Recently Twelve Mile Circle focused a couple of articles on the boundaries of Virginia’s independent cities. That led loyal reader Scott Surgent to comment on an equally strange situation in Broomfield County, Colorado. I certainly knew about Broomfield because of its status as one of the newest and smallest of U.S. counties. It didn’t exist until 2001 and it covered only 34 square miles (88 square kilometres). I’d even featured it on 12MC before, such as when county counter extraordinaire Fritz Keppler recalled his visit to Broomfield on the first day of its existence. However, I’d never examined its borders before.
U.S. 36 En Route to Boulder, Broomfield, Colorado
Photo by Ken Lund on Flickr (cc)
Take a look at Broomfield on Mob Rule or Google or even the county’s official street map. The borders seemed nothing if not bizarre. Narrow tendrils extended along roadways or tethered nearly-detached rural acreage. Broomfield included a couple of enclaves of neighboring counties within its body. It also owned a narrow exclave along a major roadway, barely wider than the lanes of traffic itself.
I wondered how this happened. Next I drilled down a little closer into Broomfield’s multiple geo-oddities.
Broomfield as a Municipality
Broomfield’s origin explained its shape. It did not begin as a county, nobody originally envisioned it as a county, and it probably never would have become a county except for its unusual growth near four other counties. The county’s history page said that Broomfield began as a little village around the turn of the last century in the southeastern corner of Boulder County. Construction of the Boulder Turnpike in 1950 offered opportunities for growth. Then the Turnpike Land Company purchased acreage nearby and created a master planned community. Development led to further development and Broomfield continued to expand. It incorporated as a municipality in 1961.
A local publication, the Broomfield Enterprise, commented on the community’s success on the occasion of its 50th anniversary in 2011. Everything stemmed from bold actions. Broomfield didn’t compete with counties that surrounded it; rather Broomfield competed with nearby municipalities. Both offensive and defensive annexations occurred. Broomfield skillfully grabbed land in favorable locations and blocked other municipalities from doing the same. This led to a crazy patchwork of boundaries typical of many municipalities in the United States.
Broomfield as a County
However, the municipality of Broomfield started to encounter a number of issues as it expanded. Once confined to Boulder County, it eventually flowed into Weld, Adams and Jefferson Counties, too. That meant it had to deal with four different governments, each with its own set of regulations, adjudication, taxation, services and schools. Governance in a quad county town became tedious and difficult.
Fortunately Colorado offered precedence. The state amended its constitution in 1902 to form the consolidated City and County of Denver. Could such a device also work for Broomfield? In 1998, the municipality reviewed the possibility: "Formation of a Broomfield City & County — Is it Feasible?" (pdf). The study concluded favorably. However, implementation required a state constitutional amendment. It also needed to survive a referendum by the citizens of Broomfield. Those steps happened and the municipality of Broomfield became the City and County of Broomfield on November 15, 2001.
Nonetheless, the amendment — Article 20, Sections 10-13 — placed limits on expansion. If froze Broomfield’s existing municipal borders until it could become a county. Afterwards, Broomfield could expand only after approval of a seven-member panel that included voting representatives from the four counties that surrounded it. That effectively cemented the weirdness of Broomfield’s final municipal boundaries into its county boundaries.
Let’s take a look, shall we?
Broomfield Border Overview
Borders of Broomfield County
I had a hard time following some of the borders so I drew them out by hand with a wider line. I marked some of the peculiarities with letters. Hopefully that will make it easier to follow along when I show close-up images, below. I started at the top and proceeded clockwise.
(A) Weld County Enclave
Weld County Enclave within Broomfield
There didn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason for the tiny enclave of Weld County embedded within Broomfield. All I could figure was that maybe the owners of that land didn’t want to belong to Broomfield. In Colorado, local residents needed to vote affirmatively to join a municipality. Somehow this little pocket escaped Broomfield’s clutches as it expanded.
(B) Broomfield’s Eastern Tendril
The Eastern Tendril
The little patch of Broomfield south of W. 152nd Ave. almost qualified as an exclave. I took an optimistic look, hoping it might be true. However, the width of Huron Road extended as a tendril connecting what appeared to be nothing more than an empty field, to the rest of the county. Who knew what future use Broomfield intended for this space? Regardless, Broomfield grabbed it.
(C) Broomfield’s Southwestern Tendril
The Southwestern Tendril
I thought I might have spotted a boundary cross. Upon closer inspection, however, I dispelled that possibility. Broomfield stuck a narrow corridor between Boulder and Jefferson along W. 120th Ave.
(D) Northwest Parkway Corridor
The Confusing Northwest Parkway
I could only describe the Northwest Parkway Corridor as a complete mess. Clearly, Broomfield coveted the parkway as it grew. Maybe if it controlled the parkway it could control access to and from the parkway. Like a castle wall, it could keep other municipalities at bay. However, in the process, it created a confusing situation. It left a section of Boulder connected to its home county by two narrow corridors, along S. 104th St. and U.S. Route 287. It created a Broomfield exclave along the parkway and an adjoining exit ramp. It also created a Boulder enclave within Broomfield, separated from the rest of its home county solely by the width of W. Dillon Road.
(E) The Zigzag
The strangeness of one section of the border between Broomfield and Weld completely confounded me. First, I didn’t know how to describe it. Zigzag seemed to fit, except it formed rectangular lines rather than triangular. Second, why? What purpose would it serve for Broomfield to erect that figurative wall so close to its own border? It didn’t even seem to include anything consequential. Maybe it had something to do with the golf course immediately to the west. I don’t know.
Every once in awhile I receive a tip where I need to drop everything so I can search for an explanation. Frequent reader "Aaron" discovered an exclave that I’d never seen before. Shockingly, it appeared in my own home state of Virginia and I’d actually driven through the exclave during my county counting adventures. How did I not notice it?
That’s all it took to suck me down into a rabbit hole for most of a Saturday afternoon.
The exclave definitely existed. I examined several sources and found it each time. Check it out:
Prince George Co., VA Exclave
via Mob Rule
Virginia’s independent city of Hopewell carved its territory from the northwestern corner of Prince George County, at the confluence of the Appomattox and James Rivers. Prince George surrounded Hopewell on three sides — east, west and south — while Chesterfield County hugged its northern shore across the Appomattox. However, a tiny dot of Prince George stood alone, stranded from the rest of the county. This overlapped a segment of Virginia State Route 10, Randolph Road. Someone driving south from Chesterfield along the road would first hit Prince George (sign) and then enter Hopewell (sign) only 0.32 miles (0.5 km) later. This wasn’t an inconsequential road either. It supported an Annual Average Daily Traffic Volume of 19,000 vehicles.
Inside the Exclave
via Google Street View, September 2016
This brief slice of Prince George coincided with a bridge crossing the Appomattox, from the river midpoint to where the bridge returned to dry land. The exclave formed a rectangle no wider than the bridge itself. I will visit it someday. Fortunately there appeared to be a safe point to explore it, on Riverside Avenue directly below the bridge. That, of course, fell within the exclave too.
Annexation by Independent Cities
Welcome to Hopewell. Photo by J. Stephen Conn on Flickr (cc)
The Commonwealth of Virginia maintained an odd assortment of independent cities, a highly rare arrangement within the United States. Of the 41 independent cities found in the U.S., 38 of them fell within Virginia (only the cities of Baltimore, St. Louis and Carson City did not). I’ve mentioned this anomaly several times in 12MC over the years, usually in reference to my county counting pursuits. Those independent cities were not subservient to their surrounding counties and thus "counted" as county equivalents.
I hadn’t looked much at the mechanics of it until now. Fortunately I found a publication from the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. The arrangement extended all the way back to Virginia’s colonial era, an artifact carried over to modern times. Cities could annex land from adjacent counties as needed. However, counties generally did not like to cede their territory. This situation begged for an equitable process so the General Assembly adopted revised procedures in 1904. It required proposed annexation to go to a special court composed of three judges who would listen to both sides before making a decision. The court approved about 80% of annexations over the years according to this publication. Virginia recognized 128 of 160 proposed city-county annexations until it implemented a moratorium in 1987. Annexations caused too much animosity between cities and counties.
Hopewell incorporated as an Independent City in 1914. Thus, it followed the 1904 procedures. The 3-judge panel would have adjudicated Hopewell’s formation and any expansions. The resulting exclave must have been an explicit and intentional act on Hopewell’s part. There must have been a specific reason for Hopewell to exclude that tiny sliver of Prince George. It was not an accident.
Byrd Road Act
Harry F. Byrd. Wikimedia Commons; in the Public Domain
Then what might have been the reason? I found a likely candidate in some Depression-era legislation, Chapter 415 of the 1932 Acts of the General Assembly. This was more commonly called the Byrd Road Act. Harry Flood Byrd controlled Virginia politics for a half century through his Byrd Organization, a powerful political machine. He served as governor from 1926-1930, then as a U.S. Senator from 1933-1965. The legislation in question focused on secondary roads, enacting Byrd’s vision even though he no longer served as governor.
The Depression hit Virginia’s rural counties particularly hard. They didn’t have enough money to pave most of their roads, much less maintain them. They Act offered a novel solution. Control of secondary roads reverted to the state at the discretion of each county. State tax receipts would then fund construction and maintenance. An estimate at the time predicted that the Act "would reduce rural taxes by $2,895,102 annually." This seemed like an excellent trade-off and nearly every county accepted the offer (and today only Henrico and Arlington Counties control their own secondary roads as a result).
However, money had to come from somewhere. The Act excluded independent cities which still had to maintain their own secondary roads. Additionally, more people and more wealth concentrated in cities. Therefore state taxes paid by city residents subsidize road construction and maintenance in counties. Cities got hit twice, once for their own roads and again to support rural roads throughout the state. That was just fine by the Byrd Organization which found its base of power in rural counties. Even today people marvel at the wonderful, beautiful roads in the middle of nowhere throughout Virginia. Thank the Byrd Road Act.
Now, back to that bridge carrying drivers on Route 10 across the Appomattox River. If Hopewell annexed the land and water beneath the bridge then Hopewell’s taxes would have to maintain the bridge. If Hopewell declined to annex the bridge — leaving behind a tiny pocket of Prince George County — the state of Virginia would have to maintain it. That created a powerful financial incentive for Hopewell to exclude the bridge from its annexation proposal. Prince George County wouldn’t care. It wouldn’t have to pay for maintenance regardless.
I never found an official government document that said explicitly that this was the reason. However, I believed a preponderance of the evidence pointed clearly towards that direction. It made perfect sense and no other reason seemed plausible. The only other mention of this exclave anywhere on the Intertubes seemed to reach a similar conclusion.
Virginia’s counties got a great bargain in 1932. However, the system began to fray over the decades especially for rapidly urbanizing counties. A report published by George Mason University in 2011 concluded,
Almost one-third of Virginia’s secondary road system is currently deficient, and programs designed to attract county participation in construction and maintenance are not working… the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) secondary construction program has provided minimal funding support for constructing new secondary roads in recent years…
Some localities, like Fairfax County with over a million residents, began to chafe under a system where the state controlled its secondary roads. Insufficient, traffic-clogged roads threatened to strangle the county with gridlock. Fairfax even began to explore conversion to independent city status in order to regain that control.
One Final Note
A special thank you to Aaron. This page now serves as the definitive source of information for the maybe ten people on the entire planet who want to know about this exclave. I can’t believe I spent more than 1,200 words talking about a plot of land only a third of a mile long by a hundred feet wide. That’s why you read Twelve Mile Circle. Right?
Rivers can make great boundaries when they cooperate. Frequently they do not. These creatures of nature flow where they want to flow. Sometimes they erode deep furrows through solid rock, changing course only after eons pass. Other times they cross alluvial plains, shifting into multiple ephemeral streams awaiting the next flood. Problems will undoubtedly occur when people rely upon frequently-shifting rivers as boundaries. The shifts create winners and losers.
Two recent border situations came to my attention, handled in distinctly different ways by those involved.
The Red River
Reader Glenn seemed amused by the craziness of the border between Texas and its neighbors — Oklahoma and Arkansas — along the Red River, in an email he sent to 12MC a couple of months ago. The border rarely followed the river exactly, it reflected a version of the river that existed a long time ago. Many of the cutoffs on the "wrong" side of the river still retained names from a bygone day; Eagle Bend, Horseshoe Bend, Whitaker Bend and Hurricane Bend. Others seemed to represent the year of the flood that changed the underlying channel; such as 1908 Cutoff and Forty-One Cutoff.
Fixing the Border
Bend in Red River, Texas. Photo by brewbooks on Flickr (cc)
I might have left it at that, a simple observation of a messed-up situation. However, the decision to use the Red River beginning with the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819 continues to reverberate today. This treaty between Spain and the United States addressed a host of boundary issues. A line along the Red River remained in place when México gained independence from Spain in 1821, when Texas gained independence in 1836 and when Texas joined the United States in 1846. The river had different intentions though and meandered as it pleased.
The Red River figured prominently in a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Oklahoma v. Texas, 260 U.S. 606 (1923). The Court noted that even though the river wandered, it remained within two "cut banks" broadly defined.
… we hold that the bank intended by the treaty provision is the water-washed and relatively permanent elevation or acclivity at the outer line of the river bed which separates the bed from the adjacent upland, whether valley or hill, and serves to confine the waters within the bed and to preserve the course of the river, and that the boundary intended is on and along the bank at the average or mean level attained by the waters in the periods when they reach and wash the bank without overflowing it.
The Court set the boundary between Texas and Oklahoma on the south side of the Red River. Surveyors then marked and set the boundary.
The Current Dispute
Except the river kept changing while the boundary, as determined by the Court in 1923, remained fixed. The latest dispute began within the last several years. It got much more complicated. While the line between Texas and Oklahoma began at the south bank, the Federal government held the portion from the middle of the river to the south bank in public trust for Native Americans. This formed a narrow strip, a 116 mile (190 kilometre) ribbon. Much of that strip is now on dry land. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management estimated that 90,000 acres actually belong in the public domain, and not to the people living there, farming it or grazing their cattle for the last century. Lawsuits continue to rage.
The River Meuse
Netherlands / Belgium Border Adjustment
Underlying Map from OpenStreetMap
Reader Jasper sent me a heads up that Belgium shrank and the Netherlands grew on November 28, 2016. The two sides came to an amicable agreement and adjusted their border. Didier Reynders of Belgium and Bert Koenders of the Netherlands signed a treaty in Amsterdam, in the presence of their respective monarchs, King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, and King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima. The announcement came in a Press Release with coverage in local media (Google Translation of an article in Flemish).
The areas in question fell along the banks of the River Meuse, forming a portion of the boundary between the two nations. They established their original border there in 1843. However, these neighbors decided to straighten their common river to improve navigation in stages between 1962 and 1980. This left a piece of the Netherlands and two pieces of Belgium on the "wrong" side of the river between Visé and Eijsden (map). Police could not access these spots easily and they became havens for illegal activities. This included a situation where a headless body washed ashore on one of the exclaves. Territorial complexities hampered the investigation.
In an unusual twist and in a supreme act of neighborly cooperation, the two nations simply agreed to swap their stranded parcels. It seemed the most logical option, and yet, it remained exceedingly rare in other border situations worldwide. Nobody wants to be the loser. Belgium simply gave up 14 hectares (35 acres) in the deal and called it good.