Easiest New England

On June 17, 2015 · 12 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle has received a steady drip of visitors who seem to want to know the shortest automobile route that could be taken to touch all of the New England states. I don’t see these queries every day although they comprise a consistent two or three every month-or-so and they have been landing on 12MC for years. I don’t know if they traced back to some long-forgotten Internet trivia contest or where they originated. It’s been on my list of potential topics for a very long time and I kept telling myself that I’d have to get around to it eventually. I wasn’t feeling particularly intellectual today so I passed the time fiddling around with Google Maps instead. This became the day to answer the query.

Location of New England (red) in the United States
New England USA” by MissMJ – Own work by uploader, Image:Blank US Map.svg, Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Many 12MC readers hail from international destinations so I’ll begin with a definition of New England for their benefit. The rest of you can skip to the next paragraph. In the United States, New England consists of six states: Connecticut; Maine; Massachusetts; New Hampshire; Rhode Island and Vermont. It’s the red area marked on the map, above. New England was settled by English colonists in large numbers — thus the name — beginning with the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth in 1620 (my recent visit). Let’s move on to the real question now that everyone understands the challenge.

Shortest Distance


Oak Bluffs

I manipulated Google Maps several ways and the shortest distance that touched all six New England states came to 227 miles (365 kilometres). I’d embed the map directly within this page except that it differed from the one I created for some odd reason. That’s just one more limitation of the current version of Google Maps. Instead, I embedded a photo that I took during my recent trip to Cape Cod that looked quintessentially New England-ish and I invite the audience to open the map in a different tab to follow along.

Notice how I straightened the lines to minimize distances. I’m sure readers could find slightly shorter routes using my map as a starting point and then selecting even more obscure local roads, or perhaps by attempting something completely different. Be sure to post any solution in the comments with a link to the resulting Google Map. My solution should take about 5 hours and 6 minutes without traffic, which means that someone would have to time this journey carefully since it would involve a jaunt directly through the middle of Boston. That would work out to an anemic 45 miles per hour-or-so (72 km/hr) even under the absolute best of conditions. Could the same objective be completed faster? Of course it could.


Shortest Time



I threw the back roads out the window and focused on Interstate Highways as much as I could instead to find the quickest solution. Google Maps liked that solution better and embedded it correctly. It was longer, 253 miles (407 km), although highway speeds more than made up the difference. The route began farther north in White River Junction, Vermont (I rode a scenic train there once), followed I-89 to Manchester, New Hampshire, cut east to barely touch Maine, swung around Boston rather than drilling through it and then ran downward to Rhode Island and due west to Connecticut. This solution should clock-in at 4 hours and 1 minute during optimal conditions with a much hire average speed, about 63 mph (101 km/hr). I tried repeatedly to get it below 4 hours even though I knew it was a meaningless psychological barrier. Maybe someone else can find a quicker solution. Your challenge is to find one that’s 3 hours and 59 minutes or less. That would make me happy.

Hopefully this post will satisfy the multitude of anonymous visitors who want to know the shortest/quickest route through all six New England states, even though none of them will ever return to 12MC again. I enjoyed the mapping challenge. Maybe someday someone will attempt these solutions in the real world. It might make a nice Sunday drive.

It’s Not Always About Abe

On June 14, 2015 · 1 Comments

In the United States, twenty-three states have a Lincoln County (or Parish in the case of Louisiana). That’s nearly half. That’s also to be expected. Certainly a man who led the nation through a traumatic civil war and who died tragically at the hand of an assassin deserved to be honored with numerous place named for him. Geographic features called Lincoln spread far-and-wide. It even took root in the Wild West in places like Lincoln County, New Mexico (map) and by extension to the name of a war — the "Lincoln County War" (more of a feud actually) — involving unlikely characters such as Billy the Kid. However some counties of Lincoln weren’t what they seemed on the surface. Some of them weren’t named for Abraham Lincoln at all.

Several southern states had Lincoln Counties. One might be tempted to conclude that each of them established a county named for their former foe as a sign of reconciliation during the Reconstruction Era. That wasn’t the case. Those Lincoln Counties predated the term of President Lincoln by decades: North Carolina (1779); Kentucky (1780); Georgia (1796); and Tennessee (1809). That was also true for one border state, Missouri (1818).

General Benjamin Lincoln-restored.jpg
General Benjamin Lincoln-restored” by Charles Willson PealeFile:Benjamin lincoln by charles wilson peale.jpg.
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

They were all named for Benjamin Lincoln (1733-1810). One would be excused for not being familiar with Benjamin Lincoln, so completely overshadowed by Abraham Lincoln. It was unfortunate that someone who contributed to the birth of a nation languished in obscurity at least in part because of the unlikely chance that someone else with the same surname became an icon of history. The reflex action in the United States was to think of Abraham automatically upon hearing the single word Lincoln. Sorry Benjamin. He and Abe weren’t even related.


181 North Street
181 North Street by Timothy Valentine, on Flickr (cc)

Benjamin Lincoln already had a promising career in the years leading up to the American Revolution. He lived in Hingham, Massachusetts where he held various minor political offices and participated in local militias. He found himself overseeing supplies and operations for Massachusetts militias as the Revolution broke out and then helped to supply the new Continental Army. Later he became a Major General and led troops in several battles. As George Washington’s second in command at the Battle of Yorktown, he formally accepted the British surrender. He became the first Secretary of War under the new U.S. government formed by the Articles of Confederation and then later served as Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts. Clearly he earned a level of credibility significant enough to get a few counties in growing states named in his honor.

Abraham Lincoln’s home became a national historic site. In fact, numerous places associated with Abe became parks and monuments, drawing visitors from around the world. That wasn’t the case with Benjamin although his old home still stands in Hingham (map). It didn’t become a park, it remained a private residence. Amazingly, it continues to be owned by the same family, having been passed down through successive generations since Thomas Lincoln settled there in the 1630’s. Its nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places noted (1972) that "The house is furnished with the original Lincoln furniture and contains many of the General’s personal items."


Another Lincoln


Lincoln Cathedral
Lincoln Cathedral by Brian, on Flickr (cc)

This might be about the time that 12MC readers in the United Kingdom start wondering about the Lincoln in England’s East Midlands, the county town of Lincolnshire. That city had an impact on a couple of U.S. counties too, one directly and another indirectly. Lincoln County, Maine originated in 1760. It commemorated the birthplace of Thomas Pownall, governor of Massachusetts — Maine was part of Massachusetts at the time. Lincoln County, South Dakota was established in 1867. That would seem to make it a perfect candidate for a connection to Abraham Lincoln who died only a couple of years earlier. However it was actually named for Lincoln County, Maine, which is where W.W. Brookings, a member of the territorial legislature was born. How odd that both counties were named for birthplaces.

I’d still venture to guess that the then-recent death of Abraham Lincoln had at least a subtle influence on the name of Lincoln County, South Dakota.

You Complete Me

On May 17, 2015 · 2 Comments

Washington and Idaho seemed to have a little bit of a romance going on with a couple of their towns. Their names could stand alone, however they were paired rather nicely in the form of meaningful symmetry. Those names weren’t accidental either. They were completely intentional.


New and Old

First came the curious case of Newport, Washington and Oldtown, Idaho.



Newport, WA and Oldtown, ID

Newport and Oldtown were contiguous, both situated along the banks of the Pend Oreille River. The distinction between them was somewhat artificial though. They were located on either side of North and South State Avenue and otherwise appeared as a single entity except that one part fell within Washington and the other fell within Idaho.


Newport City Hall
Newport City Hall by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, on Flickr (cc)

Of the two, Newport was the newer. That made perfect sense. New should be new and old should be old. It happened to be the second town with that exact name in the area. Oldtown was once Newport before Newport became Newport.

HistoryLink provided an explanation:

Newport, originally in Idaho, acquired its name by virtue of being the "new port" when Albeni Poirier (1861-1936) established a trading post and port on the Pend Oreille River in the 1890s. Upon moving the short distance into Washington, Newport soon became the major town in Pend Oreille County, the last homestead frontier in the United States… During its frontier days, Newport was a steamship port serving the settlers in the Pend Oreille Valley. In 1892, with the arrival of the Great Northern Railway, the town was able to link river with rail, relieving the isolation of its people and eventually transporting Pend Oreille County‚Äôs wealth of mine and forest products to distant markets.


Albeni dam pano
Albeni dam pano by Jasper Nance, on Flickr (cc)

Newport, Idaho — the original Newport — gradually dwindled to the point where residents felt it should be renamed Oldtown in 1947.


Intrepid Explorers



Lewiston, ID and Clarkston, WA

The pairing of Newport and Oldtown was certainly appropriate although there was an even better pairing along the shared border: Lewiston, Idaho and Clarkston, Washington. It even had an accurate historical context.


Lewiston, Idaho
Lewiston, Idaho by Andrew W. Sieber, on Flickr (cc)

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led the Corps of Discovery Expedition between 1804 and 1806, a journey also known by many as the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The two adjoining towns on opposite sides of the state border were named in commemoration of the Corps’ passage. I probably would have placed Lewiston in Washington and Clarkston in Idaho so it could be read Lewis-Clark from west to east on a map, however I wasn’t consulted so it looked more like Clark-Lewis. I’m sure William Clark would have been happy to receive top billing for once.


Tidewater tug at Clarkston Washington
Tidewater tug at Clarkston Washington by Richard Bauer, on Flickr (cc)

Lewis and Clark actually traversed through the future location of their namesake towns between October 7-10, 1805. As the Lewis and Clark Trail described it:

A succession of treacherous rapids damaged the canoes, and while the canoes were being repaired the Corps dined on fish and dog. It was then that the Captains made the discovery that their Shoshone guide, Toby, had slipped away during the night to rejoin his nation.

Yes, dog.

Lewis and Clark stopped at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers on October 10, 1805. That’s where the towns would be founded later, Lewiston in 1861 and Clarkston in 1862.

I tried to see if there were other paired towns situated between Idaho and Washington, or perhaps their neighbors and came up short. The closest example I discovered was The Dalles, Oregon and Dallesport, Washington. I’ve not seen other pairings like these elsewhere although I’m sure they must exist.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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