The start for this research came from a recent tragic incident, a drowning at Triadelphia Reservoir in Maryland. My mental sympathies extended to the young victim’s family and friends of course. Afterwards I began to wonder how the reservoir got its unusual name, with a triad (a group of three) applied to "Delphia."
Philadelphia Sunset by Peter Miller, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
The most common application of the suffix Delphia had to be the City of Philadelphia (map) in Pennsylvania, colloquially known as the City of Brotherly Love.(¹) Regardless of whether this unofficial motto should apply, and it’s open to debate, the phrase derived from a colonial-era translation of ancient Greek. Philadelphia was "taken by William Penn to mean ‘brotherly love,’ from philos ‘loving’ + adelphos ‘brother’."
Peeling that back farther, the ancient Greek word δελφύς (delphús) — and apologies in advance if the original word rendered incorrectly on the page — meant womb. The same term also applied to Dolphin, essentially a "fish" with a womb. The Oracle of Delphi in ancient Greece originated from the same root, and according to legend "Apollo first came to Delphi in the shape of a dolphin" which created a nice symmetry with the various word meanings.
Let’s set all those aside. My command of ancient Greek was even worse than my understanding of living foreign languages. I probably butchered the explanation. Let’s focus on a modern translation of the suffix to mean "brother" and return to Triadelphia.
Triadelphia Reservoir by Doug Miller, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license
Triadelphia, the reservoir in Maryland that straddled the Montgomery County / Howard County line derived its name from an earlier placename, a town called Triadelphia. Spellings often dropped the initial "a", and in fact the USGS listed both Triadelphia and Tridelphia as acceptable variations. Residents abandoned the town in the later part of the Nineteenth Century after a series of floods along the Patuxent River. Its former site was later submerged beneath the waters of the reservoir. The Sandy Spring museum explained the name,
That answered the question of three brothers. Similarly another Triadelphia, this time in West Virginia, seemed to have three men associated with its founding as well (map). Numerous sources speculated that perhaps these men were three sons of an early resident, the town’s first mayor, Colonel Joshiah Thompson. Research conducted in 1941 as part of the Depression-era Work Projects Administration offered a different explanation however. It attributed the name to three close friends who settled in the area circa 1800 and donated the townsite, the previously-mentioned Thompson along with Amasa Brown and John D. Foster.
I discovered a final Triadelphia in Morgan County, Ohio, via the Geographic Names Information System. The "History of Morgan County, Ohio" mentioned Triadelphia however it did not provide an explanation beyond "It was laid out in 1838 by A. Roberts." That book was published in 1886 so the source of the triad was apparently unknown or unworthy of mention even back then so it remained a mystery to me. I also found a Flickr set on the abandoned Deerfield Township school located in Triadelphia (also Google Street View) although that went down a bit of a tangent.
Profile of Speer Pavilion, Ouachita Baptist University by Trevor Huxham, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
The more well-known Arkadelphia had to be the one in Arkansas (map). It had ten thousand residents at the last Census so it certainly qualified as a meaningfully populated place. It was also the home of two universities, Ouachita Baptist University and Henderson State University, which explained the photo I selected, above.
The source of the name was uncertain.
I’ll note another option, a hunch really, since I lack definitive evidence. Perhaps the Ark portion came from a shortening of Arkansas. People did that for Texarkana just 75 miles (120 kilometres) down the road so it seemed to be more than a passing possibility.
What about the Arkadelphia in Alabama (map)? It continued to exist albeit as nothing more than a bump in the road. Nobody really knew its derivation; it could have been borrowed from another town or it could have incorporated the name of an early settler (seems to have some merit). All I discovered was that it served as the home of the Arkadelphia Speedway.
Adelphia, New Jersey
Adelphia translated more generically as "brotherhood" so I figured the back-stories for such locations wouldn’t have the same level of fascination or complexity. Adelphia in New Jersey seemed to be the largest of such populated places. According to the "History of Howell Township," New Jersey:
I agreed with those early town founders. Adelphia sounded better than Turkey.
GNIS also listed several small populated places named simply Delphia, located in Kentucky, Montana and South Carolina.
I found a couple of other references to the Delphia suffix.
(¹) Sports fans from other cities might disagree. I was certainly aware of the Chief Zee incident as I grew up in the area with a football team that must not be named.
I thought I’d written an article about Africa’s Lake Chad a long time ago so I was surprised to see it still listed on my potential topics spreadsheet as I culled through it recently. A quick search of the 12MC WordPress database found minor references to Lake Chad and little else. I guess I should address that oversight.
Lake Chad Area
The basin feeding into the lake is endorheic. Water falling here doesn’t have an outlet to the sea. Instead liquid drains to the lowest point of elevation in the typical manner, in this case a depression in the earth caused by tectonic forces, to create Lake Chad. Calling it a lake might be a bit misleading as it includes a mixture of smaller lakes and ponds and pools and marshes and mud. Lake Chad grows and contracts as rain falls or it doesn’t, in an annual cycle of wet and dry seasons, through times of abundance and times of drought. This is a very shallow lake, only 10.5 metres (34 feet) at its deepest point, so expansion or contraction can be quite dramatic even within a single year during the interplay between evaporation and replenishment.
The Lake Chad Basin Commission proposed three Lake Chads, a set of variations noted as small, medium and large Lake Chad.
Other sources sounded considerably less optimistic. The United Nations’ AfricaRenewal described it as "one of the most important agricultural heritage sites in the world, providing a lifeline to nearly 30 million people" and noted "The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has called the situation an ‘ecological catastrophe,’ predicting that the lake could disappear this century" Whether natural cycle or permanent situation, this dwindling freshwater reservoir contributed to international tensions.
lac tchad by barth1003, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
European colonial powers all wanted a piece of the lake, an unusually large source of water near the southern rim of the Sahara Desert. That transformed into four different African nations sharing Lake Chad once colonial powers relinquished control: Nigeria, Niger, Chad (or Tchad) and Cameroon. It also created two different tripoints within the lake: a Nigeria, Niger, Chad tripoint; and a Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria tripoint. Two of the nations do not share a border. Niger and Cameroon are separated by about 85 kilometres (53 miles).
I wondered about the unusual northern appendage of Cameroon that extended up to Lake Chad like a sipping straw. This traced back to European control too, an artifact of German possession of "Kamerun" for several decades prior to the First World War. The United Kingdom also grabbed a corner of the lake in the formation of Nigeria and France behaved similarly with respect to Niger and Chad. Thus three European powers near the turn of the Twentieth Century coveted the waters, carved the land into colonies, and set the stage for its current international configuration.
That northern notch of Cameroon carried an appropriate name, the Région de l’Extrême-Nord, meaning Extreme North Region or Far North Region when converted into English (both are used). The northernmost department of this region was Logone-et-Chari. The department also had a northernmost settlement, Blangoua, along the Chari River near the point where it emptied into Lake Chad itself. That was the end of the road, as extremely north as one could settle in the extreme north of Cameroon. I found a YouTube video about this isolated Cameroonian outpost, or at least I think that’s what I found because it was in French. Regardless, the imagery provided a fascinating window on the people who lived along the lake.
Four nations sharing a valuable resource had to find a way to cooperate. This led to the creation of the Lake Chad Basin Commission:
Reuters reported that Cameroon was sending 700 soldiers into the Extreme North in March 2014 "as part of a regional force to tackle armed groups in an area where Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram operates."
The future looked pretty scary in the Lake Chad region.
I’ve written about elevation lowpoints previously including Lake Assal (Africa), Lake Eyre (Australia) and Death Valley (North America). It’s been awhile since I wrote about one of those so it seemed like a good opportunity to turn my attention to South America. I don’t provide as much content about that area as I should, probably because the best sources are in Spanish or Portuguese and translation software only goes so far.
The lowest elevation in South America is Laguna del Carbón within the Gran Bajo de San Julián, in Argentina at -105 metres (-345 feet). This elevation is repeated in numerous reputable sources including the CIA World Factbook so it seemed to be accurate. As stated in Geology.com for example,
Laguna del Carbón easily outpaced California’s Death Valley which registered at -86 metres (-282 feet), making the site in Argentina the lowest of the Americas. Yet, few people know about it and fewer people ever visit it.
Laguna del Carbón, Argentina
There didn’t appear to be much of anything at the lowpoint except for an intermittent salt lake at the bottom of a large endorheic basin, in Argentina’s arid Patagonia. It was so unvisited that I could not find a single image with a creative commons license to embed and share within this page.
Gran Bajo de San Julián
Argentina’s Province of Santa Cruz is its southernmost mainland province (only Tierra del Fuego sits farther south) and cuts across the width of the nation. The province’s official website included a Relief & Hydrography page, which described its general layout and included a nice elevation comparison map:
Plateau of death. It didn’t sound inviting.
A depression formed on the plateau between the Chico River and the Atlantic Ocean, the Gran Bajo de San Julián. One can appreciate the depth and the suddenness of the depression from this random video I found on YouTube. One can also hear the howling wind of an empty, treeless expanse.
Exploring Laguna del Carbón
A tourism industry did not develop around Laguna del Carbón as it did around Death Valley. It remained private property and cannot be visited without permission. Nonetheless a few hearty explorers made the trek and shared their stories on the Intertubes.
South American Explorers posted all back issues of its magazine on its website including Issue 38 (September 1994). It contained the article "Exploring the Gran Bajo de San Julian" In the article, the author noted that the designation of Laguna del Carbón as the lowest point of elevation in the Americas had been fairly recent. The identification of Laguna del Carbón dethroned Death Valley, which was considered to be the lowest point of the Americas up until then. I didn’t find the year that official measurement happened although it would have been well into the second half of the Twentieth Century more than likely. Perhaps that was why the site remained closed to general tourism. Nobody thought it was special until recently.
A site called 7 Lows, dedicated to the noble pursuit of visiting the lowpoints on each of the seven continents, featured Laguna del Carbón even more recently.
The trip report and photos included on that site are well worth checking out. Certainly people will travel out of their way to visit the spot. Maybe the economics will allow easier access and perhaps even a small tourism industry to blossom nearby someday.