County Hunter

The itch to continuously visit new counties kept stalking me. I did really well this year with a long road trip back from Missouri in April. Then I drove all over the Midwest in June. Finally I took the whole family through the Four Corners region of New Mexico and Colorado. My county counting tally stood at 1,425 by the end of the summer and yet I still wanted more. Unfortunately, I’d used up most of my vacation hours for the year. I needed to find the closest unvisited county and hit it on a weekend. Three options existed, all two-or-more hours away. Nothing closer remained anymore.

Pocahontas County, West Virginia

Forest Moon of Endor? No. Green Bank, West Virginia - 1
Forest Moon of Endor? No. Green Bank, West Virginia. Photo by Stephen Little on Flickr (cc)

I should be able to reach to nearest border of Pocahontas County in about 3 hours and 20 minutes. Certainly this would be too far for a dash-and-grab, stepping my toe across the border and heading back home. That would make a round trip of nearly seven hours just to color a single county on my map. Even I thought that sounded ridiculous.

Fortunately, if I decided to select Pocahontas for my excursion, I could find a couple of interesting activities waiting for me there. The media featured Pocahontas periodically because of the town of Green Bank, home of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Scientists searched for aliens with that telescope among other things. In support, the government created a large National Radio Quiet Zone around the observatory to prevent interference with its delicate instruments. Nobody could use a mobile phone, a WiFi router or even a microwave oven within twenty miles of Green Bank. The town also attracted some rather unusual residents in recent years as a result; those who believed that they suffered from electromagnetic hypersensitivity.

Elsewhere in Pocahontas I could visit the Snowshoe Mountain Ski Resort. It offered year-round activities like many ski resorts do now. I could probably get there just in time to see the leaves change colors if I left sometime in the next couple of weeks.

Atlantic County, New Jersey

Atlantic City
Atlantic City. Photo by Eric Haake on Flickr (cc)

A little closer to home, 2 hours and 45 minutes away, I could be in Atlantic County, New Jersey. Theoretically. However, I’d need to thread the needle perfectly to avoid miserable traffic on dreaded Interstate 95. It could also take a lot longer. Then I’d need to add another half-hour to get to the only attraction worth seeing, Atlantic City. Can anyone believe I’ve never been to Atlantic City? I don’t know how that happened. I’ve had a number of opportunities over the year and yet I’ve never made the trip. Gambling isn’t my thing so that explains most of the reason. There are plenty of closer beaches.

Still, I wouldn’t mind strolling along the famous boardwalk, enjoying the flash of casino lights and hunting for every street from the Monopoly game. Really, to be honest, I’d use this as a springboard for a longer drive to capture Atlantic, Ocean and Monmouth Counties. This neatly aligned trio of counties remained the only ones in New Jersey I’ve yet to capture. Then I could mark New Jersey done.

Huntingdon and Blair Counties, Pennsylvania

Route to Huntingdon and Blair
Route to Huntingdon and Blair (Dark Blue)

Instead I chose Huntingdon and Blair Counties in Pennsylvania. I could get to Huntingdon in as little as two hours, the absolutely closest county I’ve yet to visit. I could push deep into Blair all the way to Altoona, the regions largest city, in about three. The Twelve Mile Circle audience won’t find out what I discovered just yet. I’ll keep readers in suspense. However, expect to see an article on Huntingdon and another on Blair in the coming days.

Green Bank and Atlantic City will be visited someday too. Maybe in the Spring. We’ll see.

Thanks a Million

Longtime readers know that I check user statistics for Twelve Mile Circle daily. However, I don’t often examine figures that go all the way back to the earliest days of the blog. I did that recently, and to my surprise discovered that visitors had arrived from more than one million distinct sources since its inception. Google Analytics reported 1,012,891 users as of a few days ago. I adjusted some parameters and discovered that the site passed a million sometime early in the morning of Wednesday, February 10 — Ash Wednesday. Sure, there might have been a little double-counting, say when regular readers checked the site from home and then from work, although repeat customers were pretty small as a percentage when compared to all the one-and-done hits. I’m sure with the 12k buffer that at least a million different people have now stopped by, however briefly. Frankly, I’m completely humbled and astounded that I created something that reached so many people. If only I had a dollar for every visitor…

One Million Dollars
One Million Dollars by wbeem on Flick (cc)

Obviously my haul was considerably less although it did pay for a nice geo-oddity holiday to Saint Martin once. I supposed I should focus on more realistic celebrations such as finding places named a million. However there weren’t anywhere near a million such places. The US Geographic Names Information System listed only 47 and there were far fewer occurrences outside of the United States.

Million Acre Swamp

Winnie the Pooh overload
Winnie the Pooh overload by crabchick on Flickr (cc)

A Million Acre Swamp sure beat a Hundred Acre Wood although Winnipeg’s famous namesake warranted its own article. No, there wasn’t much noteworthy to say about the Million Acre Swamp in Wisconsin’s Pierce County (map) except perhaps to recognize its hyperbole. I found a reference to counting bears there — presumably other than Winnie — and that was about all of substance the Intertubes had to say about this swamp of an alleged million acres. I didn’t have anything further either.

Million Dollar Bridge

A million dollars used to be an amazing amount of money. It’s still meaningful to average folks and I’d be happy to take a donation of that size, however it doesn’t go a long way in government spending anymore. Back in the early 1900’s a million bucks was such an extravagance that it could bestow a nickname, like a Million Dollar Bridge in Alaska (map). "A million dollars for a bridge? — that must be one fancy bridge!" someone must have exclaimed a hundred years ago because the alternate name became more popular than its official name, the Miles Glacier Bridge. The bridge spanned the Copper River about fifty miles outside of Cordova, connecting the only town of significance in this part of Alaska to outlying communities.

It fared poorly in Alaska’s 1964 earthquake and the northern span collapsed. Did that stop people from using it? Of course not, this was Alaska. They constructed a ramp over the broken section and down to the riverbank. The Bridge Hunter website had some pretty terrifying photos of how it appeared in that condition, as did the video. As described in Alaska Dispatch News,

In the 1970’s, boards and eventually thick metal plates were put in place, somewhat precariously, creating a ramp from the bridge to its fallen span and the far side of the Copper. The span was lifted back into place in 2005, but braver locals still laugh about driving across those boards and the sound they would make as they rocked between spans under the weight of your car.

I’ll bet the repair cost more than a million dollars.

Million Dollar Pier

Night scene, Million Dollar Pier, Atlantic City, N. J.
Night scene, Million Dollar Pier, Atlantic City, N. J. by Boston Public Library on Flickr (cc)

Another million dollars, another early 20th Century structure, this time in the form of a pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey (map).

John Young’s Million Dollar Pier… included the world’s largest ballroom, named The Hippodrome, and a huge exhibit hall. The pier hosted movies, conventions, and exhibits of every description. Teddy Roosevelt gave a speech there in 1912. Some of the big bands played there including Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey and Artie Shaw.

It also hosted the 5th Miss America Pageant in 1925, won by Fay Lanphier, Miss California. Sadly the Million Dollar Pier was torn down in 1983. A succession of new structures occupied the site, with the current incarnation known as Playground Pier.

Rio Frio e Milhão

Milhão, Portugal

I’d hoped to find some million-themed place names in languages other than English. That didn’t work so well because many of them used something very similar to million as their word for million. However I did learn that the Portuguese word for million was slightly different, milhão. That formed part of the name of a parish in the far northeast corner of Portugal known as Rio Frio e Milhão (Cold River and Million, roughly translated). There weren’t any associations between the river and the number other than the parish had been formed in 2013 by cobbling together two settlements into a single unit within the larger municipality of Bragança. The Milhão portion had 161 residents as of the latest census, falling well short of a million. I didn’t learn how Milhão got its name although I’m sure there must have been a million something within its vicinity.


I think I’ve always known that the game of Monopoly was based on street names in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It goes back to the earliest days of my geo-geekdom, a useless nugget that I latched onto so long ago that I don’t know when or where I learned it. Monopoly was the first board game I remember playing, and I played it a lot in those faraway years before electronic screens dominated childhood entertainment.

I’ve never been to Atlantic City, though. I didn’t have any conception of how the board squares corresponded to the street grid. I was pretty sure the streets wouldn’t form the improbable pattern of the game but I’d hoped there might be some logic to it. I decided to place them on a real-world grid to find out.

View Monopoly Street Map in a larger map

I tried to replicate the colors used in the game.

  • Brown (think it was more purple when I was a kid): Mediterranean Ave; Baltic Ave
  • Light Blue: Oriental Ave; Vermont Ave; Connecticut Ave
  • Plum: St. Charles Pl; States Ave; Virginia Ave
  • Orange: St. James Ave, Tennessee Ave, New York Ave
  • Red: Kentucky Ave; Indiana Ave; Illinois Ave
  • Yellow: Atlantic Ave; Ventnor Ave; Marvin Gardens
  • Green: Pacific Ave; North Carolina Ave; Pennsylvania Ave
  • Blue: Park Place; Boardwalk

Indeed, I do see a logical layout. Streets that are grouped by color in the game fall in close proximity to each other on the map in a tidy manner. Most of the streets run perpendicular to the shore but a few of them run parallel, forming a nice checkerboard.

Monopoly traces to the earliest days of the 20th Century in a direct line back to something called The Landlord’s Game. That early ancestor caught on in a very limited sense. Small clusters of people created offshoots and variations. One version adapted by Charles Darrow incorporated the Atlantic City theme. He was once considered the creator of Monopoly until researchers connected all the dots and followed them back to the Landlord’s Game. Nonetheless, Darrow copyrighted Monopoly in 1933 and sold it to Parker Brothers in 1935. It became an overnight success. Parker Brothers licensed international versions almost immediately which included alternate street names, with London becoming perhaps the best example.

Parker Brothers also realized there were similar games and offshoots with a common ancestor. They began buying up patents and copyrights until the created a monopoly on the game Monopoly. It’s quite fascinating and complicated so feel free to peruse the Wikipedia page if this topic interests you.

I noticed a few anomalies as I plotted the streets on Atlantic City’s grid.

View Monopoly Street Map in a larger map

The yellow group stands out. Atlantic Avenue, one of the yellow streets, contributes to the checkerboard. However, Ventnor Avenue and Marvin Gardens are considerably removed from the rest of the action. Marvin Gardens is doubly unusual. It’s not even a street, it’s a neighborhood! I’ve marked its boundaries with a yellow box.

View Larger Map

This is as close as we can get to Marven Gardens in Google Street view. That’s not a typographical error. The neighborhood sits between MARgate City and VENtnor City, so MAR + VEN = MARVEN. You all know how much I love a good portmanteau! It was written wrong on a version prior to Darrow’s effort, and he dutifully replicated the mistake.

Some of the streets have gone through changes since the 1930’s. Illinois Avenue is now Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The Showboat Casino and Hotel obliterates the block where St. Charles place one ran. The southernmost block of Pennsylvania Avenue is Danny Thomas Boulevard.

Additionally, Boardwalk isn’t a street it’s, well, literally a boardwalk. Certainly it’s one of the oldest boardwalks in existence (1870’s) and arguable the most famous because of Monopoly and the Miss America beauty pagent, and possibly even the world’s longest according to some sources. It stretches four miles plus another mile and a half when combined with the adjoining Ventnor City boardwalk. I’m not completely convinced it’s the longest though. Plenty of others make the same claim.