Most Frequent U.S. Communities

On August 28, 2014 · 5 Comments

The Geographic Names Information System had a little "frequently asked questions" page I somehow overlooked until a couple of days ago. Most of the FAQ dealt with mundane issues although a few gems hid within its midst. For example,

The most frequently occurring community name continues to vary. In the past year, it was Midway at 212 occurrences and Fairview at 202. More recently, Fairview counted 288 and Midway 256. The name Springfield often is thought to be the only community name appearing in each of the 50 States, but at last count it was in only 34. The most recent count shows Riverside with 186 instances in 46 States, only Alaska, Hawaii, Louisiana, and Oklahoma not having a community so named.

This compilation was great from a couple of perspectives. First, I found it interesting in its own right. Second, it meant that someone else did all of the dirty work today and I could simply steal borrow the idea and elaborate upon it. 12MC didn’t mind getting a brief respite from research for once.


Fairview


Jefferson Davis Monument
Jefferson Davis Monument by J. Stephen Conn, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

The United States had more places with nice views than ones located equidistant from two points in recent years so I started there. I selected Fairview in Kentucky because the border separating Christian County from Todd County cut right through the settlement (map). I’d always favor a geo-oddity above the others.

It seemed familiar and then it clicked in my mind when I spotted Jefferson Davis Historic Site, a memorial to the Confederate President who was "born on this site on June 3, 1808." Reader Bill Cary brought this site to my attention in a comment after I posted the Jeff Davis article in April 2013.

The Jefferson Davis monument looked a lot like another object named for a different first president, the Washington Monument. I’m sure that an obelisk wasn’t a coincidence although it was considerably shorter in stature (351 feet/107 metres versus 555 ft/169 m). Jefferson Davis’ monument probably didn’t have a precious tip either.


Midway



Midway, Utah, USA

The wonderful thing about Midway was that every instance had a built-in story by definition. Someone once thought they should all be defined by their geographic placement between two or more other locations.

I focused on Midway, Utah because it was a Midway with a decent population (about 4,000) and an interesting explanation. As noted by the city:

A wagon road completed through Provo Canyon in 1858 brought the first settlers to the area. In the spring of 1859, many more families began moving farther to the west along Snake Creek. Two small communities were established, called the Upper and Lower Settlements… In 1866, Indian hostilities grew and territorial governor Brigham Young encouraged settlers to construct forts for protection. The two small settlements reached an agreement to build a fort halfway or midway between the two existing communities… thus the beginning of our modern day town named Midway.


Springfield


The Simpsons house, remodeled, in Henderson, NV
The Simpsons house, remodeled, in Henderson, NV by rscottjones, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license

Springfield came next although there’s really only one Springfield that matters and it’s fictional. Maybe I’ll give a nod to Springfield, Oregon (map) because the town recently commissioned a Simpsons mural. Also it’s just down the road from Portland which may have inspired the cartoon Springfield so it had that geographic proximity going for it.


Riverside



There were so many Riversides and I chose Riverside, California because of the Parent Washington Navel Orange. I’d visit it. The city even had a little park to protect the historic tree (map). I’ll let the University of California Riverside Citrus Variety Collection explain this particular specimen:

Washington navel orange is also known as the Bahia for the Brazilian city from which it was imported into the United States in 1870. Although its origins are uncertain, it is believed to come from a bud sport found in a Selecta orange tree in the early 1800s. Upon its arrival at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. it was propagated and trees were sent to California and Florida. Although the Florida trees did not flourish, those sent to Eliza Tibbets in Riverside, California found an ideal climate for their culture

Why focus on one specific navel orange tree in a tiny park in Riverside, California from amongst the millions of others in groves throughout the state? Because this exact tree was one of the first two original trees brought to Riverside in 1873, and the other one died in 1921. All California navel oranges descended from those two trees. They were the parents of the California citrus industry.

Presidential Distances

On July 8, 2014 · 2 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle talked about birthplaces and death locations of the Presidents of the United States. Now let’s finish this off with a comparison of distances between those two points. This involved a rather simple process of dropping the lat/long coordinates for each president into a great circle distance calculator and recording the results. Then I plotted the distances between birth and death onto a chart.


Distance between Birth and Death of US Presidents

Don’t get too hung up on the lack of presidential names. Readers can always cross reference the numbers to each administration on the shared spreadsheet if curious. Also, don’t be concerned that it’s not scaled to time, either. Administrations lasted from a single month (William Henry Harrison) to just north of twelve years (Franklin Roosevelt). The more important point was to confirm in graphical form that distances between birthplaces and death locations increased quite remarkably for latter administrations. This wasn’t entirely unexpected as it tracked nicely with growth and settlement patterns in the United States.


Shortest


LBJ's Birthplace
LBJ's Birthplace by Jim Bowen, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Four presidents came to this earth and shuffled off this mortal coil at spots less than two miles (3.2 kilometres) apart. It didn’t surprise me to see this happen for some of the earliest presidents. Travel was more problematic and the landed gentry tended to stick close to their ancestral estates for multiple generations. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Martin Van Buren all passed away within extreme proximity to their birthplaces.

The shortest distance, less than a single mile, caught me off-guard completely. Lyndon Johnson? He didn’t serve until the middle of the 20th Century, and died in 1973. By no means did it seem logical for Johnson to be lumped into the same category as presidents born during the colonial era. And yet, not only was he there, he led the pack.

Johnson was an anomaly of course and a throwback to an earlier time. Paraphrasing from the Handbook of Texas, Lyndon Johnson’s grandfather, Samuel Ealy Johnson Sr., built a home near Stonewall, Texas in the 1880’s. Lyndon’s father, Samuel Ealy Johnson Jr., occupied the home in 1907 and Lyndon was born there in 1908. The adjacent ranch was purchased by a relative of the Johnson family. Lyndon purchased that 438 acre ranch in 1951.

Johnson united the properties. Then, as the National Park Service explained,

Lyndon Johnson took great pride in his heritage and his roots here in the Hill Country of Texas. In order to share that heritage with interested visitors, President Johnson hired architect J. Roy White of Austin, Texas in 1964 to reconstruct the birthplace home. President Johnson and Roy White relied on old photographs of the original birthplace house as well as family members’ memories to guide the project.

Thus, Johnson consciously and explicitly chose to move near his extended family and then later in life he focused on preserving his legacy.


Median


President William McKinely Birthplace
President William McKinley Birthplace by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

I used median rather than average because outliers threw the average way off. The median distance from birthplace to death location equated to about 130 miles (210 km), while the average came in closer to 430 miles (690 km). Three presidents scored very close to the median; Woodrow Wilson, Millard Fillmore, and William McKinley.


Longest



Ronald Reagan Estate, Bel Air, California

Then there were presidents who found themselves a long way from their birthplaces — more than 1,500 miles (2,400 km) — when they passed away, some unexpectedly and some at a ripe old age. John Kennedy and Warren Harding both died in office. Kennedy and Nixon died in hospitals. The vast majority of the 12MC audience would already be familiar with Kennedy’s story so I won’t dwell on it other than to mention that I visited the Grassy Knoll in 2008. Warren Harding died in the Presidential Suite of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, probably from a stroke or congestive heart failure. His wife’s refusal to allow an autopsy led to conspiracy theories the continued to persist even through the present.

I guess I have to use Ronald Reagan’s estate to illustrate this section since he was the only member of the 1,500 mile club who died at home.

The president who died farthest from his birthplace was Richard Nixon. He was born in Yorba Linda, California and died in New York City, a great circle distance of 2,436 miles.

Presidential Death Locations

On July 6, 2014 · 3 Comments

After examining birthplaces for the Presidents of the United States, I shifted gears and did the same for the places where they died. This proved to be a little more problematic because greater attention had been focused on their exact places of birth, undoubtedly because it’s a more cheerful subject. I began with the shared spreadsheet compiled in the prior article and added columns for all of the presidential death locations, including as many exact latitude/longitude coordinates as I could find and links to appropriate websites for more information.



View Presidential Birthplaces & Death Locations in a larger map

I then overlaid presidential death locations onto the earlier birthplaces map. Some sites might be worth visiting. They included palatial estates later converted to museums and often co-located with presidential libraries. Others, well, I’m not convinced I need to visit the hospital room where Richard Nixon died of a cerebral edema.


Died in Office



Garfield Memorial, Long Branch, New Jersey

I could imagine a subset of macabre presidential trivia aficionados focused on the eight Chief Executives who died in office. That would be a bit morbid for my tastes, and yet I’ve trudged over to Ford’s Theater and the Petersen House to see where Abraham Lincoln was shot and died. James Garfield, William McKinley and John Kennedy were also felled by assassins. The other four, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Warren Harding and Franklin Roosevelt died of natural causes.

Garfield barely served as President, elected just a few months before he was shot by a delusional office-seeker in the waiting room of a Washington, DC train station in 1881. He may have been killed as much by the inept medical attention he received after his injury as by the bullet itself.

Had Garfield been left where he lay, he might well have survived; the bullet failed to hit his spine or penetrate any vital organs. Instead, he was given over to the care of doctors, who basically tortured him to death over the next 11 weeks. Two of them repeatedly probed his wound with their unsterilized fingers and instruments before having him carted back to the White House on a hay-and-horsehair mattress.

Doctors eventually brought the suffering Garfield to a summer cottage on the New Jersey shore in a last-ditch hope that fresh air and cooler temperatures might revive him. Nothing remains of the original cottage and only a granite marker records the place where Garfield spent his final few days.


Clusters


DSCF1881
Woodrow Wilson’s House by JB, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

Presidents died in a more dispersed pattern than where they were born. Nonetheless two clusters demonstrated the opposite extreme and offered much tighter groupings than any of the birthplace clusters. Neither location surprised me, nor will they likely surprise the 12MC audience.

Many former presidents remained politically active as they grew older and retained their ties to Washington, DC. One might expect that some of them died there. I counted seven. Three died in office within the physical boundaries of District: Lincoln, W.H. Harrison and Taylor (the last two passed away in the White House). John Quincy Adams died in the Speaker’s Room of the US Capitol Building. Dwight Eisenhower died at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Woodrow Wilson and William Taft died at their post-administration mansions. Wilson’s home included 39,200 square feet of livable space. Taft’s home became the Syrian Embassy (until ordered closed in March 2014). Maybe I’ll undertake a Presidential Death Location tour for an upcoming 12MC Bicycle Ride.

If not politics, then financial power would seem to be attractive to people of this elevated stature. Four of the former presidents ended their days in Manhattan: James Monroe; Chester Arthur; Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon.


Counterintuitive


Ulysees S. Grant Cottage
Ulysees S. Grant Cottage by Selbe & Lily, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

I scratched my head in bewilderment at some of the places where presidents died. I never would have guessed that Garfield died at the Jersey Shore. Monroe in Manhattan seemed odd too. He’d spent the bulk of his retirement in Virginia and moved-in with his daughter Maria only after his wife passed away. Maria had married Samuel L. Gouverneur, a New York City attorney and politician.

The placement of Ulysses Grant’s death also seemed out of context, a cottage in the woods north of Saratoga Springs, New York. Grant spent the final six weeks of his life at the cottage rushing to complete his memoirs. He died of throat cancer three days after finishing his task. The book provided financial comfort for his family after his death and remains in print.


Sweet Retirement



Gerald Ford Home, Rancho Mirage, California

Some former presidents managed to escape office and retired to lifestyles with less pressure. Many of them resided on sprawling estates and lived well as they grew older and eventually passed away there: Thomas Jefferson at Monticello; Andrew Jackson at The Hermitage; Rutherford Hayes at Spiegel Grove; Theodore Roosevelt at Sagamore Hill; Lyndon Johnson at his Johnson Ranch. Even later presidents like Gerald Ford seemed to live in style, with Ford’s home situated conveniently along a golf course in Rancho Mirage, California.

There were other gems. I’ll leave the rest of the spreadsheet to the 12MC audience to explore.

Purpose
12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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