The second part of my quick southern trip moved west. We began in St. Augustine, Florida a couple of days earlier and now it was time to move on to family on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. This transformed into an exercise in county counting. My completion map of Florida counties changed dramatically for the better as we proceeded farther west along Interstate 10.
Florida Counties Visited, produced using Mob Rule
I grabbed an entire northern tier of Florida counties crossed by I-10, capturing new ones from Baker to Okaloosa. This added a dozen to my list: Baker, Columbia Suwannee, Madison, Jefferson, Leon, Gadsden, Jackson, Washington, Holmes, Walton and Okaloosa. I’d also visited one additional Florida county a couple of days earlier. I got out of bed at 5 a.m. one morning and snagged Clay County since it was only about a thirty minute round-trip. I returned to the hotel before anyone else in the family even woke up. They were never the wiser. That made the complete collection of new counties a nice Lucky 13 for the trip.
The northern tier of Florida felt unlike any of my earlier Florida experiences. It was a lot more hilly than I expected; the hills weren’t large although the terrain had a definite roll. Also pine trees dominated the landscape instead of palm trees, and of course there were no ocean views. Few people lived along the route except for those near Tallahassee and Pensacola. I put the car on cruise control and piled on the miles. It took most of a day just to get out of Florida before hitting Alabama briefly and then crossing into Mississippi.
I’ve been to Southern Mississippi many times. The challenge of writing this article would be avoiding places I’ve discussed before, or at least finding a new angle.
John C. Stennis Space Center
Stennis Space Center
Anyone traveling through Mississippi on I-10 will drive right through the buffer zone of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) John C. Stennis Space Center. NASA designated 125,000 acres (195 square miles / 500 square kilometres) around the Center as a noise abatement area to dampen the deafening sounds of rocket engine testing. Private citizens still own land there and can have access to it although they cannot build homes upon it. The base itself is considerably smaller, 13,500 acres (21 mi2 / 55 km2). That space is tightly controlled and requires access through guarded gates.
I’ve watched the security evolve over the years. Anyone could drive onto the base and visit the StenniSphere, NASA’s visitor center, without any special permission prior to September 11, 2001. Of course the world changed after 9-11. NASA moved its visitor staging area to a nearby rest stop adjacent to Interstate 10. From there, tourists caught a shuttle bus which brought them onto the base and unloaded them at the StenniSphere. I guess that wasn’t secure enough or maybe it was simply an interim measure. Now, probably within the last few months, NASA opened a new visitor center next to the rest stop. It was completely outside of the base in a public area that they’ve named the INFINITY Science Center (map). Tourists can still hop on a shuttle bus for a driving tour of the large rocket testing platforms although they don’t have quite the level of freedom to roam around as before.
I’ve never been lucky enough to visit Stennis during an engine test. Testing is a bit random and isn’t announced ahead of time for security reasons. Nonetheless, the guides said any shuttle buses driving past the platforms at the right moment will stop at a safe spot to enjoy the show. Maybe next time.
Down the road a bit in Louisiana, we stopped at the Insta-Gator Ranch & Hatchery near Abita Springs (map). I’d never been there before so that was a new experience. They raise alligators commercially to be turned into handbags, wallets, boots, belts and other accessories. The entire industry was overseen by the State of Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Alligator Program.
Since the inception of the Department’s program in 1972, over 810,000 wild alligators have been harvested, over 6.5 million alligator eggs have been collected, and over 3.5 million farm raised alligators have been sold bringing in millions of dollars of revenue to landowners, trappers and farmers.
Alligators were an endangered species in Louisiana prior to the program. The population rebounded dramatically. Each commercial rancher continues to return a certain percentage of its adult alligators to the wild as a condition of the program. Four year old alligators are large enough to avoid predation so they have a very high survival rate, leading to more eggs and more alligators. Eggs are laid only once per year and they hatch in late August-ish. Ranchers from Insta-Gator fly ultralight aircraft over the marshes and swamps to spot the nests, mark them with a flag, and return to collect eggs. They then raise hatchlings to adulthood, some destined to become handbags and some destined for freedom. I’ll offer some advise for any alligators being raised commercially: get a nick or scar on your belly because that gives you an imperfection and you’ll probably be freed. Nobody wants a handbag with a blemish.
The ranch had several alligators much older and larger than the rest. Those were used for movies, television and advertisements. It burst my bubble just a bit when I learned that many of those "reality" TV shows set in swamps and bayous use farm-raised gators. The scenes are staged.
Laurel & Hardy
Laurel and Hardy in Hattiesburg, Mississippi
via Google Street View, July 2014
This one is a bit of a non sequitur. Does anyone remember back in 2013 when I featured intersecting streets that formed the names of Comedy Duos? Like, someone in
Washington , Kansas lives at the corner of Abbot & Costello? It’s not that important so don’t worry about it if you don’t.
Anyway, I spotted this road sign in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and didn’t have enough time to pull out my camera so I’ve borrowed a Google Street View image. It wasn’t quite a crossroads like in the earlier article. Laurel, in this case, was a nearby town. Hardy was one of the primary streets in Hattiesburg; it went directly past the University of Southern Mississippi. I still laughed a little when I saw the unintentional reference to Laurel & Hardy.
I talked about the longest postal route in the United States recently, the saga of Jim Ed Bull and his 187.6 mi (302 km) daily slog from Mangum, Oklahoma extending through the rural countryside. I also discovered an interesting bit of trivia during my research. This little corner of southwestern Oklahoma used to be part of Texas until almost the 20th Century.
I’d stumbled across this historical marker.
Old Greer County Marker by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, on Flickr (cc)
OLD GREER COUNTY. S. and W. of North Fork of Red R. Greer Co. was named and governed as a part of Texas from 1860 until 1896 when U. S. Supreme Crt. decision made it part of Oklahoma Ter. This county area was claimed by 14 different governments from 1669 to Oklahoma statehood in 1907; since then it has been divided into 3 counties and the southern part of Beckham County.
I’ll maybe leave that "14 different governments" claim for another day. Right now I’ll focus on the first sentence, the one about being part of Texas from 1860 to 1896. That seemed easily verifiable and there were a number of sources available. I consulted the Handbook of Texas from the Texas State Historical Association, the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture from the Oklahoma Historical Society, and of course I went to a primary source, the actual U.S. Supreme Court decision, United States v Texas (1896).
I also took a shot at creating a map showing the approximate footprint of old Greer County, Texas, now divided into Greer, Jackson, Harmon and part of Beckham Counties, Oklahoma. This was the first time I’ve drawn something using Google’s Map Engine Lite now that the former Google Maps "My Maps" capability has been completely deprecated. I guess it turned out acceptably well.
The root of the issue extended all the way back to the Adams–Onís Treaty of 1819, that — among several things such as making Florida a part of the U.S. — formalized the boundary between the U.S. and Spain’s colonial territories in North America. The treaty relied upon the best map available at the time and referenced it by name, "Melishe’s Map of the United States, published at Philadelphia, improved to the first of January 1818."
The Melish Map had been drafted by John Melish, a Scottish immigrant with a penchant for detail and accuracy. He published his "Map of the United States with the contiguous British and Spanish Possessions" originally in 1816. It was the first map to depict the United States as extending to the Pacific Ocean. It also contained a couple of key problems that later created the situation in Greer County: the 100th Meridian was drawn about a degree too far east and the Red River was shown as having only a single branch.
Texas State Line-100th Meridian by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, on Flickr (cc)
Texas inherited the former Spanish boundary (later Mexican boundary) when it became an independent Republic and adhered to it when it became part of the United States. Texas also relied upon the most favorable interpretation of the Treaty. It used the Melish Map and its errors literally when it drew Greer County in 1860 and named it for the state’s former lieutenant governor John Alexander Greer who served 1847-1851. The Federal government disputed Texas’ interpretation. However the Civil War soon broke out and there were more pressing issues to address.
Greer County’s population grew tremendously in the post-war years. Only ten families lived in Greer in 1884 on expansive cattle ranches. Two years later, settlers established a county seat in Mangum. According to the Handbook of Texas, "A school system was set up, and by 1892 sixty-six school districts had been formed with an enrollment of 2,250 pupils." The population jumped from almost zero to several thousand in a decade. That amount of growth could no longer be ignored by the Federal government. President Harrison signed an act organizing the Oklahoma Territory and it contained a provision that required a solution. Otherwise the dispute would complicate eventual Oklahoma statehood. A Commission failed to reach an agreement and the case went to the Supreme Court.
The United States favored the true 100th Meridian and the Prairie Dog Town Fork (i.e., the southern fork; the main fork) of the Red River as the boundary between Texas and the Oklahoma Territory. Texas favored the 100th Meridian of the Melish map and the North Fork of the Red River, relying upon the explicit language of the Adams–Onís Treaty. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the United States and the disputed land became part of Oklahoma.
EPILOGUE: While Texas lost the case and was compelled to recognize the "true" 100th Meridian as its border with that part of Oklahoma, the two states continued to bicker about the accuracy of the survey that established the meridian. They didn’t agree on its permanent placement until 1930.
The full story has been preserved by the Old Greer County Museum in Mangum.
Twelve Mile Circle receives a fair amount of reader mail and suggestions. Usually it leads to pleasant surprises and sometimes even an article. That was the case recently with a map generated by Steve Spivey who graciously granted permission for me to share it with the 12MC audience.
Steve had been combing through the very earliest days of the site and came across Remote Southwestern Virginia, an article first published in November 2007. It demonstrated that Lee County in Virginia, the southwesternmost corner of the state, was closer to eight state capital cities (and possibly nine depending on measurement) than it was to its own state capital of Richmond. This also fascinated me at the time and spawned the Worst State Capital Location along with various other capital-related articles.
However Steve took a completely different angle by creating a Voronoi diagram(¹) with each state capitol building serving as a generating point. What if states were reshuffled based upon the closest existing state capital? Forget about geographical barriers, history, culture, politics and maybe hundreds of other practical considerations by reducing the problem to a purely mathematical process. As an example, the 12MC headquarters is based in Arlington, Virginia. It’s 106 miles (170 km) from Richmond and only 39 miles (63 km) from Maryland’s capital in Annapolis. Mathematically a reconstituted Maryland might be a better state for me if distance was the only consideration and nothing else mattered.
Let’s take a look at the resulting Voronoi diagram, and of course feel free to open the image in another tab to experience the effect in full-sized glory.
Some states would become winners, other losers and some like Maine and Washington would remain largely unchanged. Alaska and Hawaii would be unaffected because of their remoteness so they were excluded. Chicago would become part of Wisconsin, New York City would be absorbed into New Jersey, and the Los Angeles metropolitan area would split between California and Arizona. Parts of Texas would be cleaved into four neighboring states.
The smallest states, Rhode Island and Delaware, would become major beneficiaries. They would retain their existing geographic integrity while picking-up surrounding territory. Rhode Island and Connecticut would encroach on Massachusetts to such an extreme that Massachusetts would transform into the new Rhode Island (i.e., the new smallest state). Virginia would get squeezed considerably although why would I care? I’d live in Maryland. Meanwhile, neighboring West Virginia would grow to become the unquestionable king of Appalachia.
Many of the states farther west would continue as territorial behemoths although their familiar shapes might soften or erode entirely. North Dakota would maintain it familiar rectangle although larger. Idaho, on the other hand, would transform into an unrecognizable diamond.
Anyway it was a fun diversion although otherwise kind-of meaningless. That made it a perfect balance of intellectual silliness that sent me along a mental tangent for awhile. I loved examining the map, each time finding something different as I imagined the new world order.
Steve took the game one step farther. What if we considered the District of Columbia as a state-equivalent and included it within the calculation? That of course would require us to set aside even more practical considerations including an obvious Constitutional question(²) although none of those mattered for this exercise. It would impact only the Mid-Atlantic region as pictured above. My residence would become part of the new, larger Washington, DC, while Maryland would reduce to a narrow strip hugging the rim of the northern Chesapeake Bay anchored by Baltimore.
Steve was thinking about producing similar maps for Canadian provinces as well as a worldwide version. We should encourage him in those pursuits. Thanks Steve!
(¹) A Voronoi Diagram is "The partitioning of a plane with n points into convex polygons such that each polygon contains exactly one generating point and every point in a given polygon is closer to its generating point than to any other. A Voronoi diagram is sometimes also known as a Dirichlet tessellation. The cells are called Dirichlet regions, Thiessen polytopes, or Voronoi polygons."
(²) Article I Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution specifies that the District shall "not exceed ten Miles square. So we’d need to amend the Constitution. No problem.