Three of Them

On October 26, 2017 · 1 Comments

Sequences of three came to mind, a trio of possibilities. Little did I know that so many places also focused on a similar theme. I found an abundance of opportunities. Of course, that equated to long lists for me to review as I started searching for something memorable. By "memorable" I meant to me personally. I gave up trying to figure out what might resonate with the larger Twelve Mile Circle audience a long time.

Three Coins



Three coins came in the form of Trois-Pistoles, Québec. I’d hoped that the French pistole might be a cognate of the English pistol. Unfortunately that seemed too good to be true. Something involving three pistols would almost automatically guarantee an interesting story. Instead the French pistole referred to a type of gold coin common in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. An early French settlers wanted a drink of water and dipped a goblet into the river. Unfortunately the goblet slipped from his grasp and fell overboard. This must have been a pretty nice goblet because he wasn’t very happy about it. He exclaimed in dismay that he’d lost the equivalent of three gold coins. This all happened sometime around 1620 according to the Commission de Toponymie Québec and the name stuck.

I mentioned this town briefly in an earlier article about Canada. Specifically I noted a beer made by the Unibroue brewery called Trois-Pistoles that referenced the town. This time around I found a video that offered an explanation. The beer honored a legend about the town’s Catholic church, Église de Notre-Dame-des-Neiges, or Our Lady of the Snows (map). Very briefly, church construction ran behind schedule so the builder enlisted the Devil’s horse to pull stones up from the river. A magic bridle slipped from the demonic horse and it escaped, leaving the church incomplete. It still lacks a single stone somewhere in its wall, for those who believe such stuff. Watch the video if you want to hear the full explanation in an entertaining French-Canadian accent.


Three Rivers


19830624 07 Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA
Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA. Photo by David Wilson on Flickr (cc)

A ridiculous number of places claimed Three Rivers although its use as a nickname for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania came to my mind quickest. Maybe a more common usage existed elsewhere. To me, Three Rivers was pretty synonymous with the city where the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers joined. I don’t know. Maybe I’ve become more sensitized to Pittsburgh because I’ve been there a couple of times fairly recently. I’d never been there before and then suddenly I rode on the Great Allegheny Passage and later stayed a little longer.

Its nickname became so common that a local sports stadium used to be called Three Rivers Stadium. Pittsburgh’s professional baseball and football teams played there for thirty years until the city knocked it down in 2001. Now Pittsburgh has a stadium with the name of a corporate sponsor just like every other place. A large park still bears the name though. Three Rivers Park includes a bunch of the immediate waterfront along the rivers near downtown, even incorporating Point State Park at its confluence (map).

I supposed I could have selected any of the actual places officially named Three Rivers. One of them existed in Michigan where the Rocky and Portage Rivers joined the St. Joseph River. I crossed the St. Joseph a little farther downstream on the old camelback bridge during my recent trip through the Midwest (map). Nonetheless, I still gave the honor to Pittsburgh.


Three Brothers or Sisters


270_7073
Three Sisters Islands. Photo by David on Flickr (cc)

Numerous examples of Three Brothers or Three Sisters came to light during my search. This highly common variation existed practically everywhere. Naturally I selected one familiar to me because I’m lazy. I see three little rocky islets every time I bike along the Potomac River heading upstream from Georgetown (map). They’re called the Three Sisters. I’ve known about them my whole life. I remember my father pointing them out to me even during my childhood. The usual legends existed; Indian maiden this, Catholic nun that, someone stranded, someone drowning, on and on.

The Three Sisters had a more modern history, though. The government wanted to put another bridge across the Potomac River in the 1950’s and 1960’s. It would have become the Three Sisters Bridge. Back then it seemed that the solution to every traffic need involved another superhighway. Many cities lost vibrant neighborhoods under ribbons of concrete. However, relatively few highway lanes ran through parts of the District of Columbia because people fought their construction and won. Washington largely escaped the fate of other US cities of the time where highways marred the landscape and separated their citizens. The Three Sisters managed to retain their charm.


Three More


Three Mile Island
Three Mile Island. Photo by Jennifer Boyer on Flickr (cc)

I figured I had a little extra time to mention a trio of others, although briefly.

  • Three Mile Island: A major nuclear accident took place outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1979 on Three Mile Island. It seemed like a big deal at the time although Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi eventually proved otherwise.
  • Three States: A little unincorporated village surrounded the Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas (ARLATX) tripoint. Logically the settlement took the name Three States. Only about 45 people lived there at the most recent census although I couldn’t think of any other community so focused on a similar geo-oddity. I might even get a chance to visit Three States someday.
  • Three Churches: West Virginia included the community of Three Churches named for, well, three nearby churches.

I could have continued although I didn’t want to mess up the theme. Although I guess I already did that when I added this fourth section down here for the miscellaneous stuff.

Highest Numbered Street

On October 19, 2017 · 19 Comments

Newer cities created on grid patterns often used street naming systems based on numbers. The closest street to an important urban feature would become 1st Street. Numbers increased from there. Distinct patterns emerged in different cities, of course. Maybe numbered streets increased outward in two directions, north and south or east and west. Plenty of other variations existed too.

I wondered about the highest numbered street, though. Apparently a lot of other people on the Intertubes wanted to know the same thing according to what I found as I searched. Specifically though, I sought something within a single city in a generally contiguous manner. There shouldn’t be huge gaps. Otherwise I’d look at something like 1010th Street way outside of Eau Claire, Wisconsin and be done with it.

New York City


Queens County Farm Museum
Queens County Farm Museum. Photo by Nick Normal on Flickr (cc)

New York City seemed like a logical starting point. The city sprawled densely across five boroughs and used a numerical grid for much of it. The highest numbered street seemed to land in the Glen Oaks neighborhood of Queens. There, way out on the distant edge of the city near its border with Nassau County, appeared 271st Street. This quiet middle class neighborhood consisted primarily of a large garden apartment complex. On 271st St. however, just three blocks long, the houses all appeared to be detached single-family homes (map).

This neighborhood sat so far away from the action that it contained an actual farm. A farm in New York City? Well, actually, that might be a slight exaggeration. A few blocks away from 271st Street stood the Queens County Farm Museum. I guess that counted as a farm in a sense. As the museum explained,

Queens County Farm Museum’s history dates back to 1697; it occupies New York City’s largest remaining tract of undisturbed farmland. The farm encompasses a 47-acre parcel that is the longest continuously farmed site in New York State.

Where in New York City could someone go on a hay ride? Only way out near 271st Street, I’d imagine.


Washington, DC



I figured I could also look closer to home in the District of Columbia. With Washington being so much smaller than New York, I certainly wouldn’t expect it to reach the same number. However, it did have a nice grid divided into quadrants. Looking near the right angles of its rectangular border should help find the largest street numbers. They ran north-south in the nation’s capital. The western cornerstone fell in what is now Virginia so that wouldn’t work. That left the streets near the eastern cornerstone as the best place to search.

There I found 63rd Street Northeast as probably the highest number street (map) in the District of Columbia. These four blocks featured mostly modest brick duplexes with a few small apartments. The boundary stone could be found about a block farther to the east near the intersections of Southern and Eastern Avenues. Some maps called this the East Corner neighborhood appropriately enough, although I couldn’t find any more information about it. The cornerstone near 63rd Street, it should be noted, went through a rededication recently after many years of neglect.

The highest numbered street in the Virginia area previously part of the District of Columbia appeared to be 44th Street in Arlington (map).


Tehran, Iran


Tehran , Iran
Tehran, Iran. Photo by daniyal62 on Flickr (cc)

The city of Tehran in Iran had something of a grid in spots, including some with numbered streets. The city even had a 305th Street (map). This short block included space for two apartment towers, a park and a farmers’ market. However, I couldn’t make sense of the numbering scheme and it seemed like several different patterns existed in close proximity. I included Tehran solely because I wanted an Iranian push-pin on my Complete Index map. Now I have one.


Milton Keynes, England


Milton Keynes, England (June 2009)
Milton Keynes, England. Photo by Mark Pegrum on Flickr (cc)

Few examples of numbered streets existed within the United Kingdom. Most towns formed centuries ago in a haphazard manner. They didn’t include regular grids like their cousins that formed from scratch on the North American prairies. Milton Keynes incorporated one of the the best examples of numbered streets that I could find, though. The city didn’t follow the same model as much of the rest of the UK. It didn’t have an ancient pedigree. "When the UK Government decided to build Milton Keynes in the 1960s, the area was mostly farmland and undeveloped villages." Thus, it followed a model much more aligned to what happened on the other side of the Atlantic.

Even so, its numbering climbed only as high as 14 as far as I could tell (map). Also, city planners didn’t like numbers as numerals so they spelled them out. People lived on Fourteenth Street not 14th Street.

C&O: Carderock to Georgetown

On August 31, 2017 · 2 Comments

I ride my bike most weekends and I like to switch-up the route whenever possible. Sometimes I complete a circuit. Other times I’ll go for an out-and-back. When I do that I enjoy playing a little game I call "how far can I get in an hour." We’re blessed with an abundance of well-maintained, scenic trails and I can make it a pretty far. One route takes me from my home in Arlington across the Potomac River into Washington, DC, and then straight up the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal trail. Usually I don’t cover as much ground on this trail because the crushed gravel surface slows me down. Also I have to take my hybrid instead of my road bike for better traction. I still enjoy the challenge though.

For months, I’ve been telling myself I should slow down and enjoy some of the scenic and historic sites along the C&O. On Sunday I finally decided to do that, although the notion didn’t come to mind until I almost finished the hour. So I did a fast hour out, with a much slower return, stopping frequently for photos. I became the stereotypical tourist in my own backyard.

Someday I will ride all 185 miles of the C&O Canal trail from Cumberland, Maryland to Washington, DC. I’ve done stretches of it including the DC-area portion dozens of times. Until that day comes, however, I can now say I’ve recorded a small part of it. This accounting shouldn’t be confused with a trail guide though. A really good one already exists. Instead, I present a few things that I liked as I completed my return. Readers can click the arrows on the side of each photo to see additional images in the series.

Carderock; Mile 11.8


C&O Canal: Georgetown to Carderock

Why did I stop and turn around at Mile 11.8? Because I looked at my watch and I’d finished the hour. I’m very precise like that. I needed to head back home. Actually I made it about halfway between Carderock and Great Falls (map) if I want to get technical about it. Whatever. The Carderock Recreation Area featured all sorts of outdoor activities, not just biking. Lots of people hiked its well-known Billy Goat Trail on the rough stony banks of the Potomac River. Others climbed its cliffs, some of the most easily accessible rock walls in the DC area.


Original Mile Marker; Mile 9.0


C&O Canal: Georgetown to Carderock

The geo-geek in me loved the marker at Mile 9.0, an historical artifact dating back to the operational days of the canal. Construction began in 1828 and builders didn’t finish it until 1850, although some sections started serving commercial traffic before that. However, railroads competed with the canal even before workers finished digging it. Floods devastated it several times too. The whole enterprise finally ended, abandoned, after the Flood of 1924.

That mile marker (map) stood sentinel all that time, passed by innumerable mule boats filled with cargo, and then into the present era. It read "9 miles to W.C." Presumably that referenced Washington City and not the nearest toilet facility. It took a boat pulled by a mule about a week to cover the entire length of the canal so this marker meant two or three more hours to go.


Sycamore Island; Mile 6.5


C&O Canal: Georgetown to Carderock

Sycamore Island always intrigued me as I passed it on earlier rides. A private club owned the island, as it had since 1885, and tightly controlled access to it. Members took their own hand-pulled ferry across the narrow channel from the C&O trail towpath to the island. They rang a little bell when they wanted to cross and the permanent caretaker headed to the boat to pull it across. Only the caretaker lived on the island full-time.

The club didn’t offer a lot of amenities by design. Members could take canoes out on the water, enjoy the island’s natural setting, fish, swim, chat with other members, read books, or simply relax. It offered a little oasis of solitude in an otherwise complicated world. Lots of people seemed to want that opportunity, too. Applications were accepted only "between January 1 and March 31st on even-numbered calendar years." Even after that, by all accounts, it could take years for a prospective member to finally get to the top of the waiting list.


Lockhouse 6; Mile 5.4


C&O Canal: Georgetown to Carderock

Locks required manual labor to open and close. However, miles of the canal crossed wilderness and few people lived nearby. Lock tenders couldn’t commute to their jobs from nearby towns. The canal company had to build homes for their employees on site. Many of these original lock houses survived and a few can be rented for overnight accommodations. The C&O Canal Trust restored Lockhouse 6, 10, 22, 25, 28 and 49 for that purpose, with each reflecting a different historical period. Lockhouse 6 (map), pictured above, represented the 1950’s when people finally started to think about preserving the canal. Lockhouse 6 was one of the few for rent with electricity, running water and heat.


River View; Mile 4.5


C&O Canal: Georgetown to Carderock

I’d seen a little stub trail leading from the towpath somewhere around Mile 4.5 on several occasions. Kayakers seemed to portage to it from a nearby parking lot so I knew it lead to the river. I had a little time on my return trip so I followed the stub to its conclusion (map). It led to what looked like a parking area (clearly visible on satellite), which seemed odd because I couldn’t imagine a car ever driving down the towpath to get to the stub. Maybe it provided a way for emergency vehicles to access the river or something. People sometimes did get into trouble on this turbulent stretch of water. I don’t know. The terminus also included a viewing platform with some great scenery just upriver from Chain Bridge. Barely within the borders of the District of Columbia, it felt a world away from the rest of the city.


Georgetown; Mile 1.0


C&O Canal: Georgetown to Carderock

I rather enjoyed the final slow meander towards home. Soon, way too soon, I arrived at Georgetown where I had to leave the C&O a mile before it ended (map). There I had to cross Key Bridge once again and head back into Arlington.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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