Crystal City

Familiar place names always catch my attention. Often they share a bond with locations near my home in the Washington, DC area. Several years ago I wrote about one such situation in A Tale of Three Ridges. This time Crystal City served as the common denominator.

Crystal City, Virginia

Arlington Crystal city (1)
Arlington Crystal city. Photo by DymphieH on Flickr (cc)

Virginia’s Crystal City abuts Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. However, most flyers probably never noticed it. Minds tend to wander across the Potomac River to the famous monuments on the National Mall. However, a glance in the opposite direction would show large blocks of office towers and apartments instead. That skyline marked Crystal City.

Crystal City didn’t exist until the Cold War. This unplanned creation handled the overflow of Federal agencies, government contractors, and residents. Jackson City once stood there in the mid 19th Century, providing space for two forts during the Civil War. Then the area declined.

After the war ended, it devolved into a seedy red-light district, complete with saloons, betting parlors and brothels — most of which were burned down in 1904 by a self-appointed cleanup crew known as the "Good Citizens League." From those ashes rose an industrial sprawl of brickyards, warehouses, iron-fabricating factories and junk lots that spread south.

The revival began with the construction of the Crystal House apartments (map) in the 1960’s. It happened to feature an ornate crystal chandelier. That started a naming trend for new construction in the area — everything became Crystal something-or-another.

I used to work in Crystal City. The old American Meridian ran directly through it. I drove across it every day, living in the former Western Hemisphere and working in the the Eastern Hemisphere. Twelve Mile Circle even sponsored a Happy Hour gathering back in 2010 at a Crystal City pub almost directly atop the Meridian. I had fond geo-geek memories of the place.

Crystal City, Texas

Crystal City Popeye
Crystal City Popeye. Photo by Jerry and Pat Donaho on Flickr (cc)

The Crystal City in Texas provided the excuse for this article. My genealogy hobby uncovered a distant relative in that town in Zavala County. He lived there in 1910, working in a livery stable. It seemed odd that the town shared a name with a place in Virginia. The city explained its origin:

Two land developers, Carl F. Groos and E. J. Buckingham, developed the town in the early 1900s. In 1905 they purchased the 10,000-acre Cross S Ranch, sold off most of the land as farms, and platted the townsite of Crystal City, named for the clear artesian water of the area.

Usually when I describe little places like this I struggle to find much of historical value. Crystal City defied that trend. It became known for several reasons in the last few decades. First, it served as one of the largest internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II. Then it received a lot of coverage in early 2016. Federal agents arrested almost every top official. They allegedly took bribes from a guy called Mr. T. who ran an illegal gambling scheme. Those indicted included the mayor, mayor pro tempore, city manager and two of three councilmen.

I preferred to recognize Crystal City for its motto, as the "Spinach Capital of the World." They even placed a statue of Popeye the Sailor Man in front of city hall (map) and included him on the city seal.

Crystal City, Missouri

Ford Crown Victoria
Crystal City-Missouri Police. Photo by World Police Vehicles on Flickr (cc)

However, the fun didn’t end there. I discovered additional Crystal Cities. One of them landed in Missouri (map). That city said,

Around 1843 an Eastern company conducted a search in this area of Missouri, looking for land with valuable minerals. In 1868 Forrest Sheppards, a mineralogist and geologist, located silica (sand rock) near the mouth of Plattin Creek. The sand was of superior quality for glass manufacturing. What followed was an enthusiastic pursuit of development, and The American Plate Glass Company was founded here by Captain Ebenezer B. Ward of Detroit, in 1871.

Crystal City began as a company town named for the glass. The factory remained until 1990, or nearly 150 years. However, the company controlled every facet of life for the first few decades. An independent town grew immediately to its west, with privately owned homes and business, particularly saloons. The two came to be known as The Twin Cities, Crystal City and Festus (Minnesota’s Minneapolis and St. Paul might disagree). Festus supposedly got its name from a lady who opened her bible onto a random page. Her finger landed on Acts 25:1 and the name Festus. This replaced Tanglefoot. It didn’t seem like much of an improvement.

They could change Crystal City to Cletus and create the perfect hillbilly combination, though.

Crystal City, Manitoba

we built this city on grain (and rock 'n' roll)
Grain elevator in Crystal City, Manitoba. Photo by Agent Magenta on Flickr (cc)

Canada included a Crystal City too, in Manitoba (map).

Greenway proceeded to map a street layout for a "city" south and east of Crystal Creek. The idea of our "town" being a city in the then future was not so far-fetched. Crystal City had a population of 230 plus, with Brandon recording around 100, while even Winnipeg numbered in at 400 in 1878. Greenway had seen Ontario towns with less, become great, simply due to time, immigration and internal growth. The dream for the town was to become a city, a leader in the southern prairies, maybe even the provincial capital.

Of course, this Crystal City never grew into that great city. Fewer than 400 people live there today.

Odds and Ends 6

We have lots to talk about today in convenient bite-sized morsels. Time passes, familiar stories change, unexplored topics surface, and readers continue to contribute great ideas (thank you!). It’s a convenient moment to dust-off a periodic recurring theme on 12MC called Odds and Ends. Like a bad movie spawning endless sequels, the Twelve Mile Circle now hits miscellaneous article #6 with no end in sight.

I’ll begin with a contribution from longtime reader "Ian" (who should feel free to further identify himself in the comments if he so chooses).

Comparison of U.S. state latitudes

You will want to open the image in another tab to truly appreciate its elegance. This is a chart showing latitude extremes for the fifty United States laid-out sequentially, generated from an Excel spreadsheet that Ian created for that purpose.

About a thousand different project possibilities building upon these data came to mind in a nanosecond. For instance, I’d love to do the same thing for longitude, and then create a map of the United States based upon the four cardinal direction extremes of each individual state. I think it would result in all sorts of interesting anomalies and overlaps. Certain states like Colorado and Wyoming wouldn’t change, however irregularly-shaped Florida, Idaho, California, Virginia and such would blossom in size. Then I’d have to consider whether I’d need to convert coordinates to great circle distances to account for lines of longitude moving closer towards each other as one progresses further north (e.g., Colorado isn’t actually a rectangle). Then I could expand the concept to other continents or to the entire earth itself.

The thought then intersected with inconvenient realities related to employment and family obligations, and I realized my ambitions outstripped my available time. I might revisit this later although I’d be happy to let Ian or someone else take a crack at it.

Frequent contributor "Thias" forwarded a map link to border weirdness between Oman and the United Arab Emirates, including international boundaries cutting through towns plus a double enclave.

Agrandir le plan

All kinds of Omani – UAE boundary madness exists. Kyle Kusch over at the Basement Geographer described some of it in a nice article not too long ago. 12MC also discussed the condominium that exists between the two nations back in the early days of the blog. I almost wish I could call a "do over" and rewrite the entry. Many of the early Twelve Mile Circle articles cherry-picked the most visible geo-oddity topics without the same level of detail and research I’d probably provide today.

Google Maps still lacks a circle drawing tool. It seems to be such a basic necessity, and yet, it continues to be ignored. Fortunately Google offers an application programming interface that allows the public to customize enhancements.

I mentioned the circle drawing tool available from in a previous article. I noticed that it’s been enhanced to allow users to embed images. Previously I had to take a screen print, create a graphics file and upload the result to my server. That was a pain. This new method is much simpler.

As an example, I created a twelve mile circle (you’d expect otherwise?) around the Zero Milestone marker in Washington, DC to test how it might work after dropping the code into a webpage. I also played around with some kilometre circles and noticed that a specific number of clicks from the marker cuts directly through my house. I mean exactly through it, as in the spot where I’m sitting right now typing this.

The site also used an animated gif as its favicon (may not work on all browsers) which has nothing to do with mapping; just something that amused me.

Life is tough along the American Meridian.

View American Meridian Line – in a larger map

The location of the one-and-only 12MC Happy Hour has closed. Again. The spot was crucial — on the dividing line between the U.S. version of eastern and western hemispheres prior to the adoption of the meridian at Greenwich. We delayed our initial gathering after the Irish bar found there shut down. Eventually a BBQ joint moved into the space and our gathering proceeded. Now it’s gone too after barely more than a year… and just when I was thinking it was time for another get-together.

Thanks to everyone who provided Dust Bowl suggestions. I’ve added them to the map.

View Dust Bowl Destinations in a larger map

Volcanoes. Dinosaurs. Scenic Vistas. Time Zones. Keep them coming! I’ll add them no matter how trivial or obscure. I’ll try to add as many of them as I can to my travel itinerary.

You’re Invited – 12MC Happy Hour

Finally, at long last, I get to announce definitive plans for a 12MC Happy Hour on the American Meridian Line, in the Washington, DC area. This has been a long time coming. We couldn’t meet just anywhere. It had to involve a genuine geo-oddity of sufficient stature befitting this group. Venue became critically important. The idea smoldered for a year after our initial choice — an Irish themed pub — went out of business. Flash forward to 2012 and the Irish Pub has been replaced by a Memphis BBQ joint. The concept now moves towards reality.

View American Meridian Line in a larger map

American Meridian Happy Hour
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
5:30 pm
Memphis Barbeque
320 S. 23rd Street, Arlington, VA

Closest Metro Station: Crystal City
Closest CaBi rack: half a block away at 23rd St. & Crystal Dr.
Parking: The garage somewhat across the street at 223 S. 23rd St. has free parking after 4:00 pm, as does the garage around the corner at 2200 Crystal Dr.

The fine print.
I’ll be there at 5:30 and I’ll stick around at least long enough to have a beer. I’ll feel like a loser if nobody else shows up in which case I’ll probably sneak out by 6:00. I don’t have any clue what any of you looks like so you’ll need to be able to pick me from a lineup (hope you can figure out which one is me). I’ll try to provide more definitive identifying information by email the day of the event to those who let me know they plan to attend. I’ll have to wear something other than the typical Washington, DC gray suit that day. Hmm… let me think about that. Well, nobody is absolutely sure the meridian goes exactly through Memphis Barbeque. The meridian seems to have varied ever-so-slightly over the years. A completely straight line from the dome of the Naval Observatory actually seems to cut through the Chinese restaurant next door. It’s hard to tell. I’d prefer a beer over Chinese buffet and it’s all within the margin of error anyway. It’s OK. Don’t get too hung-up on the details. You’ll still get credit for crossing between hemispheres. Yes, the weather can suck in DC in January. We’ll follow the OPM Rules: Anything other than OPEN will result in rescheduling.