I had fun with Wikipedia’s List of Oldest Companies after I bounced onto it randomly, and of course it included a geographic component. I decided to examine claims for various nations using the list as a starting point.
I think it’s important to stress that these are only claims. References and websites for individual companies often hedge their assertion with qualifiers such as "reputed to be" or "probably" so I wouldn’t insist that any of these are the absolute oldest even though they would certainly qualify as ancient within their particular realms.
The oldest continuously-operated company in the world today is likely (notice the qualifier) Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan hotel which is located at a hot spring in Hayakawa, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan. Actually the first several companies on the list are all located in Japan. Japanese firms dominate the entire category. There’s something about Japanese culture that nurtures and protects these mostly modest endeavors for a millennium or more. Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan has been around since the year 705 according to Guinness World Records.
Oddly, Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan captured the longevity title only recently. Kongo Gumi, a Japanese temple builder, ruled the roost until 2006. Kongo Gumi was established and remained under the control of a single family starting in 578 before succumbing to 21st Century economic pressures. Imagine poor Masakazu Kongo, the 40th and final company leader, who failed to pass down what the previous 39 generations of his family had preserved.
Speaking of temple building, I noticed a rather startling swastika symbol south of the Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan hotel. I clicked the tag and dropped the Japanese characters into translation software that identified it as a Buddhist temple. Some basic research confirmed that "on Japanese maps, a swastika (left-facing and horizontal) is used to mark the location of a Buddhist temple." It’s perfectly proper in this context albeit it came as a jolt to me because of my westernized point of reference.
Flickr by marketing deluxe via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) License
An example from continental Europe followed next after a parade of Japanese occurrences. It was the Stiftskeller St. Peter in Salzburg, Austria, a restaurant that dated back at least to the year 803 (map). The restaurant claimed that it was "mentioned for the first time by the scholar Alcuin, a follower of Emperor Charlemagne, thus regarded as the oldest restaurant in Europe."
It also interested me because Stiftskeller St. Peter is contained within the confines of St. Peter’s Archabbey (Stiftskeller translates to Abbey Basement). I learned a new word today too: an archabbey is a principal abbey of the Order of Saint Benedict. One can dine within a Benedictine monastery like people have done since the 9th Century.
Several people from the UK subscribe to the Twelve Mile Circle so I wanted to feature something from the British Islands. The oldest company is believed to be a pub called The Bingley Arms in Bardsey, West Yorkshire. As the pub described it, "The Bingley Arms, or The Priests Inn as it was called hundreds of years ago, has a known history that dates back as far as 953AD when Samson Ellis brewed in the central part of the building. However, evidence suggests that it might even date back to 905AD and was standing before All Hallows Church, just a few yards away, was built in 950AD."
Then it talks about the usual ghost stories and stuff which is typical of just about every website describing ancient places.
No company in the so-called "New World" will compare favorably to Asian or European business longevity. The Native Americans had completely different cultural norms so notions of family businesses passed down through multiple generations had to wait until European settlement. The oldest example was a farm along the James River in Charles City County Virginia — Shirley Plantation — established in 1613. Bear in mind that the first permanent English colony at Jamestown (my visit) didn’t happen until 1607 so Shirley Plantation followed the original landing by a mere six years. That makes the date quite remarkable within its context.
The top tier of ancient establishments in the US were all farms. The oldest non-farm was The Seaside Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine that’s been operated continuously since 1667. They say that, "9th Generation Family Innkeepers make us America’s oldest running family run business." Well, except for the farms, I guess.
Canada’s oldest business may be the most well-known of the lot, the Hudson’s Bay company founded in 1670. I decided to show Hudson Bay rather than the company’s headquarters in some generic office tower in Toronto (street view).
Ditto for Australia. I can’t add much visual impact by showing the Brisbane headquarters of the Australian Agricultural Company, founded in 1824. Today they "operate 19 cattle stations, two feedlots and three farms across more than 7.2 million hectares of land across Queensland and the Northern Territory."
It seemed to me that I would have written an article about the shortest international border a long time ago although it appeared I’d overlooked it. Let’s rectify that oversight.
The omission actually provided a benefit. Just about every one of these places was already featured in a previous Twelve Mile Circle article in a different context. That allowed me to combine a new article with a collection of "greatest hits."
I’ll start with a small number of caveats and clarifications. First, I’ll focus on truly international borders between independent and sovereign states. That eliminated very short borders between the People’s Republic of China and Macau and Hong Kong, for example. I also decided to duck controversies so don’t expect coverage of another brief boundary, the one between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. Finally I wanted to examine land borders specifically although narrow water boundaries such as the width of a river was acceptable.
What was the shortest border? That’s not an easy question; it could be a toss-up.
SOURCE: flickr by By Ruth Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license Crossing the World’s Shortest Border
The honor may go to the border between Botswana and Zambia which at most stretches 150 metres, and is the pivotal location that may come closest to being an international quadripoint when combined with Namibia and Zimbabwe (map). I featured this unusual configuration in the context of Namibia’s Caprivi Strip quite awhile ago in an article called "What Happened to the Handle?" A visitor can actually cross this tiniest of borders on the Kazungula Ferry.
The other contender may be found between India an Sri Lanka. There are various claims that one of the shoals that forms Rama Setu (Adam’s Bridge) may actually fall along the boundary between the two nations (map). That would put a land border at 100-ish metres in length if it actually exists. That’s why I tend to discount the claimant, though. It’s not a particularly feasible place to walk across assuming it’s even real.
The land border between Spain and the United Kingdom at Gibraltar would probably be the most convenient option for the majority of the audience although it’s considerably longer than the first two instances. It stretches about ten times farther, at 1.2 km. Gibraltar earned a previous 12MC nod because a public road crossed directly over an active runway at the local airport. Street View now provides decent coverage of said road and it’s pretty memorable.
Europe made it onto the list multiple times because of a plethora of small states. The boundary between Italy and Vatican City came next, at 3.2 km. I didn’t want to dwell too much on Vatican City because it’s a frequent outlier and has been featured several times previously including in National Capitals Closest Together. I’ll mention a 2009 comment from the ever-loyal "Greg," who still reads 12MC all these years lager and continues to comment on articles. I was trying to generate 12MC hits from various places not yet represented at the time and Greg said,
Matter of fact, a friend of mine was recently at the Vatican visiting a family member, and I know he visited your site while he was there, because he emailed me about your post on the Wakhan Salient, which was published at the time. Maybe his internet, however it was set up, went through a .it ISP?
Sadly I still haven’t recorded a Vatican hit so I think there may be some merit to his Italian-based Internet Service Provider theory.
The 4.4 km border between France and Monaco followed. I focused on Monaco in Almost Landlocked and I don’t really have any more to add. Monaco is another one of those places that comes-up frequently in geo-oddity trivia.
Then came the 9 km boundary between Turkey and Azerbaijan. Turkey has an odd dangling appendage that’s nearly snipped-off between Iran, Armenia and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic exclave of Azerbaijan. This area of tightly packed international neighbors was featured in Fictional Geo-Marathons.
Of course I can’t forget the border between France and the Netherlands. It doesn’t occur in Europe, rather it happens on the Caribbean island that they share between them, Saint Martin / Sint Maarten. I was fortunate enough to explore this 10.2 km frontier extensively in person a couple of years ago and reported my finding to the 12MC community in Saint Martin Borders and Boundaries
The final two spots to round-out the international borders of less than 20 km are Morocco and Spain at 17 km, via various Spanish outposts such as Ceuta, Melilla, and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera; and the 19km border between North Korea and Russia.
The article on Public Streets seemed generate more than the usual amount of interest and lots of great comments, as well as a hint of familiarity. Input from loyal reader David Overton sent me down an interesting tangent. He mentioned No Name Street, which he believed might be "another contender for ‘laziest street name’”. He also included a link to the photographic evidence. Thankfully the original photographer was generous enough to include a Creative Commons license so I was able to embed the image directly within this page, along with a proper citation.
SOURCE: Flickr by electropod via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
It wasn’t too difficult to track down the location of No Name Street, a brief connecting road in Sandwich, England. Google (Street View) confirmed that I’d found the proper spot. The author noted, "It’s only a little street, but surely they could have thought of a name for it", (and I agree!) to which someone responded, "If they had, what place would U2 have sung about?"
Feel free to listen to U2′s "Where the Streets Have No Names" released in 1987 on "The Joshua Tree" album, as you read through the rest of this article.
I began to experience déjà vu, like maybe I’d written about this situation before. That’s not an unexpected feeling after posting several hundred geo-oddity topics over several years on the Twelve Mile Circle. However I’m usually better at remembering what I’ve researched and published previously, plus I couldn’t find anything when I ran a search on all of the articles and comments ever posted.
Finally I found it on another website, the ever-beloved and much-missed Basement Geographer, which is currently on hiatus. Kyle had written about The Best of Newfoundland and Labrador Toponyms, Part III in July 2011, referencing an unusual location he uncovered known as Nameless Cove. The familiarity derived from a comment that I’d appended to his article. I guess it’s acceptable to quote myself from a different website, right?
We used to have an intramural athletic field called Nameless Field when I attended the University of Virginia. It was large enough for two games to be played simultaneously so it was split into portions: Upper Nameless and Lower Nameless. Yep, Google Maps says it’s still there.
I tend to agree with David’s contention that No Name (and it’s equally thoughtless variation, Nameless) gives Public Street a good run for the money when it comes to laziness. In fact I didn’t bother to create a map of every occurrence because they were so common. That right there should provide sufficient evidence of intellectual indolence. It forced me to focus on geographic units much larger than streets or roads.
The US Geological Survey’s Geographic Names Information System provided 595 instances of No Name. That’s a bit deceiving. I couldn’t find a way to extract the exact string so results included anything with a "name" contained within them. I had to remove a lot of religious properties (e.g., Holy Name, Jesus Name), for example. I also removed a lot of reservoirs, dams and wells where, for some reason, it was popular to call them something like No Name Dam Number X (fill in a sequential number) in certain states. Even so I found a lot of pure instances of names with no names, including 27 specific references to Nameless.
There were several other instances that I found even more interesting. They are all real geographic features recognized by the U.S. Government. I’ve provided map links based on lat/long coordinates listed in GNIS although they may not appear by those names (or at all) on Google Maps.
The Nameless Fire Department was entered into the Congressional Record by Hon. Bart Gordon on May 7, 1996: "Mr. Speaker, I am taking this opportunity to applaud the invaluable services provided by the Nameless Volunteer Fire Department. These brave, civic-minded people give freely of their time so that we may all feel safer at night…" Ten years later, according to Firefighting News, the Nameless Firefighters were "awarded a competitive grant through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program. Nameless Volunteer Fire Department will receive $75,240."