I’ve slowly been overhauling the non-12MC part of my website — the portion for which the howderfamily.com domain was obtained long before Twelve Mile Circle became the tail wagging the dog — to upgrade to Google Maps API v3. It’s been a slow and tedious process. Recently I revisited a genealogy page I wrote about ten years ago and created a map where one hadn’t existed previously.
It reminded me that I’ve had it pretty easy when we visit the in-laws in Wisconsin, with an elapsed airtime of about an hour between airports. My ancestors undertook a journey of similar distance when they moved from Maine to Wisconsin in 1844. They seemed pretty satisfied that it took "just one month."
The family patriarch described the entire journey in a letter that he sent back to his brother in Maine. I received a copy of the letter in 2002 and wrote about it in a genealogical society journal. The resulting article is reproduced elsewhere on my site. It includes a lot of family history content so feel free to skip it. Instead I’ll focus on what will more likely interest the 12MC audience, the geography and logistics of a North American journey in the 1840′s.
View Sylvester Journey – 1844 in a larger map
I took a much closer look at the letter this time around so I could design a reasonable replica of the route. The letter contained several place names, a few actual dates, and a verifiable historic event, all of which allowed me to reconstruct a full sequence of steps including days of the week. I could determine with near certainty that the journey began on Saturday, October 5, 1844 in Phillips, Maine and concluded a month later on Tuesday, November 5 in Jamestown, Wisconsin.
Markers on the map include supporting text from the letter. Colored lines represent changes in transportation modes.
Phase I – Cart and Foot: October 5-7
The journey began by hauling family and freight down to a port. The group stopped to visit with some relatives along the way so it took three days to get to the nearest river town with ocean access. The port was just outside of Augusta, the capital city of Maine on the Kennebec River.
Phase II – Ship: October 7-8
They sailed down the Kennebec River into the Gulf of Maine, hugged the coastline and entered Massachusetts Bay. They disembarked at Boston, Massachusetts.
Phase III – Railroad: October 8-10
The Boston and Albany Railroad
SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons released to the Public Domain
The Boston and Albany Railroad received its charter in 1831 and laid track westward in phases. One could travel the entire route between the two cities by rail beginning in 1841. The family took early advantage of this transportation leap to shorten its movement across Massachusetts.
The letter never mentioned a railroad although no other feasible method could have covered the same distance in a similar amount of time. It referenced a three hour segment between Boston and Worcester for example, a distance of 46 miles. A stagecoach would have averaged 5 miles per hour. A typical speed for a train in the early 1840′s would have been about 10 to 20 miles per hour.
A rail line existed, the speed of motion matched historical averages for trains of that period, and towns mentioned in the letter (where the family stopped) mirrored the Boston and Albany Railroad route.
Phase IV – Canal Boat: October 11-18
SOURCE: Flickr by USACE Buffalo via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license
Erie Canal Boat Replica
Nothing moved faster overland than a railroad but routes were still a novelty in the early 1840′s. Rail hadn’t become a ubiquitous form of transportation like it would a couple of decades later so the family had to find another option. Waterways were still the superhighways of the era, and New York had a great one: the 363 mile (584 km) Erie Canal which opened in 1825.
It took the group a full week to cross New York. That duration was consistent with Erie Canal averages, where boats traveled at about 4 miles per hour (6.5 kph), with rest stops and additional time to traverse dozens of locks that often became choke points.
In one of life’s odd coincidences, my mother’s side of the family (in a canal boat) and my father’s side of the family (farmers living near Lockport) came within amazingly close proximity of each other on or around the evening of Thursday, October 17, 1844 — literally a "ship that passed in the night." The families wouldn’t get another chance for more than a hundred years and in a completely different location.
The canal boat docked in Buffalo, New York on the shores of Lake Erie.
Phase V – Great Lakes Steamship: October 21-26
The Great Lakes Steamship Great Western – 1838
Once again it was logical that the family would take advantage of a waterway. The first commercial steamboat services began in the first decades of the 19th Century and were quite common by the 1840′s. The Great Lakes were filled with them.
Here the family narrowly averted a calamity. They had the misfortune to arrive in Buffalo on the afternoon of Friday, October 18. Four steamships were ready to set sail that evening but they were already crowded with passengers. The family wasn’t in a hurry so they decided to wait until the next morning. A huge storm with hurricane-force winds hit that night and lasted into the following day, a storm so severe that it is still recorded in history as the Lower Great Lakes Storm of 1844.
As described in the History of the Great Lakes, Chapter 36:
For several days before the occurrence of the flood a strong north-east wind had been driving the water up the lake, but on the evening of the 18th a sudden shift of the wind took place, and it blew from the opposite direction with a tremendous force, never before or since known to the inhabitants of Buffalo. It brought with it immense volumes of water, which overflowed the lower districts of the city and vicinity, demolishing scores of buildings, and spreading ruin along the harbor front, playing havoc with shipping, and causing an awful destruction of human life.
The family escaped unscathed and was able to resume its journey the following Monday on the steamship Great Western. It took less than a week to arrive in Chicago.
Phase VI – Cart and Foot: October 30-November 5
The family decided to rent a hotel room and rest in Chicago for four days. Then they purchased "a wagon and a span of horses" and continued onward for the final leg of the journey. It took 6 days to cover approximately 180 miles (290 km) to their new home, so about 30 miles (48 km) per day which was described as "the most fatiguing and expensive of our journey."
The family arrived in Jamestown, Wisconsin, their final destination, pretty much exactly a month after they left Phillips, Maine.
I’ll keep that in mind the next time I fly up to Wisconsin and complain about an airport weather delay.
I stumble across the most fascinating bits of information in unexpected places. It happened this time as I examined the unusually-wide median strip between the eastbound and westbound lanes of Interstate 8 in southern California. I learned of a nearby oddity further down the highway while reviewing various roadfan websites.
A motorist will encounter the lowest overland elevation in the entire Interstate Highway System just to the east of the extreme central reservation I’d discovered earlier. It is listed as 52 feet (16 meters) below sea level by the U.S. Government’s Federal Highway Administration.
It’s not the lowest elevation of any road of any type within the U.S. — that’s Badwater Road in Death Valley which provides access to the lowest public restroom in North America (~ -282 ft, -86 m) — just the lowest natural point of elevation in the Interstate Highway System. It’s still pretty impressive, though.
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This happens in the vicinity of Exit 107 where I-8 crosses the New River. Notice the channel. The road dips down here as it crosses the river over a short bridge. Where, I wondered, could the New River be flowing if it was already more than fifty feet below sea level here? Certainly it would not be flowing to the sea. It much be part of an endorheic basin, and indeed that is the case.
The New River begins in Baja California, Mexico where it’s known as the Río Nuevo. It passes through the wonderfully conjoined portmanteau cities of Mexicali and Calexico. From there it flows under the I-8 bridge west of El Centro, and on to the Salton Sea. The surface elevation of the Salton Sea is -226 ft (-69 m) so whatever flows along the New River won’t leave the Salton Sea on its own unless it’s able to evaporate.
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That’s a problem. This Street View image from the point of lowest Interstate elevation shows one of the most polluted bodies of water in the nation. Sewage, pesticide-laden agricultural runoff, and industrial waste from businesses located along the ditch then dump into a basin without an outflow. Toxins and pathogens collect in extreme concentrations, creating a most foul situation. Those driving at high speed along I-8, crossing this point of lowest elevation, likely never consider the drawbacks of this dubious honor.
Let’s put one more asterisk onto the claim. There are other places along the Interstate Highway Systems with a lower elevation. However, they are located in tunnels. A similar situation exists in Canada.
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The Intertubes claims that the Fort McHenry Tunnel carrying I-95 traffic through Baltimore, Maryland represents the absolutely lowest Interstate elevation at 107 ft (33 m) below sea level. It passes in close proximity to historic Fort McHenry, as implied by the name, the battlefield site inspiring the Star Spangled Banner. It then drops below Baltimore Harbor. I’d post a Street View image except that the interior of a tunnel isn’t exactly the most exciting scenery available (check for yourself if you must).
While the exalted position of the Fort McHenry tunnel seemed to be conventional wisdom for the cyberspace masses, it was not the only candidate offered. I discovered numerous other claims. I could not, however, nail-down a definitive source. Another option included the I-93 Thomas P. "Tip" O’Neill Tunnel, part of the Big Dig project in Boston, Massachusetts. The I-64 Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel in Virginia was also mentioned frequently. I know we have several roadfans who read 12MC regularly so hopefully someone can provide a proper citation and we can put these issues to rest. I’ve driven through all three of these tunnels so I’m covered no matter how it turns out. Funny, I never realized I was experiencing a true geo-oddity during any of my transits.
I’ve never driven on I-8 through California though. I look forward to experiencing both the wide median and the lowest overland elevation someday.
I’ve been captivated by a Street View image posted by reader Katy in a comment on my recent Tunnels, Bridges, Lifts and Inclines article. It shows a canal going over a road in the Netherlands. The interesting aspect, to me, is that a viewer can determine the actual depth of the canal. Highway engineers were kind enough to paint the canal enclosure in a black-and-white checkerboard pattern.
I’m not sure why a massive concrete half-pipe filled with boats stirs my imagination. It does. It also got me thinking about other structures extending above roads. There are literally thousands of examples. Please feel free to suggest your own local favorites.
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Toll roads hold a captive audience but highway authorities have to meet certain basic driver needs to keep the meter running. It’s more cost effective to provide a single service area within the highway median, for traffic moving in both directions. That’s easier in a rural area where land is cheap and plentiful but a bit more difficult in an urban environment. The Illinois Tollway solved this problem by putting travel plazas, in this instance the Tri-State Tollway’s O’Hare Oasis near Chicago, above the motorway.
It’s not exactly fine dining but I can see a Starbucks and an Auntie Anne’s through the window, along with some tables and chairs (and is that someone sitting there?). Maybe this is more properly a food court but I’ve noticed others in my journeys that are closer to traditional restaurants. I selected this image because I’ve actually stopped here. I also like that it’s called an Oasis. It puts images of camels, sand dunes and palm trees in my mind in complete contrast to what is actually found there. Rare examples of bureaucratic creativity deserve to be rewarded.
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Head over to Cheltenham (near Melbourne) in Victoria, Australia, and one can experience a shopping mall built across the Nepean Highway. This is the Westfield Southland Shopping Centre. The Intertubes imply that the eastern portion was constructed first and the western portion was built as an annex later.
SOURCE: Westfield Southland.
Oh look, here’s a shop located directly above the roadway. Have any of our Australian readers from the Melbourne area experienced this shopping centre in person?
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The Great Platte River Road Archway Museum in Kearney, Nebraska may be the only museum built over a roadway. That means I’m too lazy to look for other examples but it sounds plausible and I’ve offset it with a qualifier. I was in Nebraska when this monument to frontier culture opened in 2000 although I didn’t have an opportunity to visit.
It’s not exactly located conveniently unless one happens to be driving through a vast empty expanse along Interstate 80. Actually, that’s the point. The state designed this attraction to tempt long-distance travelers so they would stop in Kearney and leave a little money behind for the local economy. There aren’t many economic opportunities way out in the wide open spaces of the Great Plains.
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I could have chosen hundreds of examples of parks over roadways. It seems to be in vogue with urban planners at the moment along with everything "green." I selected parklands created by the monumental Big Dig undergrounding of the Interstate 93 Central Artery in Boston, Massachusetts.
Everything associated with the Big Dig happened on an epic scale including the creation of green space right at city center, where an ugly elevated motorway once stood. The 15 acres of new parkland has been dubbed the Rose Kennedy Greenway and represents the final phase of the project: "When Boston’s Big Dig project plunged previously elevated roadways underground, the city found itself rich in prime urban land. Community and political leaders seized the opportunity to enhance Boston’s city life by providing additional parks and gardens to connect some of its oldest, most diverse and vibrant neighborhoods."
SOURCE: Flickr (user caribb); under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License
The Gate Tower Building in Osaka, Japan received significant Internet fanfare a couple of years ago to the point where it became a bit of a cliché. Nonetheless I still love the notion of a freeway ramp barreling directly through the gut of an office building. I couldn’t get a decent angle from Google Maps (it’s the circle) so I’ve lifted the above image from Flickr, with attribution. This situation is already well-covered by other sources so I’ll move along.
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A surprising number of airports have roads that run beneath them. Logically, it makes sense: passengers want convenient locations but airports require lots of land. I selected the Manchester Airport in the United Kingdom in this instance. As noted in Airliners.net, it has "a road (the A538 Wilmslow Road) that passes under both runway 23R/05L (and its parallel taxiway) and 23L/05R,” which makes it a particularly remarkable example.