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.
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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.
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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.
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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!