Interstate Highway Counties

On January 31, 2016 · 7 Comments

I requested an additional account on the Mob Rule county counting website recently. I’d been planning a couple of trips for 2016, including one focused primarily on adding new counties to my lifetime tally in an obscure geographic corner of Appalachia. I’d been using the spare account to calculate "what-if" scenarios and I didn’t want to disturb my existing map in the process. Twelve Mile Circle readers will likely see maps generated by this account over the coming months and years as I chart further adventures.

It occurred to me that I will need to hit backroads a lot more often as I fill in the blanks and doughnut holes in my personal capture map. Those will diminish my pace although they will also allow me to experience out-of-the-way places where few people tread. It made me wonder exactly how much of the United States one would miss using only the Interstate Highway System. It wasn’t a question that demonstrated any greater practical purpose although that never stopped Twelve Mile Circle from going down a rabbit hole before. It wasn’t completely pointless I rationalized, because the results could be used to separate the "easy" counties from the more difficult ones, roughly speaking. Amateur county counties would stick primarily to the Interstate Highways while the truly dedicated hunters such as myself would need to veer into the empty white spaces. I supposed it made me feel more serious about my pursuit by separating me from the pack. It fed into the mythology of not being able to truly appreciate the United States until exiting the highways.

Naturally, I began by making a map of counties served by Interstate Highways, both two-digit and three-digit. Readers would probably want to open the image in another tab to get the full-sized image.

Counties with Interstate Highways

I couldn’t guarantee that I marked every county served by an Interstate Highway because I created this manually — I was still finding new ones that I’d missed hours after I thought I’d fnished it — although this should be close. Please feel free to offer corrections and I’ll update the map. For those wondering about the odd title, "Travels of T. H. Driver, " that was simply my initials plus the word Driver. I had to give the dummy account a name and that seemed as good as anything.

One of the features of Mob Rule that I’ve enjoyed over the years is its simple statistics to catalog counties visited by state. It produced a nice summary table of counties visited and percentages of states covered. I placed those data into a Google Docs Spreadsheet that readers should feel free to review if interested. Mob rule assumed everyone knew the 2-letter postal code abbreviations for each state so I can’t help you if you don’t know them because I didn’t feel like typing them out. Wikipedia provided a nice cross-reference. I sorted states by percentage completed from highest to lowest although one could rearrange the table in reverse order, alphabetically, or whatever might be desired and it won’t harm the underlying document.

Some observations jumped out. For example, county counters who stuck solely to Interstate Highways wouldn’t even visit half of the counties in the United States. The total would hit 44% but who’s counting? The chart also sifted winners from losers. I discarded the District of Columbia’s 100% although it was considered both a state and a county for county counters (in reality neither) because it was such a specialized case. Discounting that, Interstate Highways served 7 of 8 counties (87.5%) in Connecticut for the top spot, ranging all the way down to 16 of 77 counties (17.2%) for Nebraska at the bottom. Results followed intuitive patterns. Small northeastern states with large populations contained numerous Interstate Highways. Large, expansive Great Plains states with smaller populations featured fewer of them. New York and Pennsylvania posted particularly impressive results given the number of counties contained within each of them, hitting above 70 percent.

There were some anomalies. Someone would likely mention the paradox of Interstate Highways in Hawaii so I’ll simply link to the Federal Highway Administration’s explanation (i.e., "the Interstate System is more than just a series of connected highways. It is also a design concept") and get that out of the way. The same condition existed in Alaska although the roads weren’t signed as Interstate Highways (I included all of the so-called Secret Interstates too).

However, I’d been unaware of the bizarre disconnected set of Interstate Highways in the southernmost tip of Texas, Brownsville and McAllen. They formed a rough U-shape, outlined by I-69E, I-2 and I-69C (for central?). One would need to hop a plane or drive through Mexico to capture these Interstate counties without disturbing non-Interstate counties surrounding them, which nobody would ever do because it would be absurd.

I enjoyed the exercise even if it didn’t serve much of a useful purpose. It did confirm to me that Interstate counties were visited more frequently in general than non-Interstate counties, not that there was an underlying controversy. That could be observed quite easily when comparing the map I created with Mob Rule’s composite map of all county counters. The patterns looked strikingly similar.

Iowa, Iowa, Iowa

On January 20, 2016 · 1 Comments

Continuing on the theme of items uncovered while researching Geographic Matryoshka with US States and in recognition of the Presidential primaries that will be held in Iowa in a couple of weeks, I felt an Iowa topic might be appropriate. I’d uncovered a wonderful triple sequence formed by Iowa Township in Iowa County in the state of Iowa. That put it right up there in exalted territory along with Oklahoma City/Oklahoma Co./Oklahoma and New York Co. (i.e., Manhattan)/New York City/New York. The latter two were a little more obvious and significant. I hadn’t anticipated Iowa.

Homestead in Iowa Twp., Iowa Co., Iowa, USA

Iowa Township was rather obscure. There were only 148 people living in Homestead, its principal settlement, as of the 2010 Census. That made it just a tad less meaningful than the more obvious trifectas of Oklahoma and New York. Still, the relationship existed and it counted as much as the others for purposes of this exercise. The triple layer arrangement had been around for a long time, too. I turned to the History of Iowa County, Iowa (1881) which helpfully noted that Iowa Township existed ever since Iowa County was first subdivided in 1847. It was one of the county’s original townships in a much larger form until chipped away to create additional townships in later decades, as more people moved in to farm its fertile soil.

Brush Run

One never knows what one may uncover while searching for information on obscure jurisdictions. Often it was very little. However the History of Iowa County turned out to be a goldmine. That little Iowa Township tucked within a rural county of the same name hid quite a colorful past, particularly in its former Brush Run community. Brush Run sounded like a quiet, relaxing name and yet the History claimed "… the first settlers along the section of country where Brush Run is were very depraved…" I’ve consulted a lot of similar county history books over the years and they’ve tended to be puff pieces exclaiming the wonders of their out-of-the-way domains. I’d never seen any of them refer to settlers within their own boundaries as depraved. It got better:

Though Brush Run is scarcely any run at all it is noted in history. No creek or flow of water in Iowa county has witnessed so many deeds of love and hate, so many scenes of joy and sorrow, so many drunken revels and fights, so many suicides and murders… the headquarters of drunkards and cut throats.

It then kindly offered several examples of depravity and debauchery, most distressingly,

A child six years of age was attacked with delirium tremens one day in November, 1857, at Brush Run. The father was in jail at Iowa City for selling whisky, and the mother, in a fit of drunkeness had recently fallen and killed herself.

Brush Run did not appear on any modern maps, nor did it receive a mention within the records of the US Geological Survey’s vast database of place names, past or present. I supposed it should be expected given Brush Run’s notoriety. They erased the name from the map. However, the paper trail hadn’t disappeared completely and I was able to trace its evolution. Brush Creek soon faded, to be replaced by Homestead at the same approximate location.


Homestead by Jon Taylor on Flickr (cc)

Homestead bore no resemblance to Brush Creek whatsoever, in fact it was pretty much its polar opposite. Homestead was designed as a rail depot and shipping point for the nearby Amana Colonies. Amana had its roots in a religious movement arising in Germany that settled on the American prairie to escape persecution.

In 1855 they arrived in Iowa. After an inspired testimony directed the people to call their village, "Bleibtreu" or "remain faithful" the leaders chose the name Amana from the Song of Solomon 4:8. Amana means to "remain true." Six villages were established, a mile or two apart, across a river valley tract of some 26,000 acres – Amana, East Amana, West Amana, South Amana, High Amana and Middle Amana. The village of Homestead was added in 1861, giving the Colony access to the railroad.

Homestead was the only one of the seven Amana villages in Iowa Township. The remainder were across the nearby border in Amana Township. Homestead didn’t receive much attention after that except for the meteorite that exploded directly overhead.

The Amana Meteorite flashed into Iowa between 10:00 and 11:00 pm on Friday February 12, 1875. Its bright fireball was visible from Omaha to Chicago and St. Paul to St. Louis… it exploded over Amana, producing a meteorite field approximately 3 miles wide and 5 miles long. A total of about 800 pounds of the Amana meteor, classified as a dark chondrite, were recovered from this field, the largest fragment weighing about 74 pounds.

Don’t be fooled by references to the "Amana" Meteorite. The closest settlement was Homestead, and indeed the Meteoritical Society declared Homestead as the meteorite’s OFFICIAL name. People still search for fragments of it today.

Things remained quiet in old Homestead for more than a century after that, remaining in obscurity until Ashton Kutcher grew up there. Recently he even renovated his childhood home. He was one of the few people who could claim that he lived in Iowa Township in Iowa County in the state of Iowa.

Somehow I never saw that one coming.

Geographic Matryoshka with US States

On January 10, 2016 · 6 Comments

A challenge resulted from the recent Outside of California article, in a comment by loyal reader Rhodent. I have to say that I spent way more time than I’d care to admit seeking an optimal solution. Readers who relish a good mental challenge will probably enjoy trying to improve upon my results. Others will hopefully at least appreciate the obsessive-compulsive effort I undertook.

MATRYOSHKA. Russian Nesting Doll 30 piece Pushkin Fairytales
MATRYOSHKA. Russian Nesting Doll 30 piece Pushkin Fairytales
by on Flickr (cc)

I’ll go ahead and let Rhodent explain the challenge. One can also view the full comment in its original context if this snippet doesn’t provide enough information. Per Rhodent;

I made some GeoGuessr puzzles where the theme was places with this sort of name. I would string them together into what I called "Geographic Matryoshkas", although I didn’t stick to the idea that the city name had to be the name of another state… Maryland (neighborhood), London; London, Ontario; Ontario, New York; New York, Texas; Texas, Queensland… I’d be curious to know what would the longest string one could come up with if one did restrict it to using cities whose names were that of American states.

OK, challenge accepted.

I undertook a brute force method. I searched for every state name found in another state in the U.S. Geological Survey’s Geographic Names Information System that fell within feature classes Civil and Populated Place. This partitioned options to places where people likely lived, i.e., "A political division formed for administrative purposes (borough, county, incorporated place, municipio, parish, town, township)" or a "Place or area with clustered or scattered buildings and a permanent human population (city, settlement, town, village)." It eliminated topographic features like rivers, mountains, forests and such. Some of the resulting locations may have been tiny or insignificant, and that was fine, I simply wanted to make sure they all came from an authoritative source. If it was good enough for the USGS it was good enough for me. I called the resulting places "towns" even though some were counties, villages, etc., just to keep things as simple as possible.

Additionally I eliminated all partial matches. As an example, the result had to be New York exactly and not simply York. And yes, six different states actually had towns named New York, which certainly surprised me. I also eliminated over-matches so the town named Kansas in Alabama was acceptable while Kansas City in Missouri and its half million residents were left on the cutting room floor. I know! How arbitrary! I wanted to keep the game as pure as possible. That still left 299 state-named towns even after strictly applying the rules, leaving a manageable number of options in my opinion.

Everything went into a Google Docs spreadsheet.

I couldn’t figure out how to make the embedded spreadsheet larger so participants in this game will definitely want to open the spreadsheet in another window. It included three tabs. The first tab displayed all of the valid town names I discovered, sorted by state. I appended two-letter state postal abbreviations onto each name to try to reduce confusion. Trust me, it got very, very confusing — downright exasperating — trying to keep track of which were states and which were towns with state names.

The second tab compared potential movement between states that could be used to create linkages between them, which I called jumping IN and jumping OUT. Let’s use Maine as an example. There was a town in the state of Arizona called Maine. Arizona could be used to jump IN to Maine. Similarly, there was a town in Maine called Virginia. One could jump OUT of Maine to get to Virginia (and conversely, from Virginia’s perspective, Maine could be used to jump IN to Virginia). It was important to understand these relationships to avoid dead-ends. The best states were those with lots of opportunities to do both, to jump in and out, like Ohio, Kansas, Iowa, Oklahoma and Texas. Those would be key. I noticed they were all located physically in the continental interior. I figured that historically they were well-positioned to adopt names from east coast states when the original pioneers began moving inland, and they were still growing and creating new towns as the west coast states first came aboard, putting them in a unique position to adopt names from both directions. Fascinating. I would have never noticed that if I hadn’t undertaken this laborious exercise.

Other states were less useful, offering little or no means to jump in or out. They would create immediate dead-ends. Hawaii was the only state completely eliminated from the game. No state had a town named Hawaii, and Hawaii had no town named for any other state. Others were bizarrely unbalanced. I thought Washington would be a great option given George Washington’s prominence upon the geographic landscape. Forty-two states had towns named Washington! Then the state of Washington had to ruin everything by having only a single town named for another state. Wyoming performed similarly. Seventeen states had towns of Wyoming (thanks to Gertrude of Wyoming, no doubt). Yet Wyoming failed to return the love, creating an immediate dead-end.

Tab three held all of the raw data I compiled as I pulled information manually from GNIS. I suspected that it wasn’t useful to anyone else although I was too proud of my effort to hide it from view.

With apologies to Rhodent, I began to think of the progression as links in a chain instead of a series of Russian nesting dolls. I also thought that Aretha Franklin’s version of Chain of Fools would be a perfect theme song as I frittered away hour-after-hour on my complex task. Go ahead and turn it on. Perhaps it will offer some inspiration.

Maybe you’ve read this far. Most readers, I suspect, gave up awhile ago. Those who stuck around finally get to see my result.

  1. Wyoming, DE
  2. Delaware, VA
  3. Virginia, OH
  4. Ohio, CO
  5. Colorado, TX
  6. Texas, KY
  7. Kentucky, MI
  8. Michigan, VT
  9. Vermont, WI
  10. Wisconsin, MN
  11. Minnesota, GA
  12. Georgia, LA
  13. Louisiana, MO
  14. Missouri, OK
  15. Oklahoma, KY
  16. Kentucky, KS
  17. Kansas, IN
  18. Indiana, IA
  19. Iowa, NE
  20. Nebraska, IA
  21. Iowa, OK
  22. Oklahoma, TX
  23. Texas, GA
  24. Georgia, IN
  25. Indiana, KS
  26. Kansas, TN
  27. Tennessee, TX
  28. Texas, OH
  29. Ohio, NY
  30. New York, NM
  31. New Mexico, MD
  32. Maryland, NY
  33. New York, TX
  34. Texas, OK
  35. Oklahoma, MS
  36. Mississippi, AR
  37. Arkansas, KY
  38. Kentucky, IL
  39. Illinois, KS
  40. Kansas, OH
  41. Ohio, GA
  42. Georgia, AL
  43. Alabama, FL
  44. Florida, CO
  45. Colorado, AK
  46. Alaska, MN
  47. Minnesota, CA
  48. California, VA
  49. Virginia, WA
  50. Washington, CT

I built a chain with 50 links referencing 31 states. Not bad. I think there’s still room to improve upon it. The task started to become compulsive and I had to stop.

Readers should feel free to embed additional links and loops within the chain, or use portions of the chain, or start a whole new chain from scratch. The rules are simple. Make the chain as long as you possibly can without repeating any towns. It might be useful to print the first tab of the spreadsheet and cross-out towns as you use them. I’d be interested to see who can claim the most links, the most states referenced, and the most combined (links + states). The initial bar has been set at 50 links, 31 states, and 81 in total. Good luck and have fun. I’m done!

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