and highway exits. I wanted those associated with larger highways, a frequent 12MC topic. Like area codes, highway identifiers correlated strongly to geography and thus could target specific customers.

  • A1A Ale Works; St. Augustine, FL
  • Highway 1 Brewing; Pescadero, CA
  • Pike 51 Brewing; Hudsonville, MI
  • 101 North; Petaluma, CA
  • 101 Brewery; Quilcene, WA

Two breweries named for US Highway 101? That warranted further discussion.

Highway 101 was one of the original highways designated in 1926, running from San Ysidro, California to Olympia, Washington, nearly the entire length of the west coast of the United States from México to Canada. It invokes feelings of identity and nostalgia for many people, maybe not as great as the legendary Route 66 although certainly at a respectable level. Its endpoints changed over time in a rather confusing fashion in recent years, as noted in detail at usends.com. However, that wouldn’t change its usefulness as a marketing tool.

Somewhat Related

I have beer on my mind because I’ll be at my favorite beer festival on Saturday (Aug. 9, 2014), the Great Taste of the Midwest in Madison, Wisconsin. Send me a note if you plan to be there and I’ll try to find you. I might even do some live tweeting. That should be amusing.


What the?

On June 29, 2014 · 7 Comments

It couldn’t possibly be true, a place named for Dwayne Johnson a.k.a "The Rock", the professional wrestler and actor?


This guy had more than 7 million Twitter followers and he followed only one person, Muhammad Ali. That would indicate someone of immense popularity, and yet, could that be enough to get an entire town named for him?

The Rock, Georgia, USA

No, of course not. The Rock in Georgia was not named for Dwayne Johnson and I never figured that was a realistic possibility. I was simply amused by the weird juxtaposition of a professional wrestler and a populated place with the same name. Johnson didn’t have any association with the state or for the town as far as I could determine. Nonetheless I never considered that The Rock — the town — had anything to do with the Chick-fil-A fast food restaurant chain either. However it did, as improbable as that sounded.

The Rock in Georgia was named for The Rock Ranch, and:

The Rock Ranch is a beautiful 1,500 acre cattle ranch located about an hour south of Atlanta in Upson County. It’s a place where families, school groups and even businesses can come to enjoy what we call "agritourism." The Rock Ranch is owned by Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy and dedicated to "Growing Healthy Families"!

S. Truett Cathy and kin are no strangers to controversy. There’s no doubt that The Rock Ranch would have a strong opinion on those Healthy Families that it was dedicated to Growing, regardless of where one’s own personal feelings fell on that spectrum.

The Others

Bequia by Globalgrasshopr, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

My tangential thought process led me to consider other placenames beginning with the definite article. It had to be unusual, I considered, and then I realized it may not have been all that rare even if it wasn’t the norm. A simple visit to the US Department of State’s A-Z List of Country and Other Areas demonstrated that quickly at a national level.

  • THE Bahamas
  • THE Congo (Republic of, and Democratic Republic of)
  • THE Gambia
  • Saint Vincent and THE Grenadines

The rule of thumb seemed to center upon entities named for something like a river or a group of islands. Those increased the likelihood of having the definite article tacked onto them. The Grenadines portion of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines fascinated me, I guess because Saint Vincent and the Grenadines included only a portion of the Grenadines. The largest island of the Grenadines, Carriacou, was actually a dependency of Grenada. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines had to settle for the second largest island, Bequia. Perhaps the name should be changed to Saint Vincent and Some of the Grenadines? It seemed like false advertising.

While not explicitly stated in the US Department of State list in this form, one often encounters THE Netherlands and THE Philippines too. I suppose while I’m at it I could add THE United States and THE United Kingdom. There used to be THE Ukraine although that began to shift to Ukraine by iteself after becoming an independent state in 1991.

Nonetheless I think the only two nations where the definite article would always be capitalized would be The Bahamas and The Gambia (vs. the United States and the United Kingdom, where lowercase would be acceptable in many circumstances). It all gets so confusing.

In the United Kingdom

I looked for instances of THE attached to placenames in many areas and found no nation with a greater prevalence than the United Kingdom. There must be hundreds of them. Some where quite remarkable such as The Burf, The Folly, The Glack, The Mumbles, and The Shoe. The best of course were the several places named The Butts because 12MC couldn’t resist another opportunity for lowbrow humor. This would be an appropriate time to turn on the video of Da Butt for some inspiration.

Many British placenames that sounded odd to the rest of us were rooted in things that made complete sense in their original context. English Heritage provided a logical explanation for The Butts:

An archery butts is an area of land given over to archery practise in which one or more artificially constructed mounds of earth and stone were used as a target area. The name originally applied to the dead marks or targets themselves but the earthen platforms on which the targets were placed also became known as butts… Archery butts can be recognised as field monuments through their earthwork mounds but documentary sources allow the best identification of archery butts, usually through place-names eg. Butt Hills… Archery butts are associated with the use and practise of the longbow which was in part responsible for England’s military power throughout the medieval period.

Thus, many of The Butts derived from archery fields although some did not: "The Middle English word ‘butt’ referred to an abutting strip of land, and is often associated with medieval field systems." In Britain, The Butts could have been associated with archery or with an odd leftover land remnant.

The Gazetteer of British Place listed two specific location of The Butts, one in Glamorgan, South Wales (map) and the other in Hampshire, England (map), although other sources listed more.

I noticed something interesting next to The Butts in Hampshire, Jane Austen’s House Museum. Jane Austen (1775–1817) resided here during the latter part of her life, where she wrote the novels Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion. She may have also revised drafts of Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey here as well. Thus it could be said that the famous author gazed upon The Butts regularly.

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