Something has been bothering me since I mentioned the town of Washington, Virginia recently in Flip-Flopping. It claims to be the oldest town named for George Washington, platted by none other than George Washington himself in 1749. I noted that it’s often called Little Washington to differentiate it from nearby Washington, DC which dates to 1791. "Little" Washington is only 68.7 miles (111 kilometres) from "Big" Washington according to Google Maps. Was this the closest distance between two towns that share the same name?
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Washington to Washington
It was not, by the way, but I’ll get to that later.
I began by establishing some ground rules.
- The names had to arise independently although they could originate from a common source. Both Washingtons were named for George Washington. Clearly the city of Washington was not named for the little village in rural Virginia, though.
- They could not be part of the same basic metropolitan area. Kansas City (Missouri/Kansas), St. Louis – East St. Louis (Missouri/Illinois), Niagara Falls (New York/Ontario) and similar occurrences were specifically excluded. See how I crossed an international boundary on that last one? Right. The two Congos fell into this same category and I tossed that possibility from consideration too (plus, they’re countries not towns).
- They both had to be "meaningful" places. That was subjective. I defined it to mean that they both had to appear as labeled places on Google Maps. In the event of an approximate tie I would consider it better if each town was large enough to have a government and a web presence. Washington, Virginia is the seat of government for Rappahannock County in addition to being a town in its own right, for example.
- Google Maps would also serve as the final arbiter of distance using simple queries such as "Washington, VA to Washington, DC." No lat/long coordinates or street addresses could be used to shorten distances.
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Greenville to Greenville
I began by consulting Wikipedia’s list of the most common U.S. place names and I figured I’d start with those found in Rhode Island. None of those towns would be very far from a state border by definition. The same would hold true, relatively speaking, for neighboring Connecticut and Massachusetts. That winnowed the list down to Greenville, Riverside, Kingston and Newport for Rhode Island. I didn’t get any cross-border cooperation, though. Nonetheless and to my surprise, Greenville, Rhode Island to Greenville, New Hampshire — crossing through the entire width of Massachusetts — scored very well at 79.6 miles (128 km).
I also uncovered an odd Google Maps glitch, and I’m not sure if it was specific to me or whether it will be repaired before someone else attempts it. I tried to route from "Greenville, NH to Greenville, VT" and it calculated a 0.4 mile path to Panda Wok. I wonder how much Panda Wok paid Google for that nifty little trick?
Then I started getting a weird sense of déjà vu, like maybe I’d already published this article before. That possibility dawned on me as I examined other common town names on the list, particularly Franklin. I worry about the day that it will happen, and believe me it will happen someday. I now have several hundred articles under my belt and it’s hard to keep them all straight. Today is not that day. I searched my archives and found that two Franklins appeared in The Jeffersons and Beyond in a different context with a distance of 102 miles (164 km) between them.
While I was at it I also observed Washington, Maryland on the list and compared it to Washington, DC. It did almost as well as Washington, VA, at 69.7 miles (112 km); only a mile farther! (map). Mostly though, the list was a bust.
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Lens to Lens
Then I transitioned to the desperation method. That involved looking near state and provincial borders for similar towns, and failing that, moving on to national boundaries. Languages tend to slop across European borders so maybe I could find something there. I spotted Lens in northern France and focused on it only because it was a short name. Could there be a Lens in Belgium. Yes, and the distance between them was 66.5 miles (107 km).
I found the best answer of the day completely by luck.
Now I turn the challenge over to the wise and all-knowing 12MC audience. I think there has to be better occurrences, probably numerous ones, that meet the four basic criteria.