More Oddities from Independent Cities, Part 1

On March 23, 2017 · 7 Comments

The recent Prince George Exclave article explored Virginia’s unusual laws and how they created an unexpected result geographically. It didn’t end there. I reexamined the borders of each of the states’ independent cities for additional anomalies. The intersection between complicated annexation procedures and disparate city-county interests created some rather dysfunctional situations.

All base maps and boundaries came from the excellent Mob Rule website, and its "county lines imposed on Google maps" option. I added labels and arrows for clarity.


Chesterfield's Tendril
Chesterfield County Tendril

Presumably independent cities submitted annexation proposals because they wanted something attractive, like adjacent parcels with favorable businesses and residential density. Conversely, they would also want to avoid certain pieces of land. That seemed to be the case with the Prince George exclave where the City of Hopewell didn’t want to use its own tax receipts to maintain the Route 10 bridge. I think something similar may have happened when the city of Colonial Heights gained independence in 1961.

For whatever reason, Colonial Heights didn’t seem to want to deal with the Appomattox River. Maybe road and bridge maintenance figured into this, or maybe the city viewed owning a bunch of uninhabited river islands as inconvenient. Who knows. Regardless, Chesterfield County’s original border on the eastern side of the river remained in place. The judicial panel that granted this annexation approved Colonial Heights’ border on the western side of the river. That created a long, narrow tendril of Chesterfield wrapping around the eastern and southern flanks of Colonial Heights. It also prevented Colonial Heights from ever sharing a border with Prince George County, separated by only a tenth of a mile at one place along Route 144, Temple Avenue.

Also unbeknownst to me, I never knew that I’d driven through a tiny sliver of Chesterfield while traveling between Colonial Heights and Petersburg on Interstate 95. I’ve taken that route probably a hundred times over the years. Google Street View images revealed no highway signage for that anomaly. It’s no wonder I hadn’t figured it out until now.

James City Boundary Cross

James City Boundary Cross
James City County Boundary Cross

Quadripoints can be a lot fun. I certainly enjoyed my trip to the Four Corners marker in the southwestern United States a number of years ago. However there existed an even stranger version of this phenomenon, the elusive quadripoint boundary cross. These occurred when a section of a territory — national, provincial, county, etc. — connected to its affiliated territory by only a single point. Twelve Mile Circle featured a trio of such international quadripoint boundary crosses in its earliest days (Jungholz, Baarle-Hertog, and the since-eliminated Cooch Behar situation).

I found it difficult to describe the phenomenon. Maybe the image above conveyed the situation better. Notice the border between James City County and the independent city of Williamsburg. A chunk of James City, almost completely surrounded by Williamsburg, connected to the remainder of James City only at the boundary cross. Also the name bothered me. James City County sounded a bit schizophrenic. Did it want to be a city or a county? Make a choice, James. They might be forgiven though. The name went all the way back to the original colonial James City Shire established in 1634. Government officials simply carried its historical designation forward. Either way, it was definitely a county and not an independent city despite the name.

There seemed to be no compelling reason for this nearly disconnected chunk of James City County. A parking lot and part of a medical center occupied most of its space (Street View). I had visions of city and county attorneys battling back-and-forth during the annexation hearing. Maybe this reflected the results of a heated negotiation. James City County managed to hold onto that little corner.

Bristol Boundary Cross

Bristol Boundary Cross
Bristol Boundary Cross

A similar situation existed at the northern edge of the independent city of Bristol. Washington County surrounded Bristol everywhere except on the southern side where the state of North Carolina Tennessee bumped up against it. Bristol’s northern appendage seemed to be bolted-on to the remainder of the city, somewhat haphazardly. The initial nub contained public space, the Sugar Hollow Park. I supposed every city deserved a good park and this one featured camping, sports fields, picnic pavilions, bike trails and a pool. That was a logical annexation. Nicely done, Bristol. The next nub farther up surrounded a reservoir built in 1965, Clear Creek Lake. A golf course hugged it eastern shore. Kudos again to Bristol for its strategic annexation, even if the space attached to the rest of the city by only a hundred-foot neck.

However, the Sugar Hollow Park nub also connected to an even smaller parcel of Bristol through a quadripoint boundary cross. This parcel accommodated a single house on several acres of forested land. I dug a little deeper and found its address: 13174 Topeka Drive. According to Zillow this 1939 home had 2 bedrooms, 1 bath, and 1,034 square feet of livable space. The estimated value was $89,101. Someday I’d love to know the sequence of events and special reasons that led to this single home becoming a part of Bristol. Did the mayor live there or something? It made no sense.

The independent city oddities continued although I got tired of typing. Part 2 will explore enclaves within the cities and pinches that came close to creating the same.

On March 23, 2017 · 7 Comments

7 Responses to “More Oddities from Independent Cities, Part 1”

  1. Joe says:

    A similar, although less extreme and actually opposite, situation exists here in St. Louis as in Colonial Heights. St. Louis (which as you noted in the last article is one of the few independent cities outside of Virginia) made sure their original boundary covered some extra riverfront land along the northern edge of the city. As a result, there is a narrow strip of land in St. Louis City separating St. Louis County from Illinois. This strip ends just north of the present day St. Louis bypass (I-270) meaning drivers on it very briefly are in St. Louis City on their way around the town.

  2. Becky says:

    I lived in Chesterfield County for most of my life until I moved away to university at 18, but I never knew about this–which is especially funny because my grandmother lived in south chesterfield just west of the colonial heights/chesterfield border my entire life. For decades her mailing address was Colonial Heights because she was a block past the city/county line on Piedmont ave, it was only a few years ago that they started designating her area “south chesterfield”

  3. Scott Surgent says:

    The city-county of Broomfield (Colorado) has a quadripoint as well as “hosting” at least two exclaves of its surrounding counties. Its boundaries are also drawn to include most of the Northwest Parkway, yet leaves a small opening so as not to crate a large exclave of the bordering county. You can view the map at .

    • Fritz Keppler says:

      Following the borders and enclaves of Broomfield as well as Denver Counties is headache-inducing.

  4. Steve Spivey says:

    You could just write to that address and ask the current residents if any know about the nub’s reasoning. Long shot, but still possible.

  5. Rhodent says:

    “Washington County surrounded Bristol everywhere except on the southern side where the state of North Carolina bumped up against it.”

    Correction: Tennessee, not North Carolina. To be specific, on the southern side of Bristol, Virginia is Bristol, Tennessee. There’s a street (appropriately named State Street) where the middle of the street runs along the border. If you go into Google Street View and look at the Apr 2013 Street view of that street through downtown you’ll see each side of the street with flags for the appropriate state every couple of hundred feet, but in the most recent Street View (from January of this year) they’re no longer there.

    There are of course other split cities like this, and they seem to go out of their way to do something that highlights the state line. Texarkana TX/AR also has a street running along the state line for some distance, and at one point there’s a large traffic circle which is home to a post office which is half in TX and half in AR. College Corner OH/IN similarly splits the gym at an elementary school. There’s a couple of other examples I won’t get into, but you get the idea.

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