More Oddities in Washington, DC

On November 22, 2010 · 7 Comments

It was great to be offered an opportunity to submit a guest post on Google Sightseeing, following in the footsteps of Kyle Kusch of The Basement Geographer. Google Sightseeing is one of my all-time favorite blogs and it was a pleasure working with its principal authors, Alex and James Turnbull.

I titled my guest post "Oddities in Washington, DC."

For those of you visiting here for the very first time following the link from that guest post, I offer my sincere welcome. For the regular readers of the Twelve Mile Circle, you’ll find the content similar to what you’ve come to expect here although maybe in smaller snippets.

I had way too much material. A bunch of examples hit the cutting room floor as I squeezed the article to keep the word count reasonable. Originally I had three ideas for each of the headings but I reduced it to two. The slashing was pretty severe. I know you’re thirsting for the rest of the material so I’ll gladly present the content that didn’t make it into Google Sightseeing.

We have Exclaves

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Travelers along the George Washington Parkway between Interstate 395 and Interstate 66 get to clip a little corner of the District of Columbia which owns the Potomac River up to the opposing riverbank. Visitors will not see a sign or any evidence notifying them as they enter the District nor when they leave it more than a mile further down the road.

Reason Cut: It’s not really an exclave. It’s an interesting anomaly especially for Virginia drivers who are aware of the situation but it’s also connected to the rest of the District by the Memorial Bridge.

We have Lines

I’m not featuring the U.S. Capitol because of its inherent iconography but because a visitor can stand beneath the dome and be in all four quadrants of the city (NE, SE, NW, SW) simultaneously!

Reason Cut: I was going to tie it in with the Original Capitol Columns entry. Ultimately I felt it strayed the furthest from the non-touristy angle I was taking, even if the oddity had less to do with the building and more to do with the invisible lines that run through it.

We have History

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What other location includes the ruins of an antebellum plantation tucked between two urban parking garages? One will find Abingdon Plantation, ancestral home to the Custis family, at Arlington’s National Airport.

Reason Cut: I could probably make a case that because Arlington and much of Alexandria in Virginia were once part of the original District of Columbia (prior to the 1847 retrocession), that they could fit within the subject matter of an article on Washington, DC oddities. I used that justification when I mentioned the boundary stones and it seemed to work because they were tied directly to the District’s territorial formation and adjustment. That’s not the case with other "former DC" locations so they were the first that I cut.

We have Conundrums

Again in Arlington, heads swivel when encountering the paradoxical church with a gasoline station beneath it. Some call this unusual combination Our Lady of the Gas Pump and others the Exxon United Methodist. I call it unique. Save your soul and fill your tank at the same time.

Reason Cut: Another "former DC" location now in Virginia. Cut.

We have Contradictions

Imagine an Air Force Base without a runway or airplanes. Fixed-wing airplanes haven’t landed at Bolling Air Force Base since the 1960’s although helicopters still use it. It still has the old control tower, though.

Reason Cut: This one seemed to fit the theme but it fell within in a tough category. One of them had to go and this was it. I’ve done some additional research on this topic and I expect to post an in-depth article someday in the future.

When Categories Collide!

On March 28, 2008 · 1 Comments

Here I explore a mashup of two wonderful topics covered in previous posts: the County Highpointers Association and the epilogue to my Smallest County Series. While in Northern Virginia and with a little free time on my hands, I decided to see whether I could reach the highpoints of both the smallest self-governing county in the United States and the smallest “county equivalent” location recognized by the Census Bureau.

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First this is not a difficult accomplishment. In fact it’s rather easily attained just outside of Washington, DC, on the Virginia side of the Potomac River. Arlington County (the smallest self-governing county) shares a border with the independent City of Falls Church (the smallest county-equivalent Census unit). Their highpoints are a mere three miles apart.

I drove up Minor’s Hill in western Arlington in search of the first highpoint. As I gained elevation, I caught my first clue as I came across a historical marker.

To the Northwest is Minor’s Hill, so called for George Minor who lived on the far side at the time of the revolution. It is the highest elevation in the county. In the fall of 1861, it was the site of a Confederate outpost, afterwards there was a federal signal station at the top of the hill. Here at the foot of the hill was a large cantonment housing the reserve force supporting the Federal outposts in Fairfax County.

One can hardly travel more than a mile in Virginia without stumbling across something of historical or cultural significance so it didn’t surprise me to learn that this promontory had been pressed into service by both sides during the Civil War. I also learned a new word: “Cantonment.” That’s a term used to describe a temporary or semi-permanent military quarters. I tucked those facts away so I’d retain at least something of value should my trip become a bust. I could always write it off as an educational opportunity. At the same time I took slight exception with the sign since it appeared that the true peak was due north rather than northwest. Nonetheless, I continued to trudge towards the summit.

Arlington County Highpoint on Minor's Hill
The highpoint wasn’t that remarkable of a place, in fact it was just a quiet, nondescript suburban street corner. There would be nothing of significance at all if it didn’t happen to be the highpoint. In the photograph above it can be found somewhere near the fence post that is closest to the end of the sidewalk. At 464 feet above sea level, Mount Everest, it is not.

City of Falls Church Poplar Drive
I then veered over to the independent City of Falls Church highpoint and arrived at my target destination less than ten minutes later. Falls Church is only about two square miles so it’s not like I was facing an extended search. I could see a hill rise visibly in front of me as I motored down Poplar Drive.

City of Falls Church Highpoint
Once again a wooded suburban street was the only obstacle I needed to mount in order to reach the distinguished locale. The highpoint itself appeared to be sitting in the back yard of a white, two story home set back slightly from the street, this time at 440 feet above sea level. That point also marked the boundary between the City of Falls Church and its other neighbor, Fairfax County.

So those were my two county highpoint adventures. They weren’t quite as remarkable as visits I’ve made to the New Hampshire state highpoint and the Wisconsin state highpoint but they were memorable enough because of the odd geographic distinctions associated with Arlington County and the City of Falls Church.

If you would ever like to replicate this journey, explicit driving instructions are provided on the County Highpointers Association visit reports for Arlington and Falls Church.

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