More Oddities from Independent Cities, Part 2

On March 26, 2017 · 4 Comments

Virginia’s independent cities continued to offer their peculiar geographic secrets. The earlier part of this series explored tendrils and quadripoints. However, other strange features hid within their twisted layouts. I turned my attention to enclaves and pinches next. Those unusual features probably came from heated negotiations between cities and counties during drawn-out annexation hearings. In Virginia, that involved a special court held specifically for that purpose, overseen by a three-judge panel.

Two separate cities included enclaves within their borders. Those little doughnut holes belonged to the counties that surrounded the cities.

Enclave within Fairfax City


Fairfax Enclave
Enclave within Fairfax City

Fairfax City became an independent city in 1961. The county surrounding it — also called Fairfax — extended much farther back in history. English colonies, including Virginia, still hugged North America’s Atlantic coastline when Fairfax County appeared in 1742. The county built a courthouse in a convenient, central location in 1799. That became a seat of local government and a little town grew around it. Eventually the town evolved into Fairfax City.

Fairfax County remained quiet and rural for the next several decades. However, it did not escape the Civil War unscathed. Virginia joined the Confederacy. Union troops crossed the Potomac River as the conflict began, capturing a chunk of Northern Virginia. This protected its capital city, Washington, DC. It also put Fairfax directly on the border between two hosile armies. Troops from both sides crisscrossed Fairfax repeatedly between 1861 and 1865, each occupying the courthouse at different times.

The war’s first death of a Confederate officer took place on the courthouse grounds in 1861 when Union troops shot Captain John Quincy Marr during a skirmish. Two years later, Confederate forces from the legendary Mosby’s Rangers paid a visit.

Mosby’s most famous raid occurred in March of 1863, inside Union lines at Fairfax County Courthouse, when he captured Brigadier General Edwin H. Stoughton. Mosby found Stoughton asleep in bed. Awakening the General with a slap to the rear, Mosby asked "Do you know Mosby, General?" The General replied "Yes! Have you got the rascal?" "No," said Mosby. "He’s got you!"

Obviously Fairfax County didn’t want to give up its historic courthouse when Fairfax City split from it. The two carved-out an enclave around the courthouse grounds that remained part of Fairfax County. I confirmed this arrangement on the Fairfax City zoning map.


Enclave within Manassas


Manassas Enclave
Enclave within Manassas

A little hole also sat within the independent city of Manassas, although it didn’t offer the same historical pedigree as the one in Fairfax. Nonetheless, it existed for a similar reason. I confirmed its existence in the Manassas zoning map and then I drilled-down to check it out. Manassas carved its territorial independence from Prince William County, however, the county courthouse already stood there. It became an enclave. The space contained the Prince William District Court, an Adult Detention Center, the Health Department, a senior center and some associated parking, all part of Prince William County, not Manassas.

Then I spotted something truly surprising. Somehow a single residence remained within the Prince William enclave. An entire neighborhood became part of Manassas except for 9210 Peabody Street for some unknown reason. Zillow dated its construction to 1965 and Manassas gained its independence in 1975, so the house definitely existed before the city changed its status.

The family residing there lived in Prince William County. However, they would need to cross completely through Manassas if they wanted to visit anyone else living in the county. On the other hand they wouldn’t have to cross a border if they ever got arrested. I’m sure they’d have other concerns in that situation anyway.


A Pinch to Grow an Inch


Grayson Pinch
Grayson County Pinch

A different oddity came into view in Galax. Here, a county line complicated a border. The line originally separated Grayson County from Carroll County. Galax grew right atop the line, which annexed land from both counties. The western side of Galax also contained a nob. It extended almost all the way to the county line and then stopped a tiny bit short. That prevented Galax from pinching-off a piece of Grayson. My eyeball estimate concluded that it fell just about seventy feet (21 metres) short of creating a Grayson exclave.

It was awfully nice of Galax to keep Grayson intact. Theoretically the farmer that lived inside that pinch remained connected to the rest of the county. However it didn’t really matter much because the only road access to the farm came from Galax. That made it a "practical exclave."


Bonus Avoidance



Staunton, Virginia

Check out the eastern border of Staunton along Interstate 81. I found several examples of Staunton drawing its border to avoid highway infrastructure maintenance. At the northern end where I-81 diverged from Staunton, the border turned northwest along Route 262 to avoid the cloverleaf. Near the midpoint, New Hope Road crossed above I-81 so the border did a zig-zag around the bridge. Approaching the southern end, the border avoided Route 250’s cloverleaf and then turned to the west, making sure to skip the Interstate 64 interchange. These was classic behaviors influenced by the anti-city provisions of the Byrd Road Act.

Great Scott

On November 24, 2016 · 1 Comments

It occurred to me that a great general like Winfield Scott probably influenced place names beyond the recently-featured Scott’s Addition in Richmond, Virginia. Citizens considered him a national hero during his lifetime even if we don’t hear much about him today. This period also coincided with a rapid expansion of population and migration. They needed names for all of those settlements they built on the frontier during the first half of the 19th century.


General Winfield Scott
General Winfield Scott. Photo by David on Flickr (cc).

I wanted to use a better image of Winfield Scott than the unattractive photo of the elderly, bloated man near the end of his life from the previous article. The equestrian statue at Scott Circle in Washington, DC (map) seemed appropriate. Certainly I could uncover more significant geographic designations than a roundabout. How about five Scott counties named for him? They sprouted in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Tennessee and Virginia


Scott County, Iowa


Blackhawk Hotel, Davenport, IA
Blackhawk Hotel, Davenport, IA. Photo by Alan Light on Flickr (cc)

The Iowa county named for Scott probably measured as the most significant. It’s primary city, Davenport (map), held nearly 170 thousand residents.

Winfield Scott’s legendary career covered half a century. He served as a general in the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, the Mexican–American War, and the Civil War. His wide ranging exploits inspired place names throughout his lifetime. Scott County, Iowa traced its named to the Black Hawk War that broke out in 1832. He commanded troops during the brief campaign (losing many more men to cholera than warfare) and helped negotiate the treaty that ended it. Much of the fighting unfolded in the vicinity of future Scott County, in neighboring Illinois and Wisconsin. Scott seemed an appropriate figure to honor when Iowa formed the county in 1837, just five years after the war ended.


The Independent State of Scott


Historical Marker: Independent State of Scott
Independent State of Scott. Photo by J. Stephen Conn on Flickr (cc)

An entire Independent State named itself for Scott. It wasn’t really independent though. Nothing official. Scott County, Tennessee traced its beginning to 1814, named for Winfield Scott because of his War of 1812 activities. Geographically, much of it fell within the Appalachian Mountains. People living there farmed small plots on rocky hillsides on the far side of the frontier. They held little in common with people across the mountains and their culture of plantations and slavery. Scott County refused to join the rest of Tennessee when it seceded from the Union during the Civil War. It’s been called the The Switzerland of America both for its mountains and its neutrality.

Scott became a Union enclave, proclaiming itself an Independent State no longer beholden to Tennessee. The county had little strategic importance to either side so the Confederacy never tried to force it back into the fold. Scott did not officially rescind its "independence" from Tennessee until 1986.

The county also founded a town of Winfield (map), so a handful of residents now live in Winfield, Scott. It straddled U.S. Route 27 — Scott Highway.


Named for That Other Winfield Scott


Scottsdale Waterfront
Scottsdale Waterfront. Photo by D. Patrick Lewis on Flickr (cc)

There couldn’t be too many 19th century U.S. Army officers named Winfield Scott, or so I figured. Yet, inexplicably, there was one more. Winfield Scott — the other Winfield Scott — came into this world in 1837. I assumed his parents named him for the more famous Winfield, and the time period seemed to fit. However I didn’t find any evidence to prove it. He became a minister, later accepting a commission as an Army captain and serving as a chaplain during the Civil War. His legacy did not come from his military service.

In mid February of 1888, Winfield Scott was invited to the Salt River Valley in Arizona. Some residents of Phoenix had heard of Scott’s reputation as a promoter and wanted him to help promote Phoenix and the surrounding area. Scott was impressed with the valley and on July 2, 1888 made a down payment of 50 cents an acre for a section of land… His brother, George Washington Scott, came at Winfield Scott’s request to clear the land. He planted 80 acres of barley, 20 acres of vineyards and a 7-acre orchard.

The land he settled became Scottsdale, Arizona (map). Recently Scottsdale erected a statue in his honor (photo).

A quarter-million people live in Scottsdale now and it continues to grow rapidly. Ironically, the most famous place named for Winfield Scott recognized the man who was practically insignificant to American history. They named Winfield, Kansas after him too.

Northern Panhandle of West Virginia

On October 13, 2016 · 9 Comments

Anyone looking at a West Virginia map would immediately notice its northern panhandle. It rose high above the rest of the state like a flagpole. This narrow splinter ran 64 miles (103 kilometres) due north, wedged tightly between Ohio and Pennsylvania. Its width also narrowed sometimes to only 4 miles (6 km).


Northern panhandle west virginia
Northern panhandle west virginia on Wikimedia Commons (cc).

Four counties occupied the space; Hancock, Brooke, Ohio and Marshall. They all aligned in a vertical sequence.


Boundary Dispute

How could such a bizarre situation develop? Certainly no rational government would create such an anomaly. The usual situation existed here, the overlapping of colonial claims. Nobody really knew what existed beyond the coast. Various Kings of England simply granted a bunch of royal charters. Virginia gained a territory that went all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The charter for Pennsylvania set its farthest extent at an unexplored longitude 5 degrees west of the Delaware River. The overlap became apparent when explorers pushed inward through the Appalachian Mountains decades later. Fort Pitt, built by the British in 1759 during the French and Indian War, fell within the disputed area. Both coveted the town that formed there, Pittsburgh.

Virginia established a county structure despite the overlap. Of course, Pennsylvania refused to accept it. The dispute even continued into the Revolutionary War. The Second Continental Congress convinced the two to settle their dispute and concentrate on fighting the British instead. Pennsylvania had settled a similar problem with Maryland previously, creating the Mason & Dixon Line. The border between Pennsylvania and Virginia would extend that same line a bit farther, to five degrees west of the Delaware River. From there, they drew a line north to the Ohio River. Both sides approved the new border in 1780.

After the war, several of the former colonies including Virginia continued to claim land west of the Ohio River. Most gave up their claims voluntarily for the good of the new nation. Virginia ceded its Northwest Territory after some cajoling, and Congress accepted its offer in 1784. Virginia’s western border became the Ohio River and created the odd panhandle. Nobody intended to form the anomaly. It was a two-step process.


Birth of West Virginia


Independence Hall - Wheeling, West Virginia
Independence Hall – Wheeling, West Virginia. Photo by Ryan Stanton on Flickr (cc)

Then came the Civil War and Virginia joined the Confederacy. Many of its western counties wanted to form their own state even before the war began. They jumped at an opportunity to remain on the Union side. The state of West Virginia was born in 1863. Interestingly the initial West Virginia capital fell within that unusual northern panhandle. They formed their new government in the Federal Custom House in Wheeling (map), now called West Virginia’s Independence Hall. Wheeling remained its capital for most of the next twenty years.


Rise of Industry


INDUSTRY MILLING IRON & STEEL Weirton West Virgina THE WEIRTON STEEL COMPANY WORKS Coke Ovens Furnace Operation and Production Areas
The Weirton Steel Company Works. Image provided byUpNorth Memories (cc)

The Northern Panhandle became a center of commerce and industry after the Civil War. It had a great location along the Ohio River. It also had more in common with industrial cities like nearby Pittsburgh, Youngstown and Cleveland. Factories rose to serve many needs. The biggest ones produced iron and steel, and Weirton Steel became the biggest of the bunch. It would operate for nearly a century until International Steel Group bought it in 2004. The area also fell onto hard times like other so-called Rust Belt cities. For example, the city of Weirton lost a third of its population starting at the middle of the 20th Century. The city of Wheeling lost more than half of its population.


Cultural Distinctiveness


Ohio River Bridges
Ohio River Bridges. Photo by cmh2315fl on Flickr (cc)

The northern panhandle mirrored the states that wedged it in place. It differed distinctly from the remainder of West Virginia.

… many people moved to Weirton and Wheeling which both had reputations for being excellent places to work. Immigrants moved into the area in the early 1900’s because of employment offered by the steel mills… By some counts, there are 50 ethnic groups in Weirton alone.

This included large communities of people from Eastern and Southern Europe like its neighbors. The U.S. Census bureau even included the two northernmost counties, Hancock and Brook, within the Pittsburgh Combined Statistical Area.

Of course, I also like this oddity because it created funny geographic names. How about the West Virginia Northern Community College?

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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