All good things come to an end and before long our Kentucky adventure approached its natural conclusion. It was time to return home. I still had some parting opportunities as I left the state and then again as we steered through West Virginia towards the Mid Atlantic.
East Wasn’t East
SOURCE: Generated from the U.S. National Atlas Map Maker
Long ago in the early days of Twelve Mile Circle, all the way back in 2009, I posted an article I called USA Time Zone Anomalies, Part II. I examined places where one could travel east or west and cross into counterintuitive time zones. I’d mentioned that the Eastern and Central time zones split Kentucky into distinct portions. The article included an unusual occurrence I’d spotted on a map that fell along the line.
I consulted the 12MC complete index map before I departed on the trip and noticed that the anomaly fell cleanly along our path. I made a note of it so I could experience it in person if the right opportunity happened.
I’ve reproduced the setup in a map of central Kentucky, above. The light green counties are located in Eastern Time. The tan counties are located in Central Time. Notice how the triangular shape of Taylor County dips down between Green and Adair Counties. Theoretically, one should be able to move due east from Taylor (in Eastern Time) into Adair (in Central Time). Move east but move backwards in time, or do it in reverse. That’s the anomaly. Generally that should never happen.
It wasn’t simply theoretical. I accomplished that exact feat in person although I didn’t bother to change my watch. I drove from Taylor County into Adair County on Coburg Road (at this spot) just as I’d described as a possibility in the earlier article. It was easy. I only hoped that nobody would run into our rear bumper while we stopped to take the photo. Imagine the explanation I’d have to give to the nice officer investigating the accident. "You see, I was simply trying to go backwards in time right here at the Adair County border…" Right. They probably would have locked me up overnight for observation.
This was one of those instances where the family didn’t have the same level of appreciation although they were willing to go along. They’re generally good sports about my geo-oddity detours. I might have gotten more resistance had the alternate path lasted more than a few minutes.
Déjà Vu Rest Stop
Interstate 64 East of Lexington
We took a brief break at a highway rest stop along Interstate 64, east of Lexington, Kentucky. I stepped out of the car and experienced the weirdest sense of déjà vu. I knew immediately that I’d been there before, except I knew that it wasn’t possible. I’d gone down this stretch of highway only one other time in my life and it was when I was a child. I had no recollection of ever stopping there.
Then it dawned on me. It was nothing supernatural. I’d featured this spot on 12MC before, coincidentally also in 2009. This was one of the rest stops from the article No More Rest?. Well, actually it was the companion of an identical rest area a couple of miles farther down the Interstate on the other side of the road. However, architecturally, they were spitting images of each other. I’d marked the spot on my complete index map years ago although I hadn’t noticed it recently because it fell well outside of the target area. It was a complete surprise. I stopped in my tracks and pulled out a camera.
The stop had been referenced in a Wall Street Journal article that discussed a looming demise in roadside rest areas:
There is one old rest area that appears safe: a circular building, put up in 1964 on Interstate 64, near Winchester, Ky., featuring a roof with multiple triangular folds. It was placed under the umbrella of the National Historic Preservation Act when the interstate system turned 50 in 2006.
That description sounded exactly like the building I saw.
It was a strange layout by the way. People walked through a common entrance, with ladies heading towards the left curving hallway and gentlemen to the right. Both restrooms were in the middle, separated by a wall of course, and semi-circular. Imagine experiencing a facility with very few straight lines. Bizarre.
Soon we left Kentucky for good and entered West Virginia.
Cathedral Falls, Gauley Bridge, WV
Driving narrow winding country roads, we entered a small town named Gauley Bridge, set in a narrow river valley where the New and Gauley Rivers joined together to form the Kanawha River (map).
Completely randomly, we spotted a large waterfall crashing from the hillside easily visible from U.S. Route 60, the Midland Trail. A quick tap on a mobile phone provided a name: Cathedral Falls. That was awesome. The town created a little park at the base of the falls, and visitors could walk right up and splash in the pool at its base.
New River Gorge
New River Gorge
Our final destination that day, however, was the New River Gorge.
We’d been there plenty of times before (in case you want to read about it) although our last visit occurred more than a decade ago. It was nice to taste some serious New River whitewater again. A thunderstorm the previous evening raised water levels into massive rapids, and the weather was perfect. What a wonderful way to finish our latest adventure.
Kentucky Adventure articles:
Marks on trees served as road signs during North America’s colonial times, a period when much of the population was illiterate. Certain patterns of slashes or notches conveyed specific information about the nature of a pike or landmarks a traveler might find farther down down its path. Three notches served as a frequent glyph although its meaning varied depending on geography.
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I first noticed the phenomenon in Maryland when I spied Three Notch Road, and I became curious about its derivation. This is a significant traffic corridor today, primarily Maryland Route 235 running along the spine of what is known as Southern Maryland colloquially, then part of Maryland Route 5 heading deeper into the suburbs outside of Washington, DC. The History of Caroline County, Maryland, From Its Beginning offers an explanation for the name. It referred to a 1704 colonial-era law that applied across early Maryland:
And the roads that lead to any county Court house, shall have two notches on the trees on both sides of the road as aforesaid, and another notch a distance above the other two. And any road that leads to a church, shall be marked at the entrance into the same, and at the leaving any other road, with a slip cut down the race of the tree, near the ground. Any road leading to a ferry, and dividing from other public roads shall be marked with three notches of equal distance at the entrance into the same.
Maryland’s Three Notch Road road led to a ferry three hundred years ago. The ferry disappeared, lost to history long ago, while the name of the road carried the legacy forward. It’s difficult to picture that idyllic scene today. Suburbia continues to nibble away at an historically rural landscape.
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Three Notch’d or Three Chopt Road in Central Virginia has been studied extensively. It ran originally from Richmond across the Blue Ridge Mountains and into the valley (the true "almost heaven"). I’ve marked the portion that continues to retain its basic path and identity into the present. U.S. Route 250 and to a lesser degree Interstate 64 follow the old Three Notch’d road fairly faithfully. A marker in Charlottesville commemorates its historical significance:
Three Notch’d Road – Also called Three Chopt Road, this colonial route ran from Richmond to the Shenandoah Valley. It likely took its name from three notches cut into trees to blaze the trail. A major east-west route across central Virginia from the 1730s, it was superseded by Route 250 in the 1930s. Part of Jack Jouett’s famous ride and the Marquis de Lafayette’s efforts to prevent Gen. Charles Cornwallis from obtaining munitions took place along this road. Today West Main Street and part of University Avenue approximate the Three Notch’d Road’s original course through present-day Charlottesville.
Jack Jouett, as every kid who went to elementary school in Virginia knows, was the Commonwealth’s version of Paul Revere. He alerted Thomas Jefferson, then Governor of Virginia, that British troops were on the way to capture him in 1781. Just as Plymouth overshadows Jamestown, Revere overshadows Jouett. Nonetheless, Virginia’s Three Notch’d Road had its brief moments of fame.
I searched the VDOT article for the significance of the road’s three notches. I found references to the name being applied for the first time in the spring of 1743. The notches were an intentional name for a primary route applied in a manner similar to numbers on major roads today. Three Notch’d Road was the colonial equivalent of an Interstate highway with a numerical designation.
The source dispelled other theories:
Since the word ‘notch’ is a synonym for ‘gap,’ it is possible that the ‘three notches’ may have referred to the three gaps accessible from this road, but this is purely conjectural as the main road down the Valley was originally marked with ‘two Knotches and a cross.’ The occurrence of the name Three Notch’d Road as early as 1743 would seem to effectually squelch the tradition that the three notches referred to George III since he did not become king until 1760.
I’ve actually been on Three Notch’d Road more times than I can count. Oddly, the name never registered on my mind until I began my investigation for this article.
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The Andalusia Star News discussed a Three Notch Road that "ran from Pensacola to Fort Mitchell in Russell County, Alabama." I’ve marked an approximate segment of the route as it exists today, extending from East Three Notch Street in Andalusia, AL to North Three Notch Street in Troy, AL to the tiny hamlet of Three Notch.
The road connected Pensacola, Florida with a fortification set far inland on the eastern edge of Alabama in 1824 — Fort Mitchell (map). The Creek War with Alabama’s native American population had taken place only a decade earlier. Hostilities still simmered and the United States Army established garrisons in the wilderness to protect settlers. In turn, those fortifications had to be supplied. That was the purpose of Three Notch Road.
As the article explained, "Since there were no steamboats on the Chattahoochee River at the time, the army had to transport troops and supplies from Pensacola to Ft. Mitchell by land through Indian Territory." It further noted that, "Capt. Daniel E. Burch marked the route using three notches on trees for a crew under Lt. Elias Phillips to follow" during construction.
The name of the road led to speculation about its origin. One legend said that General Andrew Jackson, who came through the area at various points during his expeditions and battles with native Americans, may have left three notches as he beat a path through the bush. The road was named at a later date, as the story goes, for Jackson’s notches. However, several of the sources I consulted viewed this as both speculative and insupportable. The evidence simply doesn’t exist.
The notches were left behind to guide a road construction crew according to the most probable explanation.
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Three Notch Road was the first route blazed into Missouri by settlers of European descent. A great resource discussing this situation already exists on the Intertubes, the Southeast Missourian’s Drive on the Oldest Road in Missouri complete with a well-done Google map. I can’t add much to it. Feel free to skip my summary and jump directly to that source if you like.
The origin traced back to 1735 when France controlled much of the vast North American interior. They’d discovered lead a few miles north of present-day Fredericktown, Missouri and began digging at Mine La Motte in 1717. Three Notch Road connected Mine La Motte, in the middle of nowhere at the time, with the settlement of Ste-Geneviève on the Mississippi River. No road would have been constructed through this incredibly isolated wilderness had it not been for the mine. "La Motte" translates "root ball" if online tools can be relied upon, so this may have been the Root Ball Mine. Maybe one of the French 12MC readers can provide a better translation.
As for the triple notches, the article explained, "it was common to mark minor roads with one notch, secondary roads with two notches, and major roads with three notches." Thus, this would have been a major road of great significance according to the definition.
I found references to other Three Notch Roads (as an example). I didn’t have time to research this topic any further although I know they are out there.
I posted an article a few days ago that I called The Other White House. I thought I was being rather topical by posting it on Presidents Day, featuring a bunch of White Houses that shared nothing in common with the famous one in Washington, DC except for a name. I felt pretty smug, maybe clever even, then gave myself a pat on the back and called it an evening. Except I was wrong.
A reader with the curious name "Saint Cad" brought the error to my attention:
To be pedantic, it was not Presidents’ Day in the US. It is true that Nixon tried to have the holiday name changed to honor all Presidents but it failed in Congress. The holiday is still officially Washington’s Birthday.
To which the U.S. Government Office of Personnel Management, when I chased-down their interpretation, confirmed in wonderfully bureaucratic fashion:
This holiday is designated as "Washington’s Birthday" in section 6103(a) of title 5 of the United States Code, which is the law that specifies holidays for Federal employees. Though other institutions such as state and local governments and private businesses may use other names, it is our policy to always refer to holidays by the names designated in the law.
I suppose I could make some lame excuse that I was referring to one of those "state and local governments and private businesses" when I called it Presidents Day. However I didn’t know it was officially George Washington’s Birthday, a sad statement on my part since I’m usually the master of useless trivia. Saint Cad was entirely correct. The 12MC fact checkers will be sacked.
Flickr by clio1789 via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
I will now rewrite the article in recognition of Saint Cad, changing the title to "The Other Mount Vernon" to reference President Washington’s estate on the Potomac River (map). However I’m going to twist my usual formula. I’ll provide only a single example instead of the usual three or four. Then I’m going to make everyone sit through one of my silly travel anecdotes. That’s right. Feel free to mention 12MC deficiencies and then risk invoking storytime.
I’m being sarcastic of course. I don’t mind anyone catching my mistakes. I make lots of them so there are plenty to go around. You still have to listen to my story, though.
Mount Vernon, Illinois
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The City of Mount Vernon in Illinois is a fairly significant place with about 15,000 residents. Its history page notes that the town, "was originally to be called Mount Pleasant but, after heated discussion, the name was changed to Mount Vernon in honor of George Washington. It was common at that time to name towns after Revolutionary War Heroes."
The Interstate Highway System has been kind to Mount Vernon. It’s perched at a major crossroads, south of Chicago on I-57 and between St. Louis and Louisville on I-64. That’s why I stopped in Mount Vernon. It’s next to the Interstate. Now it’s time for the story.
I volunteered to help my wife drive from her university residence to her parents’ house back before we were married so she could come home for part of the summer. I guess her parents didn’t trust me yet because her little brother came along for the ride. Mount Vernon was about the halfway point on a two-day drive so it was convenient to stop there for the night. Her parents had made arrangements ahead of time for a motel room that they’d booked at a bargain price.
Those were the days before TripAdvisor and Street View. The motel, well, I guess one could describe it as placed on the wrong side of the tracks. It looked like a prop from an episode of COPS. It was a bit run down although not too bad otherwise, a typical 2-story vintage motel with rooms facing outward towards the parking lot and a balcony walkway on the front.
We were sitting on the second-floor walkway directly outside of our room, sipping a couple of beers on a warm summer evening after a long day on the road. We spotted a middle-aged man, highly intoxicated, weaving and stumbling his way along the sidewalk. He was heading towards a honky-tonk, a windowless cinder block shack with a solid front door. He turned to enter the bar and – WHAM! – walked straight into the wall. Fell right over. Then got up and opened the door like nothing ever happened.
We’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of the story over the years with the in-laws ("remember the time you put us up in that seedy neighborhood with the drunk that walked into the wall?").
I never said it was a great story.
That’s my sole memory of Mount Vernon, Illinois. I’m sure it’s a lovely town otherwise. I went onto Street View and I’m 95% certain I know the location although the honky-tonk seems to have been demolished. The 5% chance of slandering the wrong motel prevents me from posting its exact coordinates.
Presidents Day Washington’s Birthday.