I found one surprising benefit to the tedious research that went into the recent Last Presidential Counties article: I could sort through the data differently and come up with several unexpected yet equally fascinating facts. It produced enough material for a second article. Don’t think of these as leftovers though. They stood on their own.
Old Capitol Building in Corydon by StevenW., on Flickr (cc)
I expected that most counties would be designated in fairly close proximity to a president’s term in office, and that was the case generally. However I began to see that a noticeable number of counties were designated for their namesakes even before they served as president. That began to make sense as I thought about it a little more and began checking individual county histories. Consider that anyone who had the ability to became president of a nation — any nation — must have possessed extreme ambitions. These men didn’t simply drop out of the sky and land in the Oval Office without any effort on their part. The United States wasn’t a kingdom and nobody inherited this position. No, they were all governors or congressmen or generals or diplomats, or they filled various other prestigious positions, oftentimes multiple positions. Their efforts sometimes rose to a level of prominence that compelled states to name counties in their honor long before they served as president.
William Henry Harrison became the earliest achiever. Harrison County, Indiana was named for him a full 33 years before his presidential administration began. He’d already been a delegate to Congress representing the Northwest Territory before Andrew Jackson appointed him to become the first Governor of the the Indiana Territory in 1800. The territory was huge, encompassing all of current Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and part of Minnesota. Indiana established Harrison County in 1808 including land that Harrison owned, and established its capital there in the town of Corydon (map) where it would remain until moving to Indianapolis in the 1820’s.
Harrison then reinvented himself as a military leader and moved to Ohio. He defeated Native American forces led by the Shawnee leader Tecumseh at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. Then he defeated British forces at the Battle of the Thames in the War of 1812 (albeit the battle itself happened the following year). That prompted Ohio to designate a Harrison County in 1813, this one established 28 years before Harrison became president. He served in Congress representing Ohio and then as a diplomat before retiring somewhere around 1829. Harrison had already experienced enough adventure for several careers when he was persuaded to run for president in 1836 (he lost) and again in 1840 (he won). Then he caught pneumonia and died after serving in office for only about a month. He probably should have quit while he was still ahead.
Andrew Jackson tied for second place. Jackson County, Tennessee was named 28 years before Jackson became president.
Some presidents became greater icons than others. Many of the presidents who led the struggle for independence still had counties named for them several decades after they left public office. It should come as no surprise that John Adams and George Washington fared particularly well, with counties named for them 110 years after they served: Adams County, Idaho and Washington County, Oklahoma.
Adams County, Idaho
There wasn’t much to know about Adams County, Idaho in a rural part of the state with fewer than four thousand residents. It did serve as the home of the increasingly rare Northern Idaho Ground Squirrel (Urocitellus brunneus brunneus)
Very small range in west-central Idaho; declined from about 5000+ individuals in 1985 to only 450-500 individuals in 23 sub-populations in 2002; most (20) subpopulations comprise fewer than 50 individuals. Threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation as a result of forest encroachment into meadows, agricultural conversion, road construction, and residential and golf course development, and also by competition with Columbian ground squirrel and some shooting.
Washington County, Oklahoma
Price Tower, Bartlesville by baraqatax, on Flickr (cc)
Washington County, Oklahoma was considerably better know with its county seat at Bartlesville. Washington was a funny little county, long and skinny and the smallest in the state with only 424 square miles (1,098 square kilometres) of territory. While Bartlesville wasn’t the largest city in Oklahoma — it had only about 35 thousand residents — it played an oversized role in the oil and gas industry that was so important to the state economy. The Phillips Petroleum Company was founded there in 1905. It later merged with Conoco to become ConocoPhillips and then split to become Phillips 66 and ConocoPhillips in 2012. Both companies continue to retain a major presence in Bartlesville although now headquartered elsewhere.
Bartlesville was also notable for Price Tower (map), now known as the Price Tower Arts Center. It was designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, one of only two buildings he created in a vertical alignment.
In Wright’s design for a tower, he combined cantilevered floors with what is called "taproot" design. Borrowing from nature, Wright understood that a building’s floors and outer walls could be held aloft in the same way that a tree raises it branches and leaves – with a trunk-anchored in place by a deep, central foundation, or "taproot". The tower’s trunk consists of an inner concrete and steel core – actually four of them – that also serve as the elevator shafts. Cantilevered out from this central core are the tower’s 19 floors.
Thomas Jefferson also had two counties named for him more than a century after he left office: Jefferson County, Oregon (105 years later) and Jefferson County, Idaho (104 years later). While Adams and Washington had slightly later counties named in their honor, Jefferson deserved special mention for two counties nearly at the top. It’s unlikely that other presidents will join the century list unless the United States colonizes the moon or Mars or something. Even so, there probably won’t ever be a Nixon County.
Most Presidential State
I continued to sort and noticed that some states had more counties named for presidents than others. Nebraska took top honors with twelve presidential counties: Adams, Arthur, Fillmore, Garfield, Grant, Hayes, Jefferson Lincoln, Madison, Pierce, Polk, and Washington. Iowa came in a close second with eleven and Arkansas followed just below with ten.