I’ve been spending a little time on the Religion Census 2010 website. It includes a wealth of maps and numerical tables which I’m sure to draw upon for future articles. A few data extremes came to the forefront of my mind immediately as I leafed through some of the reports.
First, this shouldn’t be confused with the 2010 Decennial Census conducted by the U.S. government’s Census Bureau, although it can be a nice companion to those data. The Religion Census taps a different source: "Each participating religious body supplies the number of churches, full members, adherents, and attendees for each county." This can lead to some interesting geographic anomalies which the website freely acknowledges, "It is possible for the number of adherents to exceed the county population. This may occur when congregations in one county draw large numbers of adherents from neighboring counties."
Duly warned, I turned to one of the Religion Census 2010 reports on "Counties Where Each Religious Body Has the Highest Proportion of Adherents in the Population," which they used interchangeably with the term "largest population penetration."
Southern Baptist Convention
No location comes close to beating King County, Texas for its completely monolithic religious affiliation. The number of people reportedly affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention in the county equated to 343.7% of the population. Let’s bear in mind that King has one of the smallest populations in the nation, a condition that did not go unnoticed by 12MC previously in Not Quite Obscure Enough. It doesn’t take much to skew the numbers.
Only 286 people lived in King in 2010, making the Southern Baptist Convention population less than a thousand. I found evidence of one and possibly two congregations within the county. The figure seemed plausible assuming they drew from neighboring counties and perhaps hadn’t weeded their list of members and adherents in awhile. I think the larger point would be that anyone traveling to the county seat in Guthrie or stopping at the Four Sixes Ranch would stand a very high chance of interacting with someone affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
Two interesting and unrelated facts I encountered about King County while trying to learn more:
- It’s alleged to be "the most anti-Obama county in the U.S. based on the 2012 election (includes footage from within the local Baptist church!)
- One of its four settlements is called Grow. That may be the most wildly optimistic name in existence because the village remains stuck at around 70 residents after a hundred years.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
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It’s easier to point towards a source for Madison County, Idaho’s high percentage of LDS adherents, which equates to 100.8% of its county population. First, Madison was settled originally by Mormons as they migrated west in the Nineteenth Century. One would expect a high percentage of LDS adherents due to historical circumstances. Second, Brigham Young University–Idaho (formerly Ricks College) is located in the county seat of Rexburg. The LDS church owns BYU-Idaho which had 16,773 students at the beginning of the 2012/2013 school year.
Madison County includes a healthy population of nearly forty-thousand residents, many of them LDS affiliated. Swell the church rolls with non-resident LDS students who attend services locally during the school year and it’s logical to see how the Mormon population could exceed one-hundred percent. I’m surprised it’s not higher.
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This one perplexed me a little. I figured the highest penetration might be found somewhere in the southwestern United States with a large Hispanic population. I bet I could find the answer in "History of Rolette County, North Dakota: And Yarns of the Pioneers" which, unfortunately, was published too recently to be seen in the public domain. It will remain a mystery unless some wise 12MC reader can track down an answer.
I found several congregations and even a convent although I wondered if those would be enough to push a Religion Census total to 100.0% of the U.S. population census total for the county. The combined total of Catholic affiliations in Rolette would have to hit 13,937. That seemed a bit high to me although I don’t have anything to support or dispel it.
A couple of other unrelated facts about Rolette County came to light:
- It has a tiny practical exclave which I’ve highlighted on the map, above. One could probably wade across the pond so I’m not sure whether this passes the threshold of a bona fide geo-oddity.
- The U.S. side of the International Peace Garden can also be found within the county. Don’t lose your identification while you’re at the garden, though! You’d be trapped in a weird topiary purgatory for the remainder of your life if I interpreted the website correctly. A pickpocket could cause serious mischief here.
Amish Groups, undifferentiated
SOURCE: Ted Ingraham on Flicker via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
I’m going to take writers prerogative and jump down the line several positions to the "undifferentiated Amish Groups" due to their uniqueness. Reflexively one associates Amish with Pennsylvania, particularly the Lancaster area, and yet it demonstrated its greatest penetration in Holmes County, Ohio. Adherents to undifferentiated Amish Groups equaled 41.7% of the Holmes County population of more than forty thousand. That’s a lot!
Holmes county spotlights its Amish residents as a means to attract visitors. It also offers advice to those unfamiliar with Amish practices: "Buggies travel at 4-5 miles an hour, so when you are traveling at 40 or 50 miles an hour, you can come up to a buggy almost before you know it. Slow down, be careful at the top of hills (they say you can tell a Holmes County driver because he slows down at the top of the hill), and take care not to frighten the horses."
There are a number of other religious bodies with high concentrations of membership that you should feel free to explore on your own.
- Non-denominational Christian Churches: Kiowa County, Colorado (map); 78.7% penetration
- Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: Nelson County, North Dakota (map); 74.8% penetration
- Orthodox Church in America: Lake and Peninsula Borough, Alaska (map); 70.1% penetration
- American Baptist Churches in the USA: Arthur County, Nebraska (map); 68.3% penetration
- Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ: Daniels County, Montana (map); 66.8% penetration
- Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod: Traverse County, Minnesota (map); 53.5% penetration
- United Methodist Church: McLennan County, Texas (map); 44.2% penetration
- Episcopal Church: Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area, Alaska (map); 38.4% penetration
I wish I had time to examine the Episcopal connection to Yukon-Koyukuk, in particular.
Many of these counties have small populations which make it easier for religious groups to register significant population impacts. It’s not relegated to rural areas, either. Virginia — with it’s odd system of independent cities considered county-equivalents — figured prominently in several religious groups. One area, the City of Fairfax, in a highly diverse area of Northern Virginia recorded the greatest population penetration for four distinct groups.
- Coptic Orthodox Church: 13.3% penetration
- Conservative Judaism: 7.4% penetration
- International Churches of Christ: 1.6% penetration
- Metropolitan Community Churches, Universal Fellowship of: 0.6% penetration
With a city population of only 22,565, that would mean that about 135 adherents from a single congregation of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches within its tiny boundaries (map) was enough to skew the percentage.
The definition of "meridian" sounds straight-forward enough. There are some ancillary definitions relating to greatest moments, highest achievements and such, plus one dealing with acupuncture, but the one roughly analogous to longitude interests 12MC the most.
- (a.) a great circle of the earth passing through the poles and any given point on the earth’s surface.
- (b.) the half of such a circle included between the poles.
I’ve wondered about Meridian, Mississippi for awhile. Land surveys in Mississippi involved more that one meridian — Choctaw, Chickasaw and Washington meridians principally — and none of them fell within the vicinity of the City of Meridian.
The city was borne of a rivalry between two land speculators, Lewis Ragsdale and John Ball. They competed at a place where the Mobile and Ohio Railroad was expected to intersect with the Vicksburg and Montgomery Railroad. The fortunes of many towns coincided with the placement of railroad lines. Imagine an opportunity that doubling the possibilities.
"Ball believed meridian was a synonym for junction. Ball won that round even with his mistaken assumption. Otherwise Meridian could have been Sowashee or Ragsdale City.
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One can still see the rivalry reflected in the current map of Meridian, MS. Ball created a street grid to align with the railroad tracks. Ragsdale ran his streets along the four cardinal directions. They collided in a mishmashed array of streets, triangular lots and odd angles that complicates driving a century-and-a-half later.
This led me to wonder if other places named Meridian actually coincided with meridians. John Ball may have misunderstood the definition but town founders in other locations seemed to have developed a better grasp of the concept.
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Meridian, Idaho is actually almost double the size of its same-named counterpart in Mississippi. It’s a bustling area outside of Boise with 75,000 residents. It also has a rather unusual set of boundaries. Meridian’s borders don’t appear on embedded Google Maps images although the swiss cheese layout reveals itself in standalone mode.
The meridian referenced by the city is the Boise Meridian at 116°23’35″ west, which is a basis of measurement for the entirety of Idaho. I confirmed that the Boise Meridian does indeed intersect the city.
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Ditto for Michigan. In this case it’s Meridian Charter Township. The Michigan Meridian figured into land surveying for the the state including its Upper Peninsula.
SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons in the public domain
The "charter" part of its name is a Michigan peculiarity. It means the township has been granted certain rights and privileges by state law to provide various municipal services and such. The "meridian" part refers to 84°22’24″ west, the Michigan Meridian, which absolutely intersects Meridian Charter Township.
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Meridian, the seat of local government in Bosque County, Texas provided an opportunity to consult one of my favorite resources, the Handbook of Texas:
The origin of the community’s name is somewhat obscure. Commissioner Jasper N. Mabray proposed the name, which according to legend recognized both Meridian Creek and Meridian Knobs, previously named by Erath for their proximity to the ninety-eighth meridian. The ninety-eighth meridian, however, passes through only a tiny portion of the northwestern corner of Bosque County; nonetheless, the most likely explanation is that the commissioners believed their town lay near a meridian.
Meridian (the town) actually sits about a third of a degree east of ninety-eight. I’ll give them partial credit. They understood that a meridian was located somewhere nearby although their geography was a bit off.
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I selected Meridianville, Alabama for the final feature. It’s still about the meridian here although they chose to append it with a "ville." I couldn’t find a definitive history online although I did find the text and location of an Alabama historical marker:
Initial Survey Point. In 1809, Major Thomas Freeman, Deputy U.S. Surveyor, established a marker here on the state line and began surveying south toward the middle of the state. This line, known as the Huntsville Meridian, is the reference for all property surveys in North Alabama. The Initial Point, now in the middle of the highway, was reset in 1977 by the Alabama Society of Professional Land Surveyors. [1977: Hwy 231/431 south of Tennessee line]
If one draws a line from the historical marker down to Meridianville, as I have done on the map above, it becomes readily apparent that the Huntsville Meridian does indeed intersect the town.
There are many more towns named either Meridian or Meridian-plus-something-else. I tried to discuss the ones with the largest populations. One can always consult the USGS Geographic Names Information System to explore the more obscure instances further. Generally, except for Mississippi, each of the occurrences I examined involved an actual meridian either directly or in proximity.
I noticed a recent record in the website logs that geolocated to Mountain View, California. That’s hardly a unique occurrence. I’ve had plenty of readers from Mountain View in the past. The only difference is that I happened to wonder whether Mountain View actually had a mountain view this time. I don’t know why. That also led me to ponder if Mountain Home, Idaho is really a mountain home. And what about Rocky Top, Tennessee?
Mountain View, California
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A quick look in Google Maps’ terrain setting confirms that mountains slope decidedly downward near the outskirts of Mountain View. These are the Santa Cruz Mountains clinging to the San Francisco peninsula on their way southward towards Salinas. They separate the Santa Clara Valley and the City of Mountain View from the Pacific Ocean. Loma Prieta Peak, the highpoint, reaches 3,786 feet (1,154 metres). That’s fairly impressive so close to the seacoast.
Btu does the city have a mountain view? I decided to check this claim within the downtown area next to City Hall. I opened an image at the intersection of Mercy Street and Castro Street. Indeed, mountains appear in the background. They aren’t a dominant scenic feature of the background but they certainly exist and they are clearly visible. Mountain View seems to be an accurate claim, assuming one means a view of mountains rather than a view from mountains.
Mountain Home, Idaho
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In contrast, Mountain Home seems to require a wider stretch of the imagination than Mountain View. The terrain maps shows a city on a relatively flat plain. Certainly, there are mountains within the vicinity however the name of the town is Mountain Home not Mountains Nearby. It seems like a name made up by land speculators and real estate developers to attract those unfamiliar with the underlying geography.
If it’s going to be called Mountain Home, well, it should have homes on a mountain. I find the claim to be somewhat spurious.
Rocky Top, Tennessee
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Give yourself a pat on the back if you knew instinctively that this one was a ringer. Tennessee doesn’t have a single town named Rocky Top according to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. It’s fictional. There are three peaks in Tennessee called Rocky Top, however.
For the uninitiated, Rocky Top is a song probably as closely associated with Tennessee as Country Roads is associated with West Virginia. It was written as a Bluegrass tune when composed by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant in 1967, but it’s often covered by Country musicians and of course the University of Tennessee marching band.
Rocky Top includes many of the usual Appalachian stereotypes prominently within its lyrics including moonshine, simpler times, and the inherent superiority of rural life. It also includes an infectious chorus.
Rocky Top you’ll always be
Home sweet home to me
Good ole Rocky Top
Rocky Top, Tennessee
Rocky Top, Tennessee.
Now, that should stick in your head for the rest of the day. You’re welcome.
If there was a "real" Rocky Top it would probably be the one that’s part of Thunderhead Mountain along the Tennessee/North Carolina border, within Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Bryants composed Rocky Top while living in nearby Gatlinburg
SOURCE: Flickr under Creative Commons; Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Rocky Top is certainly rocky, as demonstrated in this Flickr photo I’ve borrowed through a Creative Commons license. However, nobody lives there so it’s hard to figure it could be "home sweet home" in a literal sense.
From the Mailbag
A tip of the circle to longtime reader Greg for making me aware of a cartoon featuring borders in a recent edition of Dinosaur Comics. Thanks Greg! This certainly meets the 12MC definition of humor.