Totally Eclipsed

On August 23, 2017 · 8 Comments

Can anyone stand one more eclipse story? I promise this one will be a little different than most. I drove a thousand miles for a 4-day weekend and, well… Mother Nature had different plans.

Lots of loyal Twelve Mile Circle readers asked me if I planned to see the August 21, 2017, total eclipse of the sun. I started getting emails from curious readers several months ago. Actually, I began planning for the event even before anyone asked. My brother lives in a suburb of Charleston, South Carolina. Exactly one year in advance, to the day, I sent him a message requesting a place to stay. Of course he hadn’t heard anything about the eclipse at that point. Almost nobody had. Nonetheless, I wanted to stake out my prime viewing spot before anyone else could claim it. The year passed a lot quicker than I expected and soon we found ourselves heading down to Charleston.

The Drive Down



I way overthought the logistics as I always do, and as my nature often compels me. How would we survive Interstate 95, one of the most traffic-clogged roads on a good day, when hundreds of thousands of people had the same thought? I guessed maybe fewer drivers would begin their journey early Saturday morning, two days before the eclipse. We left the Washington, DC area at 5:30 am, hoping that my prediction might hold true. However, traffic coming out of DC seemed heavier than usual. It continued to build as we passed Fredericksburg and pushed forward towards Richmond. I definitely feared the worst. If traffic looked this bad even before sunrise, what would it look like when everyone woke up and started heading towards the eclipse’s path of totality?

Unexpectedly, conditions improved after we left Richmond. In retrospect, I figured they must have been heading to the beaches of Virginia and North Carolina. This wasn’t eclipse traffic, this was normal beach traffic, of people with Saturday-to-Saturday cottage rentals. We experienced nothing but smooth sailing for the rest of the drive. Honestly the easiest driving happened in South Carolina. The route seemed downright relaxing compared to the initial leg. We arrived at our destination in 7.5 hours, with an average speed (including stops) of about 65 miles per hour (105 kilometres per hour). No delays. None.

I guessed correctly. Others, however, did not. My wife’s friend left from New Jersey later in the day. She made it only as far as Fayetteville, North Carolina until being forced by fatigue to stop overnight. It took her 15 hours.


Hanging Out


Rusty Bull Brewing Co.

We also got plenty of time to hang out with family, another benefit of arriving two days early. This trip would be a little different. We would avoid the usual tourist sites of Charleston. I didn’t want to be anywhere near the crowds. Our older son enjoyed spending time in a quiet corner of his temporary bedroom playing interactive Internet games with his friends back home in Virginia. Our younger son got some quality time with his cousin, including a trip to the local trampoline park. My sister-in-law definitely took one for the team as she shepherded them during that adventure.

The rest of us visited as many local breweries as we could. Over the course of two days we hit six: Frothy Beard Brewing; Holy City Brewing; Oak Road Brewery; Rusty Bull Brewing; Twisted Cypress Brewing and Westbrook Brewing. I’d never been to a brewery in South Carolina before, so now the only states missing from my brewery adventure map were Arkansas, Kansas, Montana and Oklahoma.


Eclipse Day



The morning of the eclipse

Then came the big day. I started with a six-mile run at dawn. I thought Virginia summers were brutal although they paled in comparison to South Carolina. At least mornings in Virginia offered a bit of respite from the worst extremes of the day. However, in South Carolina, I walked through the front door and hit a solid wall of heat and humidity. This seemed troublesome because all that water vapor had to go somewhere, and sure enough clouds began to build as the morning progressed. Clouds, obviously, would obscure the eclipse. Still, I tried to remain optimistic.

Fortunately we didn’t need to travel anywhere. My brother’s house sat northwest of Charleston, even further into the area of totality than the city itself. The period of darkness there differed from the theoretical maximum by only 12 seconds. We didn’t see any need to fight our way through the traffic. We already sat at an awesome geographic viewpoint.

The city itself largely shut-down for the event. Many businesses closed for the days as did the schools. Still, lots of bars and restaurants remained open with all sorts of eclipse celebrations and specials. It became something of an undeclared holiday. Even so, we decided to remain in the back yard with lawn chairs and our eclipse glasses ready.


The Eclipse


Eclipse?

Where we stood, the eclipse lasted from 1:16 pm to 4:09 pm, with totality starting at 2:46 pm and lasting for more than two minutes. Right around 12:30 pm, a thunderstorm rolled into the area and heavy clouds did not depart for the rest of the day. We never saw the sun during the entire period of the eclipse. Thunder and rainfall drowned out every other sound. Only complete darkness offered the telltale sign that something else was happening. This unfortunate turn of events offered a humble lesson in making the best of a bad situation. We did enjoy the moments leading up to totality. The world darkened visibly, especially during the final moments, arriving faster than any sunset. It looked like someone turned a dimmer switch on the entire planet, then repeated the process in reverse. We never got to use our eclipse glasses though.

When’s the next one? April 8, 2024? I have a cousin who lives in Austin, Texas. Maybe I can make reservations early.

More Oddities from Independent Cities, Part 1

On March 23, 2017 · 7 Comments

The recent Prince George Exclave article explored Virginia’s unusual laws and how they created an unexpected result geographically. It didn’t end there. I reexamined the borders of each of the states’ independent cities for additional anomalies. The intersection between complicated annexation procedures and disparate city-county interests created some rather dysfunctional situations.

All base maps and boundaries came from the excellent Mob Rule website, and its "county lines imposed on Google maps" option. I added labels and arrows for clarity.

Avoidance


Chesterfield's Tendril
Chesterfield County Tendril

Presumably independent cities submitted annexation proposals because they wanted something attractive, like adjacent parcels with favorable businesses and residential density. Conversely, they would also want to avoid certain pieces of land. That seemed to be the case with the Prince George exclave where the City of Hopewell didn’t want to use its own tax receipts to maintain the Route 10 bridge. I think something similar may have happened when the city of Colonial Heights gained independence in 1961.

For whatever reason, Colonial Heights didn’t seem to want to deal with the Appomattox River. Maybe road and bridge maintenance figured into this, or maybe the city viewed owning a bunch of uninhabited river islands as inconvenient. Who knows. Regardless, Chesterfield County’s original border on the eastern side of the river remained in place. The judicial panel that granted this annexation approved Colonial Heights’ border on the western side of the river. That created a long, narrow tendril of Chesterfield wrapping around the eastern and southern flanks of Colonial Heights. It also prevented Colonial Heights from ever sharing a border with Prince George County, separated by only a tenth of a mile at one place along Route 144, Temple Avenue.

Also unbeknownst to me, I never knew that I’d driven through a tiny sliver of Chesterfield while traveling between Colonial Heights and Petersburg on Interstate 95. I’ve taken that route probably a hundred times over the years. Google Street View images revealed no highway signage for that anomaly. It’s no wonder I hadn’t figured it out until now.


James City Boundary Cross


James City Boundary Cross
James City County Boundary Cross

Quadripoints can be a lot fun. I certainly enjoyed my trip to the Four Corners marker in the southwestern United States a number of years ago. However there existed an even stranger version of this phenomenon, the elusive quadripoint boundary cross. These occurred when a section of a territory — national, provincial, county, etc. — connected to its affiliated territory by only a single point. Twelve Mile Circle featured a trio of such international quadripoint boundary crosses in its earliest days (Jungholz, Baarle-Hertog, and the since-eliminated Cooch Behar situation).

I found it difficult to describe the phenomenon. Maybe the image above conveyed the situation better. Notice the border between James City County and the independent city of Williamsburg. A chunk of James City, almost completely surrounded by Williamsburg, connected to the remainder of James City only at the boundary cross. Also the name bothered me. James City County sounded a bit schizophrenic. Did it want to be a city or a county? Make a choice, James. They might be forgiven though. The name went all the way back to the original colonial James City Shire established in 1634. Government officials simply carried its historical designation forward. Either way, it was definitely a county and not an independent city despite the name.

There seemed to be no compelling reason for this nearly disconnected chunk of James City County. A parking lot and part of a medical center occupied most of its space (Street View). I had visions of city and county attorneys battling back-and-forth during the annexation hearing. Maybe this reflected the results of a heated negotiation. James City County managed to hold onto that little corner.


Bristol Boundary Cross


Bristol Boundary Cross
Bristol Boundary Cross

A similar situation existed at the northern edge of the independent city of Bristol. Washington County surrounded Bristol everywhere except on the southern side where the state of North Carolina Tennessee bumped up against it. Bristol’s northern appendage seemed to be bolted-on to the remainder of the city, somewhat haphazardly. The initial nub contained public space, the Sugar Hollow Park. I supposed every city deserved a good park and this one featured camping, sports fields, picnic pavilions, bike trails and a pool. That was a logical annexation. Nicely done, Bristol. The next nub farther up surrounded a reservoir built in 1965, Clear Creek Lake. A golf course hugged it eastern shore. Kudos again to Bristol for its strategic annexation, even if the space attached to the rest of the city by only a hundred-foot neck.

However, the Sugar Hollow Park nub also connected to an even smaller parcel of Bristol through a quadripoint boundary cross. This parcel accommodated a single house on several acres of forested land. I dug a little deeper and found its address: 13174 Topeka Drive. According to Zillow this 1939 home had 2 bedrooms, 1 bath, and 1,034 square feet of livable space. The estimated value was $89,101. Someday I’d love to know the sequence of events and special reasons that led to this single home becoming a part of Bristol. Did the mayor live there or something? It made no sense.

The independent city oddities continued although I got tired of typing. Part 2 will explore enclaves within the cities and pinches that came close to creating the same.

Triangle

On November 17, 2016 · 3 Comments

With a name like Triangle, I expected some actual triangles. I pondered that possibility as I sat on Interstate 95 during heavy weekend traffic, returning from an overnight trip to Richmond. I found plenty of time to consider that notion too as I traveled through Triangle on the interminably slow route on a notoriously congested highway.


National Museum of the Marine Corps
National Museum of the Marine Corps. My own photo.

In truth, I already knew about Triangle although I never thought about its name before. It stood just beyond the gates of Marine Corps Base Quantico. The Marines built a wonderful museum bordering Triangle that I visited a couple of years ago. I guessed Triangle must have been roughly triangular. That seemed to be the case when I checked later (map). No online source confirmed it definitively, though. The source of this triangle remained a mystery.


Research Triangle Park, North Carolina



That didn’t keep me from finding other triangles. A famous one sat just one state farther south at Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. The triangle in question referenced three local cities anchored by three major universities: Raleigh (North Carolina State University), Durham (Duke University) and Chapel Hill (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). The state government, local governments, the universities and private interests banded together in the 1950’s to create a research-friendly area managed by a non-profit organization. Their foresight worked spectacularly.

Today, we share our home with more than 200 companies and over 50,000 people with expertise in fields such as micro-electronics, telecommunications, biotechnology, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and environmental sciences. Industries invest more than $296 million in R&D at the region’s universities each year – double the average R&D investment for innovation clusters elsewhere in the nation.

Identifying triangles only got more difficult from there.


Junction Triangle, Ontario, Canada


Junction Triangle map
Junction Triangle map on Wikimedia Commons (cc)

Canada offered a recent example with Junction Triangle. It didn’t have much of a name nor much of a presence during most of its history, an isolated parcel on the western side of Toronto. Industry clustered there, and then so did immigrants that worked in the factories through much of the 20th Century. They came from places like Italy and Poland, and later from Portugal. The Portuguese came in such great abundance that soon they dominated the area. Factories declined precipitously and so did the neighbourhood as the century came to an end. However, conditions changed once again in recent years as young professionals began to covet its inexpensive, conveniently-located housing. The neighbourhood needed a fancy new name to match its changing fortune. A contest in 2010 resulted in hundreds of suggestions. The name Junction Triangle (map) won after officials tallied the votes.

Why Junction Triangle? Railroads hemmed the neighbourhood in on three well-defined sides. They formed a fairly decent approximation of a triangle.


Triangle, Zimbabwe


Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe Sugar Cane Train. Photo by Ulrika on Flickr (cc)

Teasing out the triangle in Triangle, Zimbabwe took a great deal more effort (map). Nothing of roughly triangular shape could be discerned anywhere on the nearby landscape. The town existed solely to service a collocated sugar refinery operated by an agricultural conglomerate, Tongaat Hulett Sugar. It processed up to sixty thousand tonnes of white sugar per year along with related products such as molasses and fuel-grade alcohol. Sugar cane was grown there since the 1930’s on a large property called the Triangle Plantation. Logically, the name of the town derived from the name of the plantation.

I discovered the source of the plantation’s name from Murray MacDougall and the Story of Triangle. Murray MacDougall was a fixture in the area and was primarily responsible for developing the sugar industry there.

They named the property Triangle after the registered cattle brand which Mac purchased from a fellow farmer named Van Niekerk, as the poor chap was going out of business and had a very simple brand which almost defied alteration in a period when rustling and brand-changing was not uncommon. For a few pounds Mac purchased both the registered brand itself, in the shape of a simple triangle, and the branding irons to go with it.

MacDougall followed a number of agricultural pursuits including ranching before striking success with sugar. He used the name of the brand that he purchased for his property and retained the name as his enterprise grew.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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