Victory: County Lines on Google Maps

On January 22, 2012 · 15 Comments

The day has arrived. Google finally added United States county lines (and more!) to its maps. I’ve been hoping for this development for the last two years. I first pushed for readers to express their interest in Let’s Get County Lines Drawn on Google in February 2010. I’d mention it periodically (OK, whined), usually within the context of "wouldn’t it be a nice" if they ever got around to it. I thought it was right around the corner last May when lines began appearing in ordinary Google searches. Then it seemed to progress into a testing phase when I considered Google Maps County Lines Imminent about a month ago. The feature disappeared completely within a few hours so this time I waited several days. I’ve not seen an official announcement by Google, however, I feel fairly confident that it’s become a permanent feature.

I’m going to drill down to demonstrate a few examples. We’ll probably find other geographic units marked similarly as we play with this some more. Please feel free to mention what you discover in the comments.


View Larger Map

Go to the Google Maps search bar and type in the name of any U.S. state to see the efect. I selected Georgia. Already I’ve noticed one of the limitations of this feature: it doesn’t seem to work with maps embedded in a personal webpage. Go ahead and open the link (the one that says "View Larger Map") in another tab if that’s the way it displays for you too. Either the edge or the entire state of should appear shaded in a light-pink hue. It seems to depend on browser. I’ve tried it in Safari, Chrome, Firefox and Camino and each one has its nuances.

I’ve noticed previously that what appears on Google Maps and what appears when one copies the embedding code for the exact same map can differ slightly. Apparently Google uses different layers for these purposes. Hopefully the function will roll out to all of the layers. For now it appears in map view and terrain view, but not in satellite or embed. Individual results may vary.

Georgia was named for King George II of Great Britain (not to be confused with that other Georgia) in case anyone was wondering.


View Larger Map

This is the level that really means something to me as a confirmed county counter. It’s the reason I wanted Google Maps to add county lines in the first place. I have one minor quibble with the feature as it’s been rolled out: the lines disappear as one begins to drill-down for a closeup view. That may cause an issue as one tries to figure out whether a certain road clips a county border or not. On the other hand, we’ve seen many times that borders drawn by Google Maps can be misplaced by several to even a hundred feet or more. Perhaps this is their subtle way of telling us that we shouldn’t rely on the rendering too literally. I’m not complaining. It’s certainly better than no county lines at all.

Sumter County, Georgia was established in 1831 just a few years after the Creek Indians ceded it to the state and relocated west of the Mississippi River after the Treaty of Indian Springs. Its namesake was Thomas Sumter, a South Carolina war hero and the last living general from the American Revolution era at the time of the county’s origin. His name lives on in a couple of different ways: the famous Fort Sumter where the Civil War began was named for him; and his nickname, "The Carolina Gamecock" was shortened down to Gamecocks to represent the University of South Carolina sports teams. One often hears obnoxious fans shorten it down even further but I’m not going there. Now I know that it all ties back to Thomas Sumter and that makes me feel better somehow.


View Larger Map

Towns — and townships in some instances I’ve checked — now show up with boundaries. This is a welcome, unexpected feature. Towns appeared previously but with very light gray shading. One had to really squint to discern town lines. Now the area snaps to attention. I selected Plains, GA because it’s one of those odd Georgia towns with a circular shape. Very few places feature arcs or circles as part of their boundaries, and everyone knows from the title of the blog that they fascinate me. It takes a skilled surveyor to mark an arc accurately.

Plains is named for a biblical reference, "The Plains of Dura." where "The book of Daniel states that Nebuchadnezzar set up a golden image…"

Observe that Plains isn’t a perfect circle. It has a distinct nob on its western boundary. That’s the "Carter Compound." Plains, of course, is most closely associated with Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States. He still lives there and I guess Plains decided to move its borders to cement a claim to his legacy. The Carter Compound is closed to the public although visitors can tour other sites in the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site

I’ve tried a few other options:

  • It works great for towns with crazy borders.
  • U.S. Postal Service ZIP codes seem to work (e.g., 31780 for Plains, GA).
  • U.S. telephone area codes and exchanges do NOT seem to work; nor do Congressional districts.
  • Canada seems to have been provided broad coverage as well, although it differentiates Flin Flon, Manitoba from Flin Flon, Saskatchewan even though they have a single municipal government. I guess maybe that would be expecting too much in this first pass.
  • An astute 12MC reader observed that the United Kingdom’s Royal Mail postcodes seem to be working too.

Have readers found any other applications yet?

Totally Unrelated — Don’t forget the 12MC Happy Hour!

Just a reminder that the Twelve Mile Circle happy hour will be happening in the Washington DC area (Crystal City specifically) on Tuesday, January 24, 2012. Check out the original announcement for all the details. Don’t make me feel like a loser!

On January 22, 2012 · 15 Comments

15 Responses to “Victory: County Lines on Google Maps”

  1. Marc Alifanz says:

    Strangely I’m not seeing any county lines whatsoever at any level on the maps. I’ve been using mapquest for my county counting anyway since it shows the lines at any level of zoom.

    One note of caution on the town lines, which do seem to be working for me–they don’t seem to be accurate. I checked the township lines of the small Philly-suburb town I grew up in, and they showed my whole neighborhood and many others that were definitely in the same town as falling well outside of the area.

    • Rhodent says:

      Same here. I tried looking in North Carolina and no matter what view or zoom level I use, I don’t see county lines.

  2. Cunninglinguine says:

    Apparently someone forgot to tell Google Maps that Louisiana does not have counties. As it stands now, typing in “Orleans Parish” will yield business listings in and around New Orleans. You have to type in “Orleans County” to see the border.


  3. Frank says:

    Seems to be working as well for zipcodes and municipalities in The Netherlands. Hopefully it is easy to implement in the embedded maps. Very nice addition!

  4. David Overton says:

    It seems to be working for states, towns, suburbs and postcodes, but not municipalities (local government areas) in Australia.

  5. Jean says:

    Congratulations for this great victory!

    Flin Flon reminds me a tiny geo-oddity you may not be aware of: L’Hôtel Franco-Suisse. You can enter it from each side of the border and it has two postal addresses. Here’s Google picture from the swiss side :
    (Google’s border line doesn’t seem to be placed accurately).

  6. Lots of coverage everywhere in fact – just type in Bensonville, Liberia, Mandalay, Burma or Fez, Morocco, for example. A very good day in Google Maps history.

  7. January First-of-May says:

    One thing that is apparently still missing: congressional districts (either old- or new-Congress). Noticed that when I tried to research the boundaries of North Carolina’s 6th and 13th districts (which apparently form a quadripoint just off Boxelder Cove, Greensboro, NC – northeast and southwest is 13th district, northwest and southeast is 6th).
    Coincidentally, other than the dubious case of KY-1 (which includes Kentucky Bend, and can’t connect it without leaving the state), this pair forms the only example of clearly non-contiguous US congressional districts – or, at least, at least one of them is (the maps at claim that would be the 6th, but it can just as well be the 13th).

    On completely another theme: try looking for Moscow, Russia (my hometown). You will see the city borders overlayed over the “federal city” boundaries already on the map – and the latter are very visibly and consistently about half a mile too far east (besides, well, generally being incredibly rough-looking and failing to include Zelenograd [the biggest exclave] at all). Also (but that might’ve been our local addition) if you point at a place within Moscow (at a low enough zoom) and click “what’s here”, you get a map of the (second-level) district of Moscow the place in question is located at – but for some reason searching for such districts directly doesn’t seem to work (or at least I wasn’t able to do it correctly).

  8. Mike Lowe says:

    Yay! I’m sure the Happy Hour will be a bit happier Tuesday. Enjoy those beers. I lift up and toast with my orange juice here.

    I live in Galveston County, Texas. It renders well zoomed from a distance. So does my 77573 ZIP code.

    I’ll echo and concur that retentive county counters like me still need to use Mapquest or the resources at Mob Rules when drilling down to small areas. Hopefully Google will finish the job eventually. It’s a great start.

  9. Phil Sites says:

    Had to dig through the archives here to find Tavistock, NJ…and yes, within its borders are the golf club and one Tavistock Lane…

    One that throws Google Maps for a loop is the unorganized borough of Alaska…

    • Phil Sites says:

      I should add that I do wish Google Maps would put a bit more care in mapping National Parks and possibly their boundaries as well. Congaree National Park isn’t even showing up (when it did clear as day not long ago) and Big Bend N.P. might as well be a needle in a haystack. Not sure, might be others as well…

  10. Fritz Keppler says:

    Mapquest has recently done something odd with its county line boundaries. Rather than showing the county names on either side of the line, they’re showing name / name , using a slash between them.

    Also, they’re showing another quintipoint in Chesapeake Bay, where supposedly Gloucester / York / Mathews / Northampton / Poquoson (City) are meeting. I’ve seen the same on AAA maps, but older maps are not showing this common point. Not sure whether the county lines have been redefined or not, does anyone have information about this? I’d be curious to know.

    • Fritz Keppler says:

      This appears to be a false alarm, the Mapquest map and others are apparently inaccurate.

      the US Census map of Poquoson (Boundary and Annexation Survey) dated 2012

      (The first link to a map on this page affords the overall view)

      indicates no quintipoint in Chesapeake Bay, and the quadripoint of Norfolk City, Virginia Beach City, Northampton County and Hampton City is still in existence (it was shown as eliminated on the Mapquest map).

      Whew!!!! This would have required a lot of redefinition.

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