We’ve had a lively interactive discussion within the comments section of the recent article, "For Aficionados of Counties." I’m not surprised. Many of my regular readers are indeed aficionados of counties. In fact I seem to have cornered a great deal of the market on geo-oddities at the tertiary level of US government, not that I have much competition.
Frequent reader "Craig" mentioned the peculiar situation of Kent County, Maryland and Kent County, Delaware. They are adjacent. They share a common name and a common border but they fall on different sides of a state boundary line. He wondered whether there were other instances of counties bordering their namesake in another state.
Here are the two Kents that launched an entire discussion:
Another loyal reader, "Mike Lowe" then mentioned Sabine Co., Texas bordering on Sabine Parish, Louisiana. Craig returned the favor by added Bristol Co. Massachusetts and Bristol Co., Rhode Island. I found a couple more examples and threw them onto the pile.
Then I got down to some serious searching. I determined that this topic isn’t very well known or understood on the Intertubes. It’s rare virgin territory and a grand opportunity for compiling a definitive list. I can’t promise that I found every instance of this phenomenon but I feel confident that it’s better than any other tally that exists publicly. It’s entirely possible that I overlooked something so please add them to the comments and we’ll make the list even better together.
I now present for your entertainment and amusement the (possibly) complete list of counties that border their namesakes in adjacent states.
- Big Horn Co., Montana/Wyoming
- Bristol Co., Massachusetts/Rhode Island
- Escambia Co., Alabama/Florida
- Kent Co., Delaware/Maryland
- Park Co., Montana/Wyoming
- Pike Co., Illinois/Missouri
- Sabine Co./Parish, Texas/Louisiana
- San Juan Co., New Mexico/Utah
- Teton Co., Idaho/Wyoming
- Union Co./Parish, Arkansas/Louisiana
- Vermil(l)ion Co., Illinois/Indiana
Note that I equate a Parish with a County which I think is proper, and I’ll explain momentarily why I believe the that spelling variation for the final entry still qualifies it for the list.
Big Horn Co., Montana/Wyoming: They are named after the Big Horn Mountains which run north-south through central Wyoming and extend up into Montana.
Bristol Co., Massachusetts/Rhode Island: This is convoluted so I’ll do my best to simplify it while trying to remain somewhat historically accurate. Think back to the settlement of the Plymouth Colony in the Seventeenth Century and recall that many of the early immigrants left from ports in southwestern England. Bristol, in England, lent its name to the Plymouth Colony town of Bristol, which in turn became the namesake and shire town (county seat) of Bristol County at its creation in 1685.
Forward another half-century and the Province of Massachusetts Bay arose from a conglomeration of various earlier colonies including Plymouth. Rhode Island was a separate colony and they disputed the border. Part of the disagreement involved Bristol County. They settled and both sides retained portions of Bristol County including its name, with the Town of Bristol falling within Rhode Island. I should note that Rhode Island doesn’t have functioning counties anymore. They exist primarily for national comparisons such as the Census which baselined at the county level long ago.
Escambia Co., Alabama/Florida: The name derives from the Escambia River. In Alabama the river is known as the Conecuh but the name changes to Escambia when it enters Florida. Nonetheless both counties call themselves Escambia. Conecuh had already been snagged by a neighboring Alabama county so the residents of the newly-formed county were left with second-best. The USGS says, "Although the name may be derived from the Spanish word ‘cambiar,’ meaning to exchange or barter, it more likely is from an Indian word of unknown meaning."
Kent Co., Delaware/Maryland: They are both named for the English county, Kent. Cecilius Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore and 1st Proprietor Governor of Maryland, was born in Kent so I’m thinking that could be a connection. I couldn’t find a likely reason for Delaware’s Kent County other than a general English heritage. That means I didn’t stumble across an answer in the first thirty seconds on Google. Maybe one of our Delaware experts knows the answer. Don’t smirk. We do have Delaware experts who read this blog.
Park Co., Montana/Wyoming: Yellowstone, the first National Park in the world, encompasses land within both counties and serves as their namesake.
Pike Co., Illinois/Missouri: Zebulon Pike, noted early Nineteenth Century explorer and soldier, inspired the naming of many geographic features. Pike’s Peak in Colorado is probably the most famous example. He died in 1813 during a military expedition against British forces in Canada in the War of 1812 (which ran until 1814, or 1815 if you count the Battle of New Orleans and other post-treaty actions). Both counties formed in the years immediately following Pike’s heroic death and bear his name as a tribute.
Sabine Co./Parish, Texas/Louisiana: Both counties abut the Sabine River and that’s where they derive their common name. The Spanish word for cypress, a tree found commonly along lower portions of the river, provided the inspiration. This was the Rio Grande of its day: an international border between the United States and Mexico during much of the first half of the Nineteenth Century.
San Juan Co., New Mexico/Utah: Four states join together at a common point at the Four Corners. New Mexico and Utah are cattycornered here. Their respective San Juan Counties meet at a single point directly upon the Four Corners monument. There’s a perfectly logical explanation for this choice of county names: The San Juan River begins in southwestern Colorado dips into New Mexico, clips Colorado once again and enters Utah before flowing into the Colorado River. It touches both San Juan Counties.
Teton Co., Idaho/Wyoming: The Teton Mountains came first and the counties were named accordingly. Conventional wisdom associates Teton with a rather colorful French derivation. It certainly lends a bawdy edge to Grand Teton, the principal massif summit. I love this area and I’ve traveled here several times over the years, often hearing and believing that version of the supposed etymology. However it actually appears to derive from the Teton Indians that predated any frustrated French explorers who may have wandered through the area. You can find a better explanation on AllExperts.com if you truly want to know more.
Union Co./Parish, Arkansas/Louisiana: Union is a very popular county name that’s found in 18 states. It’s not too remarkable then, that two happen to abut each other purely by coincidence. The Arkansas version came out of a citizen petition, in the spirit of Union and Unity. The Louisiana version supposedly came from a quote by Daniel Webster, "liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable." I found both explanations on Wikipedia so take that into consideration.
There is a fascinating stone monument sitting on the border between the two Union Counties erected in the 1930’s. Check out Groundspeak for some background information, photographs and the text from a recent newspaper article.
Vermil(l)ion Co., Illinois/Indiana: The purists might not count this one because of the spelling variation. Red bluffs provide a descriptive term for the Vermilion River which in turn lends a name to both counties. Illinois spells Vermilion just like the river. Indiana adds an extra "l," thus Vermillion. However they both refer to the river.