I have a soft spot for places now obscured that "might have been" had history unfolded a little bit differently. I’m not sure that it’s an interest shared universally by the 12MC audience. Hopefully the topic appeals to a few of you though because that’s what this article offers. I think it was about a year ago that I discussed Alabama Capitals. I’ll jump one state to the right and provide something similar for its neighbor, Georgia.
Immediately, I noticed that greater research — or at least more data available publicly on the Intertubes – existed for Georgia than Alabama. Readers who want comprehensive details can refer to better sources like The Story of Georgia’s Capitols and Capital Cities, where I found the chart I’ve reproduced below. I’ll pick out a few oddities and let the experts provide a more complete narrative.
1780-81 Heard’s Fort*, miscellaneous sites in Wilkes County
1782 Ebenezer*, Savannah
1784 Savannah, Augusta
* Temporary meeting sites of state government
Georgia’s Shifting Capital Cities
The volatility struck me right away. The dates suggested an explanation for the ping-ponging capital; the American Revolution (1775–1783) and the Civil War (1861-1865). Despite the long list and the back-and-forth, Georgia is recognized generally as having "only" five capital cities: Savannah, Augusta, Louisville, Milledgeville and Atlanta. I’ll focus on the two lesser-known locations, Louisville and Milledgeville, since the other three receive plenty of attention on their own.
Louisville, like the more recognizable city with the same name in Kentucky, derived from Louis XVI of France. However it’s pronounced differently: LEWIS-ville. The capital shifted to Louisville because it was thought to more centralized when the Georgia population began moving away from the seacoast towards the growing interior. The site stood at a crossroads linking several larger towns including Savannah and Augusta.
While a capital for only a decade, it became an interesting historical footnote when it served as the focal point of a scandal called the Yazoo Fraud. Georgia sold a huge territory, most of the northern half of present-day Alabama and Mississippi, to a small number of land speculators at rock-bottom prices. Well, surprise, a number of elected officials and legislators supporting the act that authorized the sale were bribed by the beneficiaries. The fraud came to light and people reacted with rage. It got ugly in the capital city. A marker has been placed near the site of the old capitol building, to commemorate perhaps the most significant event occurring during Louisville’s brief tenure as a state capital.
Louisville Market House
Louisville was also known for The Market House, one of the few structures constructed during its capital period that survived to the present (albeit heavily restored). Everything imaginable was sold from this location. Allegedly it even served a slave market although the local community claims, "Recent research… casts doubt on this and suggests that the old Market House may have a much more benign history as an ordinary commercial market."
Milledgeville experienced a much longer tenure as Georgia’s state capital, lasting beyond the first half of the Nineteenth Century in the years leading into the Civil War. From this location, the state of Georgia seceded from the United States and joined the Confederacy. Milledgeville laid in ruins by the end of the conflict.
The history of events leading to the transfer from Louisville to Milledgeville are a bit hazy. It was a planned community though, built from scratch to serve specifically as a capital city. Milledgeville was centrally located like Louisville and it additionally stood at a point where the coastal plain met the Piedmont’s hills like so many other important cities along eastern edge of the United States during that time. This was the farthest navigable inland point when shipping was so vitally important to transportation and trade. Milledgeville was placed at the fall line, connected directly to the larger world via the Oconee River.
Old Georgia State Capitol, Milledgeville, Georgia by Ken Lund, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license
Milledgeville became an obvious target during the war, the capital city of a rebellious state. General Sherman’s troops decimated the city during The March to the Sea.
Houses, stores and barns were looted by Sherman’s troops, who rampaged through the city “foraging.” The capitol building was occupied and a group of soldiers led by Brigadier General Judson H. Kilpatrick held a mock legislative session and “repealed” Georgia’s ordinance of secession before looting the building and inflicting thousands of dollars in damage. The roof of nearby St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church was blown off when the soldiers ignited captured Confederate armories and magazines.
That was it. Milledgeville never fully recovered. The capital moved to Atlanta during Reconstruction, "a city emerging as the symbol of the New South as surely as Milledgeville symbolized the Old South." The seat of power has remained in Atlanta ever since 1868.
Two significant signs of the old capital still remain in Milledgeville, the former capitol building, now a museum, and the former Governor’s Mansion.
I was encouraged to see that I wasn’t the only person fascinated by weather extremes in So Hot, So Cold. Reader "zxo" had been thinking along similar lines a few months ago and created a series of related maps. One of those compared the differences between the highest and lowest temperatures recorded in each state. Check it out. It even showed the approximate location where each state record was set. I’ll use that as the basis for the remainder of this article. Thanks for the inspiration, zxo.
The Weather Channel took a similar tack in July 2013. They had the ability to produce prettier graphics with professional equipment although I still find zxo’s all-encompassing map more useful than trying to scroll through a strip of fifty images. However the Weather Channel did provide three fairly intuitive reasons to account for states with the most extreme differences of extremes:
- A wide range of elevations, e.g., "California… with Death Valley sitting 282 feet below sea level while 14,000-foot mountain peaks sit less than 100 miles away"
- A long distance from large bodies of water that "heat and cool slowly, keeping adjacent land areas milder in winter and cooler in summer"
- Latitude. Variability increases as one moves away from the equator, with additional hours of sunlight in summer and longer nighttimes in winter
As before, I’ll use Wikipedia’s chart of U.S. state temperature extremes. I’ve noticed slight variations between this list and some others I’ve consulted on the Intertubes. I’m not able to compare these against the official list at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration due to the government shutdown (October 2013) so I’ll have to consider Wikipedia close enough as a proxy and plow forward.
Fort Yukon Sign by Mozul, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
My rule of thumb is to begin with Alaska reflexively whenever I play "guess the state." It seems to be the one that provides the geo-oddity answer more often than not. It would appear to score very high on all three factors for this exercise too, ranging from sea level to 20,237 ft (6,168 m) at Denali; having parts of the state hundreds of miles distant from the nearest shoreline due to its immense size; and featuring latitudes farther removed from the equator than anywhere else in the nation. As expected, Alaska scored very well with an extreme temperature range of 180°F (100°F / 38°C at Fort Yukon on June 27, 1915 and -80°F / -62°C at Prospect Creek on January 23, 1971). However it’s not the champion, nor does it even capture second place.
(A) Medicine Lake to (B) Rogers Pass
Would you believe… Montana? I was surprised. Sure, one would expect it to score high on all three criteria although I didn’t expect it to beat Alaska, and rather convincingly too. Montana’s difference of extremes was an astounding 187°F. The mercury rose to 117°F / 47°C most recently on July 5, 1937, at Medicine Lake, and previously at Glendive in July 1893. Both of those places are found at the far eastern edge of the state, a semi-arid extension of the Great Plains baked by searing summer heat.
Medicine Lake by cm195902, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
The etymology of Montana traces to the Spanish word Montaña referring to a mountainous area, and there are plenty of higher elevations on the western side of the state. It was at Rogers Pass where Montana set its lowest temperature extreme on January 20, 1954, a bone-chilling -70°F / -57°C. Rogers Pass is actually one of the lower elevations through Montana’s mountains and over the Continental Divide (5,610 ft / 1,710 m) — after all that’s why it’s called a pass — so one can only imagine what the temperature would have hit had it been recorded on any of the nearby summits another thousand feet up, instead.
North Dakota scored higher than Alaska too, at "only" 181°F difference. The state recorded 121°F / 49°C on July 6, 1936 at Steele and -60°F / -51°C on February 15, 1936 at Parshall. Hawaii, perhaps more obviously, recorded the least amount of difference, a mere 83°F. Hawaii was also the only state that had never recorded a temperature below zero on the Fahrenheit scale.
All of these extreme thoughts led me to wonder about the maximum difference for a single location. Unfortunately there aren’t handy lists of such things available. My initial guess would be Fairbanks, Alaska, with a difference of 159°F (99°F / 37°C and -60°F / -51°C). Another site said 96°F and -62°F so who knows? It’s a big difference, whichever source happens to be correct. Perhaps there are location even more extreme found elsewhere in Alaska, or maybe in Siberia or the Canadian Arctic?
The weather near my home caught my attention recently when it felt like we went straight from the middle of summer directly into late Autumn overnight. From unseasonably hot and sunny to unseasonably cold and rainy, we never seemed to get our typically wonderful October weather we deserved. That put me in a mood to look a little closer at temperature extremes.
I’ve been seeing a lot of website notices like this one lately
With my usual online data source at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shut down due to a government funding impasse, I turned to Wikipedia’s U.S. state temperature extremes instead. Something there caught my eye. I noticed a handful of U.S. states where the highest and lowest temperature extremes were recorded in the same place.
The best example, in my estimation, would have to be Delaware. I’ve said it before and bears repeating, I know of no other place in the United States with a greater abundance of geo-oddities per square mile than Delaware. It stands in a league of its own. The mighty 12MC itself was named for a Delawarean boundary feature even though I’ve never actually lived in the state. That shows how much I’ve been impressed by its weirdness.
Add the town of Millsboro to that overflowing list of oddities. It recorded both the hottest day in Delaware history (110° Fahrenheit, 43°Celcius) on July 21, 1930, and its coldest day (-17°F, -27°C) on January 17, 1893.
A tremendous heat wave rolled across the eastern half of the United States in late July and early August 1930. Delaware hit its record high temperature on July 21. It wasn’t just Delaware though. The 1930 heat wave was so brutal that the same thing happened in the District of Columbia (July 20), Kentucky (July 28), Mississippi (July 29) and Tennessee (August 9).
The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang wrote about the heatwave in a 2010 retrospective. They focused on the Washington, DC area although Delaware is not that far away and similar conditions would have existed there as well. The temperature exceeded 100°F (38°c) for eleven consecutive days during a period when few homes had air conditioning.
The summer of 1930 made headlines due to unprecedented heat and drought that caused disastrous crop failures throughout the United States. The summer of 1930 ushered in the “Dust Bowl” era of unusually hot, dry summers that plagued the U.S. during much of the 1930s… By the end of the summer of 1930, approximately 30 deaths in Washington were blamed on the heat and thousands more had died nationwide. In Washington, there has never been another summer with a heat wave that has equaled the summer of 1930.
It was slightly more difficult to find information on Delaware’s lowest temperature, and again I used a nearby geographical proxy to extrapolate what it must have felt like. In this case I found an online book, "The Climatology and Physical Features of Maryland: First Biennial Report of the Maryland State Weather Service, 1892 and 1893." (Google eBook)
The month of January, 1893, will long be remembered for its accompaniment of extremely cold weather… nearly every section of the country having been invaded by a temperature very low in comparison with previous records. Probably not since January, 1856, has there been experienced in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Delaware such a protracted period of severe weather. It is certain that not during the life of the Weather Bureau, which came into existence in 1870, has anything approaching a parallel been experienced.
There are some other state contenders. Massachusetts had a shared high temperature of 107°F (42°C) on August 2, 1975, in New Bedford and Chester, and a low temperature record of -40°F (-40 °C) on January 22, 1984, in Chester. Missouri had a shared high temperature of 118°F (48°C) on July 14, 1954, in Warsaw and Union, and a low temperature record of -40°F (-40 °C) on February 13, 1905, in Warsaw. Those come close. All we need now is for Chester and Warsaw to get just a tad hotter to claim the state title outright and become as equally impressive as Millsboro.
I guess technically I should add the District of Columbia which will always have a common place for high and low temperatures by default because it has only one official weather station. That seemed like cheating, though. Oddly, the spots where temperatures have been recorded since 1931 are located outside of the District, first at Hoover Airport (where the Pentagon now resides) and then starting in 1941 at National Airport (now Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport). Both of those locations are in Virginia. This will create an anomaly only as new high or low records are set, since the existing records both occurred before 1931 and therefore within the boundaries of the District.