Mmm… Doughnut

On August 14, 2011 · 11 Comments

My mind gravitates back to doughnuts (or is it donuts) following up on a long-ago article, the Gaithersburg Doughnut Hole. The concept fascinates me. It occurs when a town completely envelopes a separately-governed entity, generally another town. That leaves a doughnut town — one with the hole in it — and a doughnut-hole town, the one occupying the void like a tasty cream filling.

That got me thinking about the etymology of doughnut. I get the dough part. What about the nut? Thank goodness for Google which led me to a plausible explanation: the original doughnut was a dough ball that resembled a nut when cooked, I guess because it was round and somewhat brownish. Doughnuts didn’t gain their ring shape until somewhat later, perhaps due to problems with gooey uncooked centers. Thus, a doughnut two hundred years ago resembled what today one might call a doughnut hole, I mean the snack and not the void. No, I have no idea where this is leading either. Let’s move on.

I’ve discovered that New Jersey seems to be an epicenter for doughnut towns. Virginia also has its share due to its crazy system of independent cities, but lets cast that aside.

New Jersey seems to have an overabundance of towns in general: 566 municipalities, and by my quick unscientific count as I squint at a map, 22 of them completely filling the center of a doughnut with no neighbor other than the surrounding town. Magnificent!

One situation has even drawn the attention of the Newark Star-Ledger as part of their series, "New Jersey Towns that Shouldn’t Exist."

Chester Township envelopes Chester Borough completely. The township has a larger geographic footprint and a population of about 8,000 inhabitants. The borough is much smaller both in size and population, with about 1,600 people, but with considerably greater density. Google Maps doesn’t do a great job with town boundaries but you might be able to just barely see the slight shading that approximates the area of Chester Borough, the doughnut hole.

View Larger Map

It was all one happy Chester from its founding in 1700 through the split in 1930. Their irreconcilable differences sprang from a dispute about water and sewers. People in the densely-populated borough wanted a municipally-operated system, while those in the larger rural fringe didn’t want to pay for something they couldn’t use. Times have changed. Little differentiates the borough from the township anymore except a complete redundancy of local government services.

The two local governments have attempted to reconcile three times in recent years and have failed. It is currently stalled because of the general economic climate in New Jersey. The state is unable to help taxpayers that would be impacted adversely by the merger. Funds have dried-up at the state level so the two remain separated, for now.

You might enjoy other videos in the "Towns that Shouldn’t Exist" series. Currently East Newark and Hi-Nella have been featured but if you’re reading this article far in the future there may be others. The host is a bit sarcastic and snarky but the stories are entertaining.

New Jersey does have a rampant municipality problem. It also has the highest real estate taxes in the country in order to pay for all those tiny and redundant town halls, police forces, fire departments, school systems, sewers, and all the other necessities one expects from local government. It is grossly, expensively, grandly inefficient. Segmentation that made sense in horse-and-buggy days doesn’t always translate well into the modern age. It is completely unbalanced.

Map of New Jersey municipalities

People in New Jersey are rational beings and realize it’s out-of-control. Elected officials have attempted to use legislation to either encourage or compel solutions to the situation. Public interest groups such as Courage to Connect NJ continue to shine a spotlight on the pertinent issues. It’s hard to remove two hundred years of inertia.

What is the smallest New Jersey town, you might wonder? Tavistock (see map). It had five residents as of the 2010 Decennial Census. There’s a bit of fakery involved. It came about in the 1920’s solely so that members of a Country Club to play golf on Sundays. The smallest "real" town (recognizing that there are other fake golf course towns) is Walpack (see map). Only sixteen people live here, which is down from a high of nearly four-hundred residents as recently as 1970.

I love doughnuts, whether the town or the snack. However I also recognize that doughnut towns do create certain financial inefficiencies. While it makes complete economic sense to consolidate these geographic areas, I have no problem with small entities as long as their residents are willing to pay for the privilege. Even golfers.

After all, 12MC wouldn’t exist if someone removed all of the geo-oddities.


On August 14, 2011 · 11 Comments

11 Responses to “Mmm… Doughnut”

  1. AFischer says:

    Probably my favorite little donut town is Rocky Ripple, IN. Because of “unigov” (the consolidation of the City of Indianapolis and Marion County), Indianapolis has a lot of little “included” towns that are contained within Indianapolis. Rocky Ripple is my favorite because its one of the smallest (only 712 people!) and it in addition to being a little municipal island it is aaaaalmost an actual island.

    You can see at the google link how the White River and incomplete section of the Indiana Central Canal aaaalmost meet at the tips of Rocky Ripple. The only ways in and out by car are two bridges over the canal. Here and here The narrow ends have access to Rocky Ripple by the old canal towpath that is now a pedestrian trail and Butler University (of college basketball fame) has a little foot bridge for access to some of their athletic fields which are in Rocky Ripple.

    The canal itself makes a couple more fun geo-oddities: another section of land that is almost an island that is part of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, where the canal crosses over Fall Creek in a viaduct just before going underground so that Interstate 65 could be built over it, then it flows into the White River just downstream of where Fall Creek (the one it just went over) flows into the White River

  2. Mr Burns says:

    My favorite is Eastborough, Kansas … completely surrounded by Wichita. Douglas Avenue goes right through the middle of Eastborough. Douglas is a major east/west route (though perhaps not as important as Kellogg … just a half mile south and now an expressway). Cruising east or west through that part of Wichita, the speed limit is suddenly dropped from 40mph to 20mph. Wikipedia notes that “Eastborough maintains its own police force of seven officers which is approximately one officer for every 42 homes.” That should tell you that it’s not a good idea to drive more than 20mph through town!

  3. Discounting urban reserves, in all of British Columbia there is just one donut town: the city of Armstrong, which was formed in 1913 when it separated from the township of Spallumcheen (incorporated 1892).

    That’s nearly a century of donutty goodness!

  4. BigFoxy says:

    I live in a town that has is a donut. The City of Valdosta, Georgia completly surrounds the small City of Remerton, Georgia.

  5. Karl Z says:

    Here’s one doughnut town to NOT take the kids to: Valley Brook, Oklahoma, completely surrounded by Oklahoma City. Let’s just say that the “downtown” is a single commercial property populated almost exclusively by liquor stores and “gentlemen’s clubs”–giving a whole new meaning to the term “strip mall”. City ordinances in Oklahoma City are pretty strict about “adult entertainment,” but Valley Brook has more lax regulations. As far as I can tell, that’s a major reason why Valley Brook exists…

    Almost as interesting–but harder to find–are the towns that “used to be” but were swallowed by another town. These “Jonah towns” still leave remnants of their existence, but they aren’t on the map anymore. Example: Lincoln, Nebraska has expanded over the years and engulfed several small communities in the vicinity. If you drive around in Lincoln, you come across places that look like old downtown areas for small towns, but the towns no longer exist. For example, NW 48th St between Huntington and Madison used to be a different town (University Place?), and now isn’t.

    Another sort-of Nebraska doughnut is Carter Lake, Iowa(!), right next to (and west of) Omaha’s airport, Eppley Field. The border of Nebraska and Iowa is the Missouri River, and Carter Lake is in an old river ox-bow that was cut off in 1877. The two states argued over the area until 1892, when a Supreme Court ruling gave it to Iowa. If you look at it, you’d think it was part of Omaha. The state line follows the old river course, so Carter Lake is physically connected to Omaha but actually part of Iowa–and cut off from Council Bluffs physically by the Missouri River. You can not get from the rest of Iowa to Carter Lake without entering Nebraska. Just another oddity…

  6. Mr Burns says:

    Kansas City, Missouri has several holes punched in it by other municipalities (Raytown, Randolph, Gladstone [aka Happy Rock!], among others). The one that I thought of today is North Kansas City. What distinguishes it in my mind is the difference between it and Kansas City North.

    “North Kansas City” is the actual town. Any other part of Kansas City that’s north of the Missouri River is referred to as “Kansas City North”. Where the word “North” appears in the phrase tells you which is meant.

  7. Matt says:

    As mentioned before, Ohio is a good place to find these geographic “islands.” Columbus alone probably has dozens of them, ranging from tiny scraps of township (“unincorporated”) land that the city never felt worth annexing to the entire city of Bexley. It’s quite common in the northeastern part of the state, originally settled by New Englanders, to have an incorporated village with the same name of the surrounding township in the center of the township. Sometimes these incorporated municipalities are considered part of the surrounding township and sometimes they’re not. Sometimes the township offices are in the village, meaning the township hall is not actually in the township.

  8. stangetz says:

    Let’s talk about doughnuts and Pennsylvania.

    Pennsylvania makes their state GIS data available free for public consumption at PASDA ( From there you can download counties, municipalities, and a ton of other features. So, the following is based on the most recent county and municipal features via PASDA.

    PA has 67 counties containing 2563 municipalities. Every municipality in PA is either a city, a borough, or a township (1st or 2nd class). Oh, and there is only one town. It breaks down like this:
    • cities: 57
    • boroughs: 966
    • 1st class townships: 92
    • 2nd class townships: 1455
    • towns: 1

    Technically, there are a handful of boroughs that refer to themselves as “Municipalities” (the Municipality of Monroeville is an example), but they are classified the same as boroughs.

    Of those 966 boroughs, 289 are completely surrounded by a township (doughnut holes). Of those, 43 have the same name as the surrounding township.

    Looking at a municipality map for these doughnuts saw a few interesting oddities:

    • In Allegheny County, the boroughs of Pitcairn and Mt Oliver are completely surrounded by the City of Pittsburgh.

    • In Beaver County, the boroughs of Homewood and New galilee are completely surrounded by Big Beaver Borough

    • In Blair County, the borough of Tyrone is in an actual shape of a doughnut with an enclave of the surrounding township, Snyder, in the middle

    • In Cambria County, the borough of Dale is completely within the bounds of the City of Johnstown

    • In Lackawanna County and Tioga Counties, there are township doughnuts: Elmhurst Twp within Roaring Brook Twp in Lackawanna and Putnam Twp within Covington Twp in Tioga

    • In Lawrence County, S.N.J.P. Borough is the property of a recreation center created in 1977, because the rec center wanted to sell alcohol on Sundays. (,_Pennsylvania)

    • In Mercer County, the city of Hermitage has many enclaves within the several broughs in its city bounds

    • In Somerset County, the borough of Calimont is 85% within a State Gamelands. The remaining 15% has 51 people (as of the 2000 Census)

    • Also in Somerset County, Seven Springs borough is almost all a ski resort and golf course. Also, Seven Springs is the borough with the highest elevation in PA.

    • In Westmoreland County, the City of New Kensington is completely within the bounds of Lower Burrell City.

    • 5 out of the 67 counties do not have any donut municipalities. 8 counties have more than 10. Somerset and York Counties have 13 each.

    For a list of all the donut hole boroughs, go here:

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