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,
Triadelphia ("three brothers") was founded in 1809 by brothers-in-law Thomas Moore, Isaac Briggs, and Caleb Bentley, who married Brooke sisters. Its water wheels powered a cotton spinning mill… Around the mills sprang up a structured little city… The town throbbed with 400 people.
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.
At the end of the 1830s, the first lots were plotted, and Blakeleytown became Arkadelphia. The name’s originator and precise date of origin are lost; later accounts agree that early settler James Trigg reported, without attribution, that when Arkadelphia became the county seat and thus needed a more dignified name, locals combined two Greek words for “arc of brotherhood” and changed the third letter. However, many settlers came from Alabama and perhaps borrowed the name of Arkadelphia from a town north of Birmingham.
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:
Early colonial settlement in and surrounding present-day Howell Township revolved around agriculture as the principle industry and activity. Settlement patterns roughly corresponded to the location of high-quality soils… A permanent structure for the Bethesda Methodist Church was built in 1779 on what is now Lakewood Road (Donahay, 1967). The area was later called Turkey, from which Turkey Swamp Park in Freehold Township is named, before becoming known as Adelphia.
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.
- Texadelphia was a small restaurant chain specializing in "Texas Cheesesteak," an obvious reference to the original restaurant location and an homage to Philadelphia, the acknowledged birthplace of the cheesesteak.
- The two major superorders of marsupials are Ameridelphia (opossum and such) and Australidelphia (kangaroo, wombat, koala and such). Here the suffix referred to the animals’ pouch, described by early classifiers as something like an external "womb."
(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’m not sure why I began to think about the birthplaces of every President of the United States. Maybe this might interest people, I considered. I wasn’t fooling myself though — I did it for me. Theoretically I could pass through one of these areas someday in the future and I might want to stop if it were close enough to my intended track. So I created a map.
View Presidential Birthplaces in a larger map
I gathered all of the locations in a shared spreadsheet. Twelve Mile Circle readers should feel free to consult the spreadsheet for exact latitude/longitude coordinates and links to additional information about each site. This could be a handy little reference for anyone wishing to visit these birthplaces — and there are people who do that! I don’t know why I’m surprised. After all, it’s not that much different from my county counting.
Trends began to reveal themselves as I plotted each location. For instance, notice the concentration of sites in the eastern half of the United States, particularly the northeast. That would be expected to a degree because of population and settlement patterns. However I didn’t expect it to be quite that stark. Nixon and Obama(¹) stood far apart as obvious outliers, considerably removed from everyone else.
The Adams Family
John Adams' Birthplace by James Walsh, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license
The original father-son presidential duo, John Adams and John Quincy Adams should win an award for proximity. They were born in adjacent houses (map) in the north precinct of Braintree, now Quincy, Massachusetts. Both are open the public as part of the Adams National Historical Park. That would be an easy visit.
The National Park Service estimated the distance between birthplaces at 75 feet (23 metres).
James Monroe Birthplace, Monroe Hall, Westmoreland Co., Virginia
I noticed a couple of particularly tight birthplace clusters, one in Virginia and one in Ohio. These two states dominated presidential politics during different eras, creating opportunities for statistical anomalies. The Virginia cluster occurred on the Northern Neck with the births of some of the earliest presidents and "founding fathers," George Washington, James Madison and James Monroe.
Ohio dominated the presidency in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with a string of Republican victories. As explained by the Columbus Dispatch,
Ohio’s dominance of the presidency around the time the 19th century became the 20th was no accident: Ohio was the third-largest state, behind New York and Pennsylvania, and it was the economic engine of America. Ohioans were the inventors and operators of the industrial age. With economic might came political power, including dominant influence in the political parties, especially the GOP, from whence seven of Ohio’s eight presidents came.
A particularly remarkable clustering centered near Cincinnati, with the birthplaces of Ulysses Grant, Benjamin Harrison and William Taft.
Close to the Border
Chester Alan Arthur State Historic Site – Vermont by Doug Kerr, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license
The Chester Arthur birthplace in Fairfield, Vermont fell remarkably close to Canada, about 20 miles (32 kilometres) from the border (map). His father immigrated from Ireland to Canada, settling in Dunham, Lower Canada, which is now part of Québec. His mother was an American born in Vermont. The couple wed in Canada and their first child was born in Canada. Arthur was born in the United States. The family moved regularly as Chester’s father taught at various schools and later served as a minister of the Free Will Baptist church.
Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution of the United States said,
No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President
Arthur’s political opponents conducted a smear campaign focused on the Constitution’s natural-born-citizen clause. His father’s immigration to Canada, his birth near the border, and his family’s frequent relocation were all used as "evidence" of non-citizenship in an attempt to disqualify Arthur from office.
Bill Clinton Birthplace, Hope, Arkansas
Most presidential birthplaces earned landmark status. Many can be visited by the public. That might not be possible for future presidents. Increasingly, the more recent presidents traced their births to hospitals. Jimmy Carter came first, then Bill Clinton, then George W. Bush and most recently Barack Obama.
Bill Clinton provided a case in point in Hope Arkansas. The Julia Chester Hospital of his birth no longer existed. It was torn down. The Brazzel-Oakcrest Funeral Home occupies its former site. In commemoration the funeral home placed a flagpole and a marker to signify Clinton’s birthplace. Street View provided decent coverage although a view from inside of the funeral home actually offered a better image. In addition his childhood home became a museum. Likely, that’s what will happen in the future. The hospital might deserve a simple plaque while the president’s initial home will replace the typical "birthplace" museum of the past.
Odd Men Out
I won’t bother to discuss all of the presidential birth sites. Maybe I’ll provide more information if I ever visit them. I’ll wrap this up with two more examples.
Andrew Jackson’s birthplace remained an historical mystery. It was somewhere in the Waxhaws Region:
Andrew Jackson, Sr., died in late February, 1767. Betty traveled south to the Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church to bury her husband. On the return trip, she gave birth to Andrew Jackson, the future president of the United States. Although stories abound as to the events surrounding the birth, as of yet no definitive evidence has arisen to authenticate the exact location of Andrew Jackson’s birth on March 15, 1767.
He may have been born in North Carolina. He may have been born in South Carolina. Both have claimed him.
Finally, pity poor Warren Harding. Many historians considered Harding the worst or amongst the worst of all U.S. presidents. Nobody built a Warren Harding Birthplace museum. He barely earned a marker.
Watch @TheReal12MC Twitter account over the next few days and you might be able to figure out the topic of several upcoming articles
(¹) I’ve listed Obama’s birthplace as Kapi’olani Maternity & Gynecological Hospital, Honolulu, Hawaii. I don’t put much credence in Birther conspiracies. I don’t think Donald Trump reads 12MC so we’re probably fine.
One of the reasons I enjoyed the various marathon series offered by Mainly Marathons — other than the fact that I didn’t have to run them — was that they provided an opportunity to see parts of the country not normally encountered by casual tourists. I’ve done this twice now, first with the Dustbowl Series and now with the Riverboat Series. I chauffeured a runner from one obscure locale to another, and in return I could tweak the path to count new counties, capture geo-oddities, and experience undiluted Americana. I called that a fair bargain.
Graceland, well Graceland, certainly wasn’t an obscure destination lacking for tourism. I would have gone out of my way to visit Graceland eventually anyway so maybe it wasn’t the best example to begin this article. However it was the complete embodiment of Americana so it had to rise to the top of my list. The Cult of Elvis always fascinated me so Graceland (map) required my careful, respectful attention.
How could I possible choose a single photograph to represent such an astonishing cultural touchstone? Every single item, from the house itself to its outlandish furnishings of the Jungle Room, to the walls of platinum records, to the customized jet airplane with gold bathroom fixtures, simply everything shouted Elvis Presley. I selected the jumpsuits although feel free to scroll back-and-forth for other images. One exhibit included an entire series of jumpsuits and it was fascinating to observe when they first appeared in the early 1970’s as very simple designs, and progressed over the years with Elvis adding ever-increasing amounts of elaborate decorative elements including capes, rhinestones, embroidery and cowboy-sized belt buckles.
Travel Tip: arrive at Graceland just as it opens for the day and purchase Platinum tickets instead of VIP, then board the shuttle for the mansion grounds as the very first activity. This costs about half the price of VIP and an early arrival practically guaranteeing "front of the line" access offered by the VIP tour.
Of course I consulted 12MC’s Complete Index map before I left on my grand adventure. Doesn’t everyone? I wanted to see if I’d written about oddities along my expected path and whether they might merit a personal visit. I noticed a reference to Low Clearance, an article posted in February 2011. The story was all about extremely low overpasses, the kind that might rip the top off of a box truck like a can opener. One such example happened to be found in Henning, Tennessee and I would be driving directly past it (map). Typically I wouldn’t go out of my way just to see an 8’0″ (2.44 m) railroad trestle underpass, however this one involved a measly 30-second detour so why not?
I tweeted the photograph later that day as a victory salute, prompting an even more impressive return tweet from @mapman85 of a better example near Greenfield, Ohio: 7’5″!
I titled this photo, "Random creature made from tires outside of Dumas, Arkansas" (street view) and that pretty much described it. This wasn’t the best of photos although not so bad considering that it was captured from a moving automobile with a mobile phone; notice the side-view mirror in the lower left corner.
I never could understand what an oversized rubber humanoid had to do with a TV Repair business although that didn’t really matter either. That was the kind of whacky non sequitur I’d come to expect in these out-of-the-way places. Some guy wanted a giant tire sculpture in his front yard, and darn it, that’s what he was going to build right there.
Do people still get TV’s repaired anymore? Maybe he had a lot of time on his hands.
Two legendary highways intersected in Clarksdale, Mississippi (map). US Highway 61 ran north-south. We drove it from Vicksburg to Memphis through the heart of the flat, empty floodplain of the Mississippi Delta. This was the storied "Blues Highway," probably second only to Route 66 for its revered place in American nostalgia and culture (e.g., Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited).
US Highway 49 — while not as well known culturally as US 61 — also ran through the Delta. It would have crossed familiar territory to classic Blues musicians such as Big Joe Williams and Howlin’ Wolf who sang about it.
The Clarksdale, Mississippi intersection of these two storied highways came to be known as the Crossroads, and sometimes the Devil’s Crossroads. Legends pointed here as the place where bluesman Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in return for his musical skills, as supposedly referenced in his 1936 recording of "Cross Roads Blues." Of course that assumed one believed in such things, and if so, understanding that there were multiple Delta locations all laying claim to the actual Devil’s Crossroads. Tourism, you know.
Like the Tire Man, this Giant Mailbox didn’t seem to serve any purpose other than standing by the roadside whimsically and entertain passersby. One can appreciate the sense of scale by comparing it to the flagpole and the stop sign. We stumbled upon it unexpectedly as we drove up US Highway 65 in northeastern Louisiana. Well done Ben Burnside of Franklin Plantation, Newellton, Louisiana (street view).
Rest Stop Sundial
I suppose I became sensitized to sundials when I wrote Remarkable Sundials last year. We stopped at an otherwise unremarkable wayside along Interstate 40 in Tennessee as we returned home. I spotted a sculpture with a familiar shape from the corner of my eye, walked over to investigate it, and figured it to be a sundial of a sort (satellite view). I searched for it on the Intertubes when I returned home. It was a work called "Marking Time" by Preston Farabow installed in 2007.
A press release from the Tennessee Arts Commission provided all of the particulars, and noted that it "incorporates markers representing all 95 counties of the state." A county-counting sundial? That practically defined perfection in the Twelve Mile Circle universe.
The Riverboat Adventure articles: