A random Twelve Mile Circle reader became an unwitting inspiration for this article simply because of where he or she lived. The little dot within Idaho on my Google Analytics dashboard mentioned State Line. That seemed too good to be true. I’ve done plenty of articles about border towns although I’d never noticed that one before. It sounded like a good excuse to peel things back a layer and take a closer look.
State Line didn’t cover much area and only 38 people lived there (map). It seemed an odd situation until I uncovered a bit of history in an old newspaper article. This creation sprang to life in 1947 and existed for a very specific reason. Quite simply, "the town was incorporated so it could sell liquor and have slot machines." End of story.
Those who incorporated the town leveraged the adjacent state border, just enough over the line to fall outside of the laws of Washington State. Residents of the region’s dominant city — Spokane, Washington — needed only a short drive to take advantage of the more liberal alcohol and gambling rules of Idaho. Apparently incorporated towns in Idaho had some legal leeway to provide these services so State Line filled that niche. The town didn’t have to worry about do-gooders interfering with its business either; it carefully corralled a sympathetic population. I’ve explored similar themes before, e.g., in Right Up to the Line.
A lot of separate sins packed into that tiny package, too. I drove down Seltice Way, the main road through State Line, vicariously using Google Street View. From the border heading into Idaho I noticed a smokeshop, a liquor store, several taverns including a biker bar, and a building with no windows advertising "Show Girls." I wonder what could possibly be going on inside there? This is a family-friendly website so I’ll leave it at that. I also found the residential area consisting of a small trailer park. Maybe the show girls lived there? If so then one of them visited 12MC and landed on the Thelma and Louise Route Map. Maybe someone was planning a weekend getaway?
Idaho didn’t contain the only town with that familiar name. Stateline existed in Nevada, too. I talked about that one briefly in the Loneliest Road in the USA and it appeared in reader comments from time-to-time as well. South Lake Tahoe, on the California side, seemed like the average ski resort town. A gondola led up to the slopes, part of the Heavenly Mountain Resort. Just down the street, however, marked Nevada. Five humongous casinos rose starkly from the pavement barely inches onto the Nevada side of the border. This grouping represented the same basic premise as its Idaho counterpart, bringing convenient "sinful" businesses closer to the masses.
A morbid geo-oddity of sorts existed in Stateline. The ski resort included trails on both sides of the border. Skiers crossed the state border on several of the runs. That was a worthwhile oddity by itself of course, although that wasn’t the morbid part. Something awful happened there in 1998. That’s when Sonny Bono, the lesser-known half of Sonny and Cher, slammed into a tree on the Orion slope (map). Bono died in Stateline on a border-crossing trail.
Stateline existed as one of thirteen townships in Sherman County, Kansas. The name went back historically to the 19th Century and simply represented its geographic placement next to Colorado. Stateline didn’t exist to entice people across the border and only 344 people lived there in the most recent Census. The township contained only one settlement of any size, Kanorado (map), the home of about half of Stateline’s residents. That still made it large enough to serve as Sherman County’s second largest town. My attention automatically focused on that spot because, as longtime readers know, I love a good portmanteau. The name combined and shortened Kansas and Colorado into Kanorado. It’s website noted that someone originally named it Lamborn. I preferred Kanorado. Excellent choice.
This one also existed in a bit of a geo-oddity. Only four counties recognized Kansas Mountain Time, including Sherman County. Of course that also included Stateline Township and the village of Kanorado. From my experience driving directly through there on Interstate 70 several years ago, I couldn’t determine why the area felt more aligned to Mountain Time. It seemed really remote, regardless. Either one should be fine. Nonetheless residents apparently felt otherwise and aligned chronologically with Colorado. Actually, as I thought about it more, Stateline should probably exist on the Colorado side instead. Colorado seemed to feature more sins than Kansas, particularly cannabis and perhaps alcohol too. The current Stateline alignment represented lost economic opportunities.
I found other State Lines and Statelines. For instance, check out State Line Pond in Connecticut. It also had its own website, believe it or not. From its description,
State Line Pond is an approximately 75 acre lake in Stafford Springs, Connecticut on the Massachusetts border at Monson, MA. The lake was formed when a stream running through a meadow was intentionally flooded approximately 150 years ago. For many years, the Stafford Ice House "harvested" ice by horse from the lake during the winter and delivered it to restaurants, homes and businesses as far away as Boston.
Even more obscure places existed in the form of State Line, Mississippi and State Line, Indiana. I couldn’t find much about either place other than their existence.
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.
Rivers can make great boundaries when they cooperate. Frequently they do not. These creatures of nature flow where they want to flow. Sometimes they erode deep furrows through solid rock, changing course only after eons pass. Other times they cross alluvial plains, shifting into multiple ephemeral streams awaiting the next flood. Problems will undoubtedly occur when people rely upon frequently-shifting rivers as boundaries. The shifts create winners and losers.
Two recent border situations came to my attention, handled in distinctly different ways by those involved.
The Red River
Reader Glenn seemed amused by the craziness of the border between Texas and its neighbors — Oklahoma and Arkansas — along the Red River, in an email he sent to 12MC a couple of months ago. The border rarely followed the river exactly, it reflected a version of the river that existed a long time ago. Many of the cutoffs on the "wrong" side of the river still retained names from a bygone day; Eagle Bend, Horseshoe Bend, Whitaker Bend and Hurricane Bend. Others seemed to represent the year of the flood that changed the underlying channel; such as 1908 Cutoff and Forty-One Cutoff.
I might have left it at that, a simple observation of a messed-up situation. However, the decision to use the Red River beginning with the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819 continues to reverberate today. This treaty between Spain and the United States addressed a host of boundary issues. A line along the Red River remained in place when México gained independence from Spain in 1821, when Texas gained independence in 1836 and when Texas joined the United States in 1846. The river had different intentions though and meandered as it pleased.
The Red River figured prominently in a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Oklahoma v. Texas, 260 U.S. 606 (1923). The Court noted that even though the river wandered, it remained within two "cut banks" broadly defined.
… we hold that the bank intended by the treaty provision is the water-washed and relatively permanent elevation or acclivity at the outer line of the river bed which separates the bed from the adjacent upland, whether valley or hill, and serves to confine the waters within the bed and to preserve the course of the river, and that the boundary intended is on and along the bank at the average or mean level attained by the waters in the periods when they reach and wash the bank without overflowing it.
The Court set the boundary between Texas and Oklahoma on the south side of the Red River. Surveyors then marked and set the boundary.
The Current Dispute
Except the river kept changing while the boundary, as determined by the Court in 1923, remained fixed. The latest dispute began within the last several years. It got much more complicated. While the line between Texas and Oklahoma began at the south bank, the Federal government held the portion from the middle of the river to the south bank in public trust for Native Americans. This formed a narrow strip, a 116 mile (190 kilometre) ribbon. Much of that strip is now on dry land. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management estimated that 90,000 acres actually belong in the public domain, and not to the people living there, farming it or grazing their cattle for the last century. Lawsuits continue to rage.
The River Meuse
Netherlands / Belgium Border Adjustment Underlying Map from OpenStreetMap
Reader Jasper sent me a heads up that Belgium shrank and the Netherlands grew on November 28, 2016. The two sides came to an amicable agreement and adjusted their border. Didier Reynders of Belgium and Bert Koenders of the Netherlands signed a treaty in Amsterdam, in the presence of their respective monarchs, King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, and King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima. The announcement came in a Press Release with coverage in local media (Google Translation of an article in Flemish).
The areas in question fell along the banks of the River Meuse, forming a portion of the boundary between the two nations. They established their original border there in 1843. However, these neighbors decided to straighten their common river to improve navigation in stages between 1962 and 1980. This left a piece of the Netherlands and two pieces of Belgium on the "wrong" side of the river between Visé and Eijsden (map). Police could not access these spots easily and they became havens for illegal activities. This included a situation where a headless body washed ashore on one of the exclaves. Territorial complexities hampered the investigation.
In an unusual twist and in a supreme act of neighborly cooperation, the two nations simply agreed to swap their stranded parcels. It seemed the most logical option, and yet, it remained exceedingly rare in other border situations worldwide. Nobody wants to be the loser. Belgium simply gave up 14 hectares (35 acres) in the deal and called it good.