More Oddities from Independent Cities, Part 2

On March 26, 2017 · 7 Comments

Virginia’s independent cities continued to offer their peculiar geographic secrets. The earlier part of this series explored tendrils and quadripoints. However, other strange features hid within their twisted layouts. I turned my attention to enclaves and pinches next. Those unusual features probably came from heated negotiations between cities and counties during drawn-out annexation hearings. In Virginia, that involved a special court held specifically for that purpose, overseen by a three-judge panel.

Two separate cities included enclaves within their borders. Those little doughnut holes belonged to the counties that surrounded the cities.

Enclave within Fairfax City

Fairfax Enclave
Enclave within Fairfax City

Fairfax City became an independent city in 1961. The county surrounding it — also called Fairfax — extended much farther back in history. English colonies, including Virginia, still hugged North America’s Atlantic coastline when Fairfax County appeared in 1742. The county built a courthouse in a convenient, central location in 1799. That became a seat of local government and a little town grew around it. Eventually the town evolved into Fairfax City.

Fairfax County remained quiet and rural for the next several decades. However, it did not escape the Civil War unscathed. Virginia joined the Confederacy. Union troops crossed the Potomac River as the conflict began, capturing a chunk of Northern Virginia. This protected its capital city, Washington, DC. It also put Fairfax directly on the border between two hosile armies. Troops from both sides crisscrossed Fairfax repeatedly between 1861 and 1865, each occupying the courthouse at different times.

The war’s first death of a Confederate officer took place on the courthouse grounds in 1861 when Union troops shot Captain John Quincy Marr during a skirmish. Two years later, Confederate forces from the legendary Mosby’s Rangers paid a visit.

Mosby’s most famous raid occurred in March of 1863, inside Union lines at Fairfax County Courthouse, when he captured Brigadier General Edwin H. Stoughton. Mosby found Stoughton asleep in bed. Awakening the General with a slap to the rear, Mosby asked "Do you know Mosby, General?" The General replied "Yes! Have you got the rascal?" "No," said Mosby. "He’s got you!"

Obviously Fairfax County didn’t want to give up its historic courthouse when Fairfax City split from it. The two carved-out an enclave around the courthouse grounds that remained part of Fairfax County. I confirmed this arrangement on the Fairfax City zoning map.

Enclave within Manassas

Manassas Enclave
Enclave within Manassas

A little hole also sat within the independent city of Manassas, although it didn’t offer the same historical pedigree as the one in Fairfax. Nonetheless, it existed for a similar reason. I confirmed its existence in the Manassas zoning map and then I drilled-down to check it out. Manassas carved its territorial independence from Prince William County, however, the county courthouse already stood there. It became an enclave. The space contained the Prince William District Court, an Adult Detention Center, the Health Department, a senior center and some associated parking, all part of Prince William County, not Manassas.

Then I spotted something truly surprising. Somehow a single residence remained within the Prince William enclave. An entire neighborhood became part of Manassas except for 9210 Peabody Street for some unknown reason. Zillow dated its construction to 1965 and Manassas gained its independence in 1975, so the house definitely existed before the city changed its status.

The family residing there lived in Prince William County. However, they would need to cross completely through Manassas if they wanted to visit anyone else living in the county. On the other hand they wouldn’t have to cross a border if they ever got arrested. I’m sure they’d have other concerns in that situation anyway.

A Pinch to Grow an Inch

Grayson Pinch
Grayson County Pinch

A different oddity came into view in Galax. Here, a county line complicated a border. The line originally separated Grayson County from Carroll County. Galax grew right atop the line, which annexed land from both counties. The western side of Galax also contained a nob. It extended almost all the way to the county line and then stopped a tiny bit short. That prevented Galax from pinching-off a piece of Grayson. My eyeball estimate concluded that it fell just about seventy feet (21 metres) short of creating a Grayson exclave.

It was awfully nice of Galax to keep Grayson intact. Theoretically the farmer that lived inside that pinch remained connected to the rest of the county. However it didn’t really matter much because the only road access to the farm came from Galax. That made it a "practical exclave."

Bonus Avoidance

Staunton, Virginia

Check out the eastern border of Staunton along Interstate 81. I found several examples of Staunton drawing its border to avoid highway infrastructure maintenance. At the northern end where I-81 diverged from Staunton, the border turned northwest along Route 262 to avoid the cloverleaf. Near the midpoint, New Hope Road crossed above I-81 so the border did a zig-zag around the bridge. Approaching the southern end, the border avoided Route 250’s cloverleaf and then turned to the west, making sure to skip the Interstate 64 interchange. These was classic behaviors influenced by the anti-city provisions of the Byrd Road Act.

On March 26, 2017 · 7 Comments

7 Responses to “More Oddities from Independent Cities, Part 2”

  1. Mr. Burns says:

    It’s interesting that what appears to be a water (or possibly sewer) treatment plant for Galax is outside the city limits in that little finger of the county. I suppose they decided they weren’t going to get any taxes from that, so it might as well not be annexed.

    For a kind of opposite perspective – that is, city limits including roads rather than excluding them – take a look at city limits in Oklahoma. (Texas seems to do a lot of the same thing.) Cities there will include miles of road, with the limits running on either side of it. I have to suspect that in many cases it’s insurance against encroachment of other towns, since the state probably doesn’t allow city limits to cross those of another city.

    Take a look at Chickasha: Their limits completely surround the town of Norge, and encompass large parts of open country. But the country is not in the city, just the roads bordering it. Or look at Wagoner: They have both sides of roads that form a long tendril that almost completely surrounds the city. Okmulgee has interesting borders. Or look at Weleetka. It has limits on both sides of US-75 extending more than six miles north to the interstate highway. Then it widens out just enough to catch the gas station and cafe to pick up that tax revenue. Weleetka’s limits pass right through the heart of the (presumably unincorporated) village of Pharoah. The citizens of Pharoah live in Okfuskee County, but have to pass through Weleetka to cross their main street.

    These are just a few of hundreds of examples. Try this: In Google Earth, turn off roads, but turn on city boundaries. Then just take a look at the area around Tulsa. It’s likely to give you a headache trying to figure out what is in what city.

    • Rhodent says:

      Another possibility is that the city annexes the streets but not the land on either side as a form of revenue enhancement: because the street is in the city, city police can enforce traffic laws and make money from issuing tickets to violators. Not sure if Oklahoma law works that way, but there are definitely cases in other states where states have done that. (Check out Waldo, FL as one of the most notorious examples.)

  2. Fritz Keppler says:

    The old Henrico County Courthouse is within the city limits of Richmond, unenclaved. Not sure whether this building still belongs to the county, but the court and government has since moved to outside the city Limits in two centers, eastern on Nine Mile Road and western on East Parham Road. The postal address is a PO Box, and the place of the zip code is Henrico, VA.

  3. Gary says:

    This isn’t exactly the same, but one that I can think of is the Kentucky Bend. It is not connected to any part of the state of Kentucky. It is surrounded by Missouri on three sides, and Tennessee on the remaining side. The only road into the area comes from Tennessee. The mailing address for the area is Tiptonville, Tennessee even though the area is in the state of Kentucky.

  4. January First-of-May says:

    Perhaps the world’s weirdest shaped extant exclave (or, at least, definitely in the running) is Konezavod VTB [i.e. “horse farm of VTB bank”] in the western suburbs of Moscow.

    It basically consists of a huge amount of gerrymandering – every part that has any actual inhabitants (except the horse farm workers) is carefully excluded and connected by a thin tendril to the outside (in at least one case, said tendril consists of the width of a river).

    IIRC, the point was that the surrounding locals didn’t get to vote on the annexation to Moscow because their lands weren’t included in the actual parcel being annexed, and since technically none of their lands were entirely surrounded by the new addition (though some of them did become practical exclaves) they couldn’t legally complain about that either.

  5. Brian says:

    The Prince William County GIS mapper does not have any parcel information for 9210 Peabody St.

    Manassas City’s assessment database, however, does.

    So I think there is an error in the boundary lines that shows this parcel as being in the county enclave when it really is not.

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