Focused on Counties

On March 9, 2017 · 8 Comments

I’m planning for three, maybe four road trips of significant length coming up over the next several months. All of them will involve significant County Counting components. While I’ve put a big dent into my quest to visit every county in the United States, the total still represents considerably less than half of those available. I’ve been pondering several strategies as I’ve examined places that will require significant effort. That led me to stare at a lot of county maps lately, examining them from a variety of perspectives. I don’t think I found anything earth shattering although I tucked a few observations away for future reference.

Square Miles (land area only)


Georgia Counties
Georgia Counties
via Mob Rule

Georgia continued to confound me. How will I ever finish a state with so many tiny counties crammed within its borders? For sure, I will see every crevice and corner of Georgia by the time I finish. I examined a bunch of other states with tiny counties and I began to wonder which one had the smallest average county size. Being the precise person that I am, of course I created a spreadsheet to calculate and rank them. The smallest average county size belonged to… Rhode Island averaging 207 square miles per county (feel free to convert to square kilometres if you prefer). That hardly seemed a challenge though. Rhode Island only had 5 counties. Plus, I’ve already visited every one of them.

Second place, with an average county size of 297 square miles, went to Virginia. I’ve already finished that one too. That was a difficult feat — and I live there! However Virginia came up near the top only because it had those 38 insanely small Independent Cities. Take away those and Virginia would fall to #8 on the list. Next came Kentucky and New Jersey, and only then Georgia, followed by Tennessee. Every state in that grouping featured an average county square mileage somewhere in the 300’s. All of them will be difficult to finish except for New Jersey which had only 21 counties. Georgia had 159! Texas fell way down on the list with an average county size of 1,028 square miles. Even so it will be frustratingly difficult because of its immense size combined with a jaw-dropping 254 counties.

I figured larger western states with fewer counties would be an easier accomplishment. That might be true in general. However, Alaska might be the exception. If one considered its boroughs and each of the individual Census Areas of the Unorganized Borough (all considered "county equivalents" for these purposes) they would hit an average size of 19,677 square miles. Yet it would be difficult, time-consuming and expensive to visit them all. It would probably involve chartering private airplanes.


Population (2016 estimates)


Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore, South Dakota. My Own Photo.

I didn’t stop there however, maybe because I was on a roll, although my next tangent had nothing to do with County Counting. The spreadsheet was already set up so it was pretty easy to add another column and replicate the study with populations. Just because. Why not?

South Dakota featured the fewest people per county on average, with only 13,113 residents each. North Dakota and Montana followed next in line, each with an average of fewer than 20,000 people per county. Alaska served as an interesting anomaly once again. I figured it would be lower on the list than #6. However it had a fairly sizable population even though nearly everyone lived in only two boroughs, Anchorage and adjoining Matanuska-Susitna. That skewed things. Rankings probably would have changed if I’d bothered to examine median rather than average. That would have entailed effort and I’m lazy so we’ll never know.

California fell at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. There, the average county population hit an astounding 676,724 residents. The average California county had a larger population than the entire states of Wyoming or Vermont! Crazy.

I found another oddity. Two very different states had nearly the same population and number of counties: Arizona and Massachusetts. That happened despite Arizona being nearly 15 times larger than Massachusetts. It served as a wonderful demonstration of larger western states with larger county sizes in contrast to smaller eastern states with smaller counties.


The Complete Oddball


4th of July 2009
Washington Monument on the 4th of July. My Own Photo.

What if the District of Columbia ever became a state? DC would be composed of a single county of 61 square miles, and a population of 681,170 residents. That would make DC the state with the smallest average county size, by far. It would also be the state with the largest average county population. County counting would be really, really easy there too.

I travel into the District of Columbia nearly every day so I think I have that one covered.

Time Zone Dams

On March 5, 2017 · 1 Comments

Time continued to play on my mind. This time it came courtesy of a random search engine query that landed on 12MC for some unknown reason. However, the notion implied by this wayward message intrigued me much more than the average query. I’ve focused on structures split by borders before although this one had an unusual twist. The border in question also served as a Time Zone boundary. Theoretically, then, not only did the structure exist in two different states, it existed in two different times. It was also a really big structure.

Hoover Dam


Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam. Photo by Ralph Arvesen on Flickr (cc)

The question focused specifically on the Time Zone of the Hoover dam (map). I’d never considered that possibility before although it seemed obvious once it came to my attention. The Colorado River marked the boundary between Nevada and Arizona. Nevada fell within the Pacific Time Zone (except for the city of West Wendover, a place that I visited a few years ago). Time in Arizona followed its own unique beat. If fell within the Mountain Time Zone although it also did not observe Daylight Saving Time (plus the whole Navajo and Hopi conundrum).

I discarded the anomalies and focused on time as it might be observed along the Colorado River. No time difference existed during DST. However, in the winter months during Standard Time, those living on the Nevada side of the border set their watches an hour earlier than those in Arizona. That time difference split directly through the Hoover Dam. Do workers at the Hoover Dam have to adjust their watches several times a day based on location? No, actually they do not. The Bureau of Reclamation solved the problem for them. The facility followed Pacific Time for its hours of operation.


Elsewhere Along the Colorado River


Parker Dam, Colorado River
Parker Dam, Colorado River. Photo by Don Barrett on Flickr (cc)

This made me wonder whether Time Zones split any other dams. It seemed logical to look farther downstream along the Colorado River for other examples. A similar condition prevailed at the Parker Dam (map) that created Lake Havasu. This dam fell along the border between California and Arizona although the same basic condition existed. In this instance California fell within the Pacific Time Zone.


Farther East


Chattahoochee River (Lake Eufaula) sunset, Alabama
Chattahoochee River (Lake Eufaula) sunset, Alabama.
Photo by Mr Seb on Flickr (cc)

Something similar happened between Alabama in the Central Time Zone and Georgia in the Eastern Time Zone, albeit with its own twist. The Walter F. George Lock and Dam (map) stood on the Chattahoochee River, forming a large reservoir behind it. Georgia controlled the river which remained within the state up to the mean high water mark. However, water behind this dam spread beyond the original riverbank that formed the boundary, crossing onto Alabama land so part of the lake belonged to Alabama too. The name of the dam and the lake honored Walter F. George, who served as a distinguished Senator from Georgia for many years. George died in 1957 so it seemed like a good idea to name the dam for him when construction finished in 1962, at least to the citizens of Georgia. That still left the lake without an official name so politicians in Alabama made their move.

On June 25, 1963, both Houses of the Alabama Legislature signed off on Act No. 60 (sponsored by Senator Jimmy Clark of Eufaula) which endorsed the name, Lake Eufaula, in honor of the Creek Indians who once lived throughout the Chattahoochee Valley of Alabama and Georgia… Not to be outdone, House Resolution 268 was adopted by the Georgia House of Representatives on March 12, 1965 to designate the reservoir as "Lake Chattahoochee."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, noting a lack of consensus, stuck with the simple name Walter F. George Lake. That also became its official name. The name Lake Chattahoochee fell by the wayside although usage of Lake Eufaula on the Alabama side of the border continues to be popular.

What the Cove?

On February 23, 2017 · 7 Comments

What does someone call a short street with only a single outlet to a larger street? I wondered because I found different terms that varied geographically. There seemed to be a cultural dimension to it as well. Certain suffixes seemed to be more prevalent in the United Kingdom and others in the United States, with Canada displaying elements of both. I’ve fixated on such suffixes before, notably in What the Drung and What the Stravenue. This time I focused on the humble cul-de-sac.

Cul-de-sac


Sprawling Subdivison in New Jersey
Sprawling Subdivison in New Jersey. Photo by Kaizer Rangwala on Flickr (cc)

Cul-de-sacs didn’t get much respect in recent years. They became a favored symbol of unbridled construction and suburban sprawl. All those dead end streets allowed developers to stuff more homes onto lots at the expense of traffic efficiency. I couldn’t do anything about that — some things were way beyond the abilities of Twelve Mile Circle — although I could examine some etymology. From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

1738, as an anatomical term, from French cul-de-sac, literally "bottom of a sack," from Latin culus "bottom, backside, fundament." …Application to streets and alleys is from 1800.

I guess it made sense. The cluster of homes at the end of a road resembled the bottom of a sack. Cars going into the sac could only exit the same way. No other choices existed. Actually I didn’t intend to beat up on the Cul-de-sac (or any generic dead-end street) as a design element. The point today was to examine the designation of such roads, specifically the suffixes appended to them.


Close



Wheat Sheaf Cl., Isle of Dogs, London

I got started on this unfortunate idea when I examined the Isle of Dogs in the recent Random Islands article. I noticed a street with an odd suffix; Wheat Sheaf Close. Nearby I soon spotted Inglewood Close, Severnake Close and Epping Close. Was this a common thing, I wondered? Were little dead-end streets in the United Kingdom sometimes referred to as Closes? It seemed to be the case as I checked various random corners of the British Isles. Twelve Mile Circle’s loyal UK readers should be able to confirm its usage and frequency if that’s the case.

They existed in Canada too. Canada Post included Close as an acceptable suffix. However it did not offer an abbreviation for it. The UK specified "Cl." In London’s Isle of Dogs someone could write a letter to Wheat Sheaf Cl and that would be acceptable. Head to Medicine Hat, Alberta, on the other hand, and the address should include the entire word, as in Smith Close SE. New Zealand also used the abbreviated form in its address system although I couldn’t find any real-world examples. I couldn’t find any information about Australia, though. Any Closes in Australia, dear readers? Conversely, the United States Postal Service didn’t even include Close amongst its recognized suffixes.

Nonetheless the suffix made perfect sense. The roads indeed closed at one end.


Cove



Coves in Memphis, Tennessee

The US Postal Service did include something more unusual however, the suffix Cove. It referred to the same thing, a short road with a dead-end or a cul-de-sac. I suspected the usage must have been sporadic, geographically confined, or both. I’d never personally seen a street with a Cove suffix. Even so, the USPS reserved the abbreviation "CV", so it obviously existed with at least some level of frequency. Wikipedia referenced the suffix and singled-out Memphis, Tennessee. Naturally I needed to find a Cove in Memphis. I plugged common street names into a map randomly until Ash Cove appeared, as did several others nearby. I didn’t know why Wikipedia singled-out Memphis though. Other coves appeared in in Arkansas, Mississippi and Arizona before I got tired of looking for more.

I wish this suffix got greater use. I liked the image it evoked.


Lulworth cove
Lulworth cove. Photo by Alex on Flickr (cc)

A cul-de-sac resembled a perfectly formed cove, like Lulworth Cove (map) along the coast of Dorset, England. A cove offered refuge and safety, a nice analogy for a quiet suburban home away from traffic.


Court


Just What Is This Street Sign Trying To Convey?
Just What Is This Street Sign Trying To Convey?
Photo by raider3_anime on Flickr (cc)

I was most familiar with the use of Court as a suffix. I wondered if that sounded weird in other places, like Close and Cove sounded to me. Actually Court seemed so normal to me that I never even considered other possibilities until I stumbled upon Close. That, of course, made me wonder why someone chose Court as a suffix for a street with a cul-de-sac or a dead end. The etymology supported it, though. It derived from Old French via Latin, for an "enclosed yard." Over time it came to applied to various enclosures, e.g., royalty (king’s court), government entities (court of law), or sports (tennis, basketball, etc.). A street closed at one end, using the same logic, could also be a Court.

I enjoyed the photo I found to represent the concept. Aspirations Court featured a Dead End marker — where aspirations went to die, perhaps? What were the sign makers in Modesto, California (map) thinking?

Purpose
12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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