For Aficionados of Counties

On May 9, 2010 · 18 Comments

I know there are several regular readers of the Twelve Mile Circle who are fascinated with the county level of government in the United States. Some of you are county counters, others of you are county highpointers, and still others might be county radio hunters. All of you are aficionados of this phenomenon of one sort or another and today’s post is intended for you. Don’t worry, other of you will probably enjoy this too.

I confess that I share elements of this fixation as if that wasn’t already self-evident.

What’s in a Name

I found myself on the National Association of Counties website recently and I came across an interesting page called, What’s in a Name? A Look at County Names. I won’t spoil all of the surprises in case you want to check it out yourself but here are a few of the highlights.

Sunbury, Pennsylvania; seat of Northumberland County

  • The longest county names have fourteen characters. This happens twice, a tie between Northumberland County, Virginia and Northumberland County, Pennsylvania. I’d have collected that Pennsylvania county if only I’d crossed the river.
  • There are county names that begin with every letter of the alphabet except for X. I wonder, with the state of the economy and all, if a county might consider corporate naming rights. It’s acceptable for sports arenas so I figure its only a matter of time before a cash-strapped locality puts its name out for bid too. Maybe Xerox could take care of this particular situation?
  • The most common name for a county is Washington, found in thirty States. Paradoxically one of the states that doesn’t have a Washington County is the state of Washington.
  • The shortest county names have only three characters. Twenty seven different counties fall into this category. Most but not all of them are Lee and they do tend to congregate in the South.

My Latest County Counting Adventure

I struggled mightily as I tried to figure out what I could do with a few precious moments of spare time available to me on my recent trip to Orlando. I received various suggestions from readers. In response I did decide to pursue a brief road trip and I selected the tiny interior town of Lacoochee, Florida as my destination. I didn’t attach much significance to the actual town of Lachoochee. Historically it was the site of a large lumber mill but there’s nothing much geographically unique or unusual about it. Oh, it’s located in the northeast corner of Pasco County and I’d never been to Pasco County before, so that right there was the entirety of the reason.

I’d also never been to Lake, Sumter or Hernando Counties either. I added four new counties to my life list during my brief jaunt due was from Orlando along Route 50. The total one-way distance extends about fifty miles and lasts about an hour.

I found much of the drive rather enjoyable. The Florida Turnpike portion was typical highway and it at least provided rapid progress. I also had the road to myself the last few miles heading into Lacoochee itself as I wound through orange groves and the Withlacoochee State Forest. It was downright pleasant.

The middle portion, however, was utterly annoying. The entire section through Clermont, Groveland and lasting to about Mascotte presented all the worst attributes of badly-zoned exurb: homes constructed in a manner abetting cul-de-sac sprawl; continuous bland strip malls of generic shops that could be anywhere America, a single contiguous traffic-chocked thoroughfare with little route diversity, and long stoplights were every lane got its own turn arrow at every conceivable intersection. That was about fifteen miles of completely awful driving.

I tailor my driving behavior to the cues offered by locals. If everyone drives ten miles above the speed limit then I’ll do the same. Here, however, everyone traveled directly at the speed limit or even a little below it. That’s generally a sign of aggressive police patrols with little buffer.

True to form, I’ve never seen so many speed-traps in such a short distance outside of a holiday weekend. I can definitely confirm that I visited four new counties because I saw the name of each county emblazoned on the side of at least one sheriff’s deputy squad car from each location. Perhaps it’s a sign of low crime and bored cops, or perhaps it’s intended to fill municipal coffers during a tough economy?

This leaves Pinellas as a stranded county on my tally map. That shouldn’t be too much of a problem though. St. Petersburg is located here and I’m sure a trip will bring me there someday.

On May 9, 2010 · 18 Comments

18 Responses to “For Aficionados of Counties”

  1. Greg says:

    Here’s one for you: what’s the shortest time you’ve spent in a county that you’ve been in two times, tops (e.g. nicked a corner on the road to and from someplace)?

    • Greg: I’ll have to think about that one. Usually when I’m chasing counties it’s been part of a larger circuit so I’ve hit them only a single time. I haven’t done many out-and-back dashes like my recent jaunt to Pasco. I’m bored rather easily so I try to avoid covering the same ground twice.

      Craig: Thanks for the curiosity. This could have the makings of a future article!

  2. Craig says:

    So along the lines of county curiosities: Kent County, Delaware borders Kent County, Maryland. How many other such pairs of adjacent counties with the same name across state lines are there?

  3. Greg says:

    Once is fine, I meant two at most, just to allow for out-and-backs. Are there any counties (not including independent cities or city/counties) that are enclaved within other counties?

    • Greg: This one might fit the bill for an extremely short trip through a county:

      This is Walton County, Georgia that I crossed using I-20 about a month ago, my only trip through this county. The distance was less than a mile going at interstate speeds, so maybe 45 seconds total?

      • Joe says:

        I count Walton County, GA at 1.48 miles via I-20 (using Microsoft Streets and Trips). For me, the shortest was probably Nassau county, FL, which is 0.71 miles via I-10 just west of Jacksonville. At a 70 MPH speed limit (plus the 5 MPH over the speed limit I was traveling when I drove through it Friday), I spent just over 34 seconds in the county. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a smaller stretch out there somewhere, but this has to be one of the better ones being that small and on a major interstate.

  4. Mike Lowe says:

    Craig, Sabine County, Texas and Sabine Parish, Louisiana share the state border on the Sabine River. Actually it’s now a reservoir but you get the picture. Point your chosen map program or website to Milam, TX or Many, LA.

    No, I have not visited that county and parish yet but I’m working on it. πŸ™‚

    • I found a couple of more examples before my eyes gave out: San Juan Co., Utah and New Mexico (at the 4 corners) and Park Co., Wyoming and Montana (at Yellowstone National Park).

  5. Pfly says:

    When I read “Paradoxically one of the states that doesn’t have a Washington County is the state of Washington”, I thought, well of course there’s no Washington County in Washington, that would be silly. There’s a Washington County, Oregon, almost but not quite on the border with Washington. But after looking into county names a bit more I discovered, to my surprise, three counties that share their name with their state: Idaho County, Idaho, Oklahoma County, Oklahoma, and Utah County, Utah. There could be others, I didn’t do an exhaustive search.

    On the question of whether there are other pairs of adjacent counties with the same name, like Kent County DE and MD, I thought I had found one: Uinta County, Wyoming and Uintah County, Utah (ignore that -h), but alas, they are separated by a tiny strip of a county: Daggett County, Utah.

    A few other random county name oddities I’ve noticed: Columbia County, Washington, is named for the Columbia River but isn’t on the river (the best it can do is touch the Snake River). Columbia County, Oregon, is much better about locating itself correctly!

    Then there’s Northampton County, North Carolina, and Southampton County, Virginia. Northampton County is south of Southampton County. My ancestors lived in Southampton County, then migrated south into Northampton County. It makes sense given the counties position in each state, but still sounds funny.

  6. Craig says:

    I’ll add Bristol County, RI and Bristol County, MA to the list.

    @Mike Lowe: I’m not sure what I think of Sabine County vs. Sabine Parish – recognizing of course, that Louisiana only has parishes.

    @Pfly, personally, I wouldn’t count Uinta and Uintah, because of the spelling difference, even if they did actually touch.

    That being said, back when I was working on some software a few years back for a governmental agency that involved the economic data for all the US counties, I noticed Daggett County, UT for the first time. It’s one of the emptiest counties in the US at a grand total of 941 persons*. The least populous county, however, is apparently Loving County, TX at 45 persons*!

    (* 2009 estimates.)

    • Mike Lowe says:

      I made the commitment to visit Loving County, Texas on my way to Colorado last summer. I can confirm just how empty it is. I drove all the way through it and I can’t recall seeing any houses at all except for the tiny courthouse.
      I took some pictures to prove I was there. Most folks don’t believe me. πŸ™‚

  7. Pfly says:

    Uinta and Uintah wouldn’t make the cut? Wow, you are serious about this stuff! πŸ˜‰

  8. James D says:

    @Pfly: you missed perhaps the most obvious X County, X State: New York County, New York. But I can’t think of any others you haven’t already mentioned.

  9. Dan Baxter says:

    Shortest time I’ve spent in a STATE is Delaware. I doubt that you’re in the state more than 10 minutes (fifteen tops) while travelling on I-95. Long enough, however, to be stung by delaware’s exorbitant toll fee on that highway! And that’s after being stung by the bridge toll at the NJ border! Great taxation scheme – doubt that many Delawarans actually travel on I-95!

  10. Fritz Keppler says:

    A list of homonymous counties abutting one another (I realize that many have already been mentioned):

    MT WY Big Horn
    MA RI Bristol
    AL FL Escambia
    DE MD Kent
    MT WY Park
    IL MO Pike
    LA TX Sabine
    NM UT San Juan (at point)
    ID WY Teton
    AR LA Union
    IL IN Vermil(l)ion

  11. Fritz Keppler says:

    There is at least a county seat that begins with an X, Xenia, Ohio, seat of Greene County.

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