81 on 81

On October 12, 2014 · 7 Comments

I’m planning a quick trip down to southwestern Virginia and neighboring West Virginia, intending to count some new counties along the way although primarily for other purposes. I wish I could say it was entirely about the counties and I could finally finish Virginia. That will have to wait for another day.

Being true to my nature, I’ll completely over-prepare with multiple maps, both electronic and paper, even though I’ve driven the vast preponderance of the route multiple times and understand it intuitively. I’ll have lat/long coordinates prerecorded in my GPS, turn-by-turn directions printed from my preferred map website, and a battered dogeared Triple-A road atlas as a backup should a solar flare destroy every navigational satellite and should an asteroid bust the car window and suck the printouts from the dashboard. Nobody will be getting lost. No way, no how. Logic has no bearing here. Preparations will be ridiculous.

Patterns often appear on 12MC and another one emerged as I plotted waypoints. Most of the path involved Interstate 81, the primary route along the western diagonal of Virginia (map). Many of those waypoints fell awfully close to longitude 81 West. This type of reasoning often leads me to trouble. Was there a place, I wondered, where 81 West crossed Interstate 81? It seemed like it would offer a nice bit of numerical symmetry.

In fact a golden spot existed at 36.938110°,-81.000000°, just a stone’s throw from the Wilco Hess Truck Stop – Wytheville. Or the Flying J. Or Galewinds Go Carts & Mini Golf although apparently it’s closed now so scratch that suggestion.

Were there other Primary (e.g., one or two-digit) Interstate Highways equally blessed with similar golden spots? Why yes there were. Longtime readers already knew that I’d have to map them.



View Interstate-Coordinate Confluences in a larger map

I noticed that spots concentrated in the eastern half of the nation, many in the Upper Midwest. I think I found all of the possibilities although there might be others lurking out there. Let me know if you find any that I overlooked and I’ll add them to the map.


Interstate Longitude Confluences


Chicago Skyline During Sunrise from Lombard, Illinois
Chicago Skyline During Sunrise from Lombard, Illinois by Corey Seeman, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Longitude possibilities were limited to feasible values between 67 (easternmost whole number longitude) and 99 (highest possible 2-digit Interstate Highway). I found a total of seven places where a longitude crossed an Interstate highway with the same number, including the original example I discovered on I-81.

Some of those spots saw more traffic than others although I’d be surprised if even a single person recognized the significance. Why would they? Only a geo-oddity aficionado would find the topic even mildly interesting. One such location fell in Lombard, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. I was surprised to find a photo of the Chicago skyline captured from an upper floor of a hotel less than a mile away from I-88/88°. That amused me for some weird reason.


Interstate Latitude Confluences



Lincoln Village, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin

There were fewer latitude opportunities, limited to values between 25 (southernmost whole number latitude in the Lower 48 states) and 49 (northernmost). I found only two occurrences.

Once again I was lucky to find something to illustrate a nearby area, the Lincoln Village neighborhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I-43 formed its eastern boundary including the segment with I-43/43°.

The overall champion had to be Interstate 94. It shared a confluence with longitude 94° West. It was also concurrently signed with a stretch of I-43/43° North and I-90/90° West.


Confluences Outside of the United States


Penllergaer
Penllergaer by stu, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Similar confluences existed outside of the United States. I found a couple of occurrences between motorways and longitudes in the United Kingdom. One fell near a lovely waterfall at Penllergaer Valley Wood (M4/4° West).

I even discovered one in Ireland, M8 and 8° West: 52.356181°,-8.000000°.

Then I grew tired of the exercise.

Jasper and Newton

On September 21, 2014 · 2 Comments

I got an inquiry recently from reader "Aaron O." I took immediate interest because he sparked my Wolf Island visit during the Riverboat Adventure the last time we corresponded. He was a county counter like many of us on 12MC including myself, and he’d encountered a curious coincidence during his collections.

Jasper County bordered Newton County in Texas. Fine, nothing special there. This year he concentrated on Mississippi though, and once again he noticed a Jasper County bordered on a Newton County. Consulting a map, he observed that Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, Indiana and Missouri each had a Jasper County and a Newton County that shared a common border. Building on Aaron’s efforts, I began my research and saw that two states, Illinois and Iowa, also had a Jasper County (with no corresponding Newton County) that located their local seat of government in a town named Newton. What was going on?

I’d never noticed the pattern before and I didn’t understand the connection although it happened too frequently to be left to chance. However, the nexus would have been obvious to someone living in the United States two centuries ago. Jasper and Newton referred to Sergeants William Jasper and John Newton, as I found through additional Internet sleuthing, historical figures from the American Revolutionary War.(¹) Jasper was genuinely valiant. Newton was a nobody, elevated in stature through creative fiction that included the alleged connection between the two men.

William Jasper



Fort Moultrie. A poor quality video I took a few years ago

It was still early during the American Revolution when Colonel William Moultrie hastily constructed and never quite completed an earthen fort reinforced with palmetto logs on Sullivan’s Island to protect the harbor at Charleston, South Carolina (map). British warships attacked his positions in June 1776. Palmetto, as it occurred, served as an excellent defensive material. The spongy wood and sandy soil absorbed the impact of incoming cannonballs and deflected them harmlessly with minimal effect on the fortification walls. Meanwhile American artillery returned fire, pounding and damaging the British fleet. British forces retreated after a full day of futile bombardment and wouldn’t return to Charleston for another four years.

On the official flag of South Carolina, "The palmetto tree symbolized Colonel Moultrie’s heroic defense of the palmetto-log fort on Sullivan’s Island against the attack of the British fleet…"


The Palmetto State
The Palmetto State by Wendy, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

William Jasper served under Col. Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island as part of the defensive forces preventing a British invasion. The Americans raised their flag, the "Moultrie Flag" — essentially the current South Carolina flag minus the palmetto tree — above a parapet and the battle commenced. A British shell shattered the flagstaff during the fight, knocking the Moultrie Flag to the ground. Jasper grabbed the flag, attached it to a makeshift flagstaff, climbed atop a parapet and held it in place. His actions became a rallying point for American defenders during the siege and his bravery became well-known afterwards.


Jasper Monument
Jasper Monument by Dizzy Girl, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Jasper tried a similar feat at the siege of Savannah, Georgia in 1779. Once more he found himself in a position to race to the top of a parapet and affix a flag. This time, however, he was shot and killed although not before he finish his task. This cemented his legacy, he became a revered hero with numerous posthumous honors, a statue was erected in Savannah, and all eight Jasper Counties in the United States were named for him.


John Newton and the William Jasper Connection

John Newton benefited from a largely-fictionalized revisionist history courtesy of Parson Mason Locke Weems. Parson Weems wrote highly romanticized accounts of early American history at the beginning of 19th Century. Modern standards would probably characterize this genre as "historical fiction" although back then it was simply history and presented as such. He’d listened to or concocted fanciful tales and presented them as fact. Most famously, it included the allegorical account of George Washington and the cherry tree which he claimed he’d heard from an elderly woman who said she was a distant Washington cousin.(²)

Weems wrote immensely popular and influential "biographies" of Washington and other leading historical figures such as Benjamin Franklin, William Penn, and more importantly to this account, Francis Marion. General Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox" served originally under Moultrie at Sullivan’s Island, then at the Siege of Savannah and later as the leader of an unconventional force that bedeviled British troops throughout South Carolina. He is often credited with being instrumental to the development of modern guerrilla warfare.

What Weems did for Washington, he also did for Marion. Chapter VI of "The life of General Francis Marion, a celebrated partisan officer" presented an account of Jasper and Newton.


Jasper and Newton Rescue
Sergeants Jasper and Newton Rescuing American Prisoners from the British
by John Blake White (1781 – 1859)
United States Senate Collection

In this story, William Jasper had a loyalist brother who served in the British army at the Ebenezer garrison (map), near Savannah. Jasper would secretly visit his brother undetected for days at a time then report his findings back to the Americans. He brought John Newton along on his final trip behind enemy lines. While at the British garrison, they spotted the arrival a group of American prisoners captured in Savannah who were destined for execution, included a young woman and her child. British troops later marched the group away from the garrison presumably to be hanged. Jasper and Newton waited at a nearby spring where they supposed the group would relax before completing their march. They caught the resting guards by surprise, overpowered them, and released the prisoners, which they then led back across the Savannah River to freedom.

The heroic story struck a chord with American audiences.



Go ahead and read the original story. It won’t take more than a few minutes and it will provide an good indication of Weems’ fanciful, over-the-top style. I dare you to read it without rolling your eyes.

Too bad it wasn’t true. No similar account ever made it into written records on either side of the conflict at the time. Jasper was already revered for his bravery so it seemed unlikely that his peers wouldn’t have noticed him slipping behind enemy lines and returning with freed prisoners. Weems either heard an after-the-fact friend-of-a-friend tale like the Washington cherry tree story or he made it up on his own.

Nonetheless, the story linked Jasper to Newton inextricably in the American psyche during the first half of the 19th Century. Weems’ publications were so influential that fiction became fact. This coincided with a rapid expansion of the U.S. population and ongoing formation of county structures. Although Weems is largely forgotten today, his sway was great enough that it influenced several states to create both a Jasper County and a Newton County adjacent to each other.


(¹) Newton County, Mississippi claimed that it was named for Sir Isaac Newton. While I don’t have evidence, I suspect it was named originally for John Newton like all of the others and it was changed at a later date. This would be similar to King County, Washington named originally for William Rufus King and later changed to Martin Luther King, Jr.
(²) This tale is widely known to anyone raised in the United States. I doubt the same folklore applies elsewhere so I’ll briefly summarize. George Washington as a small child, according to Weems, received a hatchet as a gift and started chopping on various objects like any small child would want to do. This included his father’s prized cherry tree. When confronted he was alleged to respond, "I can’t tell a lie, Pa; you know I can’t tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet." Weems used this as an object lesson to convey Washington’s moral fiber, that even when wrong he would confess his mistakes and deal with the consequences rather than deceive or hide the truth. My father, the king of bad puns used to tell a joke that I’ll presume was popular in the 1940’s, with the punchline "I cannot tell a lie. Popeye did it."

Schwebefähre

On September 3, 2014 · 4 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle received a wonderful suggestion from loyal reader “Joshua D” probably six months ago. He mentioned the schwebefähre ("suspension ferry") in Rendsburg, Germany. These structures went by various names in different languages including "transporter bridge" in English. They were so odd, so whimsical, so amazingly impractical that I found them difficult to comprehend, much less explain. Maybe this would help:


MovableBridge transport
By Y_tambe on
Wikimedia Commons

A transporter bridge had features reminiscent of a bridge and a ferry simultaneously, except the ferry was more of a gondola suspended above the river by steel cables. It was cheaper to build than an actual bridge and it could continue to operate while a ferry could not, such as during high water or icy conditions. The concept never gained significant mainstream adoption however because of all of the practical reasons one could imagine. Maybe two dozen transporter bridges ever went into operation during their heyday a few years on either side of 1900. Few survived and fewer still continue to fulfill their original purpose today.

The weird design and scarcity only increased my desire to ride one someday.


Puente de Vizcaya


Barquilla - Puente Vizcaya
Barquilla – Puente Vizcaya by Francisco Martins, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

The first transporter bridge, Puente de Vizcaya, opened in 1893 in Portugalete, Spain (map). It gained a nickname over time, Puente Colgante — "hanging bridge" — and "The objective behind the construction of the Vizcaya Bridge was to link the two banks of the mouth of the river Nervión without hindering the shipping," by joining Portugalete to Getxo.

UNESCO added Vizcaya Bridge to its list of World Heritage Sites "as one of the outstanding architectural iron constructions of the Industrial Revolution, " operating continuously since its construction except for a brief period during the Spanish Civil War.


Schwebefähre Rendsburg


Schwebefähre Rendsburg
Schwebefähre Rendsburg by Henning Leweke, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license

Schwebefähre Rendsburg (aka Rendsburger Hochbrücke), the transporter bridge brought to my attention by Joshua D, commemorated its 100th anniversary recently (map). The gondola can accommodate up to four cars or a hundred pedestrians suspended about six metres above the Kiel Canal, taking a minute and a half to whisk passengers between Rendsburg to Osterrönfeld. The fare is also wonderful: free!


Le Pont Transbordeur de Rochefort


Pont transbordeur
Pont transbordeur by Henri-Jean Siperius, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

Le Pont Transbordeur de Rochefort (map) celebrated its 114th birthday recently with several thousand visitors and spectacular fireworks, if my very limited understanding of French was correct. It provided passage over the Charente River between Rochefort and Échillais during some unusual hours, closing for lunch each day and then on Monday morning and on Thursday afternoon, all of which seemed quirky in an endearing French way.

The transporter bridge also accommodated only pedestrians and bicycles which led me to believe it was operated more as an historical attraction for tourists rather than as a serious transportation alternative. The major four-lane vehicle bridge a half kilometre to the west (Street View) would be a more practical solution. Thankfully officials preserved the old structure as a work of magnificence even though long since technologically obsolete.


Tees Transporter Bridge


Transporter Bridge
Transporter Bridge by John, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

The United Kingdom once had several transporter bridges, of which at least two survived. One was the Tees Transporter Bridge (map) in Middlesbrough. According to the Middlesbrough Council, "The Tees Transporter is a total of 851 feet (259.3 metres) in length which makes it the longest of those remaining Transporter Bridges in the world" and "is fully operational and provides a regular quarter-hourly service between Middlesbrough and Port Clarence for 12 hours a day."

The current Street View imagery actually showed the bridge in action from inside the gondola. Check it out before Google decides to update it.


Puente Transbordador Nicolás Avellaneda



Recuperación del Transbordador Nicolás Avellaneda

No functioning transporter bridge existed outside of Europe except for one in Argentina. Maybe.

The Puente Transbordador Nicolás Avellaneda (aka Puente Transbordador de La Boca) in Buenos Aires (map) had been mothballed for decades. Recently it became a focus of restoration. Repairs were scheduled to be completed in January 2014 although I couldn’t find any information to confirm whether that actually happened or not.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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