International Capitals in the USA

The capital of a nation is often its most important city, or certainly one that citizens would recognize by name if not. Place that exact name into another nation and its significance would almost always drop. I wondered if I could find the name of every other capital city within the physical boundaries of the United States as a recognized geographic feature. The short answer was that I could identify many of them but not all. The longer answer took some interesting turns.

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First I had to find a source. I decided that Wikipedia’s List of national capitals in alphabetical order would suit my purposes with the several caveats already there (e.g., "including territories and dependencies, non-sovereign states including associated states and entities whose sovereignty is disputed"). Some of the selections come with strong emotional strings and I’m sure the Wikipedians who compiled that list would love to discuss selection criteria on their talk page. I’ll take a neutral stance, the classic easy way out, and simply start from there.

Next I had to find an example of each city within the United States. I selected only one appearance per city. The U.S. Geological Survey’s Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) listed 42 populated places for Athens, for instance. I selected the one in Georgia. Any of the other 41 would have been fine too. Finally I placed my source data and lat/long coordinates in a shared Google Docs spreadsheet that you are absolutely free to review.

I considered actual cities or towns to be the gold standard. The history of the United States provided abundant examples reflecting a Greco-Roman educational heritage and a later wave of European immigration from the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. It was easy to find Athens and Paris. The challenge came with Yaoundé, Lilongwe and the like, where I failed.

If not a town, I tried to find a lesser known USGS-recognized feature such as a populated place (often a neighborhood), an historic site (former settlement or ghost town), or a natural landmark such as an island, lake or stream. I turned to street names as a final resort. Readers might be surprised by the number of communities and subdivisions with appropriately-named street grids. There are several South Florida developments, for example, with a variety of Caribbean themes. Airports often featured international street names too, and US military bases commemorated long-ago (and not-so-long-ago) battles that occurred in exotic places.

I suppose I could have gone all the way down to the retail level — maybe I could have found a Kyrgyzstani restaurant named Bishkek somewhere — although I had little faith that they would be useful as permanent landmarks. Restaurants go out of business with striking regularity. Street names at least seemed to have a better chance of sticking around for awhile.

I’ll feature a few of my favorite finds although they barely scratch the surface. I think you’ll have fun discovering your own gems hidden in the map, and of course please let me know if you find any of the missing capitals. It doesn’t mean they don’t exist, it simply means I couldn’t find them with a cursory search. I got a little cross-eyed after nearly 250 individual investigations.

St. Helier, Jersey

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Jersey, of all the international locations available, might appear to be an odd initial choice. It’s a British Crown Dependency with fewer than a hundred thousands residents so why would I start there? Saint Helier is the Jersey capital and that’s where I noticed the connection.

Saint Helier doesn’t appear often in the US, and in fact the only instance I could find was a single street in Texas… in Jersey Village, Texas. The Handbook of Texas speculated that Jersey Village’s name derived from a nearby dairy farm with Jersey cows, a breed that originated on the Isle of Jersey several centuries earlier. Someone laying out the township must have made a conscious decision to honor Jersey with a Saint Helier Street. Thus it’s possible to live in Saint Helier, Jersey, in Texas, and for that I salute an unknown suburban planner.

Rome, Italy

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I selected Rome, New York to represent the Italian capital, an easy choice because of St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church. The New York version of Rome has it’s own interpretation of St. Peter’s Basilica! The only condition that would have made this even better may have been if Rome — the one in New York — had declined to annex the property where where the church had been built. Then it would have completed the analogy by creating a miniature version of Vatican City.

I did find the Vatican, by the way (a USGS populated place), but it was nowhere near Rome, not even the one in Mississippi.

Vientiane, Laos

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I thought Vientiane would be a tough find, and that would have been true if I hadn’t stumbled upon a small Laotian community in Broussard, Louisiana. Notice the street names: Vientaine is the capital of Laos; and Savannaket (Savannakhet) and Luangphbang (Louangphrabang) are Laotian provinces. The community in Louisiana is even anchored by a Buddhist temple along its western edge, Wat Thammarattanaram-La.

A little Internet sleuthing led to an explanation in The Advocate, a newspaper in Baton Rouge.

Laotian immigrants first settled in Iberia Parish in the late ’70s and early ’80s after refugees left Laos when communists gained control there. Federally supported training for oil-field work led many of the refugees to the parish. Xanamane said the land for what would become Lanexang Village was purchased in 1985 and divided among the families within the community. Today, the community is home to 65 households — with a total population of 400 — and is one of three residential clusters of Laotian immigrants within Iberia Parish. The village is best known for its celebration of the Laotian New Year, which typically falls during the Easter holiday, Xanamane said.

I never would have imagined a community of Cajun-Laotian oil workers in Louisiana prior to this mapping exercise.

Mogadishu, Somalia

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Mogadishu would seem to be an unusual option although I found a street by that name at Naval Station Norfolk in southeastern Virginia. I’m speculating that it’s a tribute street, a way to commemorate the Battle for Mogadishu which was also portrayed in a 2001 movie, Black Hawk Down. Four Navy SEALs participated in this largely Army operation and their home base was located nearby.

A Few More Tidbits

I could go on-and-one with other examples presented by these data. Is San Marino, California larger than San Marino? (no). Wouldn’t it be better if the Slovenian Society Home faced along adjacent Ljubljana Drive instead of Recher Avenue? (yes). Is there any chance that someone in the US will name a street after Pyongyang (probably not) or Islamabad (perhaps not in states preempting Sharia Law).

Next time I’ll have to build a map with fewer data points.

Highpoints of the Crown Dependencies

How does one refer to the Bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey, and the Isle of Man collectively? I pondered the British Isles Euler diagram and didn’t see a specific designation. "Outlying British Islands" seemed like a possibility although I didn’t want to diminish their significance. I think "Crown Dependencies" covers the three, and only those three. Perhaps 12MC readers in the UK can provide additional clarification if I missed the mark. While we’re taking a moment to clarify meanings, I’ll also state that I’m using "highpoint" to define the place of maximum elevation in Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man. That’s where we’re going with this article.

I’m a lazy highpointer. My climb to the Connecticut highpoint drained me. I rather preferred the New Jersey highpoint that involved nothing more than an easy drive up a hillside directly to the monument. That’s my mountaineering style and I’m not embarrassed to admit it. Accounts of highpointing in the Crown Dependencies provided abundant optimism for my preferred climbing techniques and methods. I will have to find an excuse to head over to the English Channel and the Irish Sea someday to experience these completely reasonable elevation extremes in person.

Bailiwick of Jersey

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Jersey’s highpoint is called Les Platons, reaching an altitude of anywhere between 135-143 metres (443-469 feet). Does it seem odd that it’s not a more exact figure? It seems unusual to me, and yet, I checked in several places and found abundant variation within the range. It’s an area of the world with access to the most advanced, most exact scientific instruments available and nobody has taken a definitive measurement?

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Also interesting, notice the proximity of the highpoint to the English Channel. It’s perched practically atop the very farthest edge of the bailiwick, on a hillside dropping quickly to the waters below. Motorists may cut across the width of the island to La Rue des Platons — Google Maps says it should take only 11 minutes from St. Helier — and arrive at the highpoint without any difficulties. How hard could it be if Google covers it with Street View? The summit can be spotted over by the communications towers.

A trip report on Peakbagger describes the mountaineering equipment used for one particular ascent: a bicycle. Nice!

Bailiwick of Guernsey

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Guernsey includes several islands, principally the isle of Guernsey itself plus Alderney, Herm, Sark and a scattering of over-glorified rocks. The bailiwick highpoint isn’t found on mainland Guernsey however, it’s located on the much smaller isle of Sark. According to trip reports I reviewed, the most difficult feature of a highpoint expedition here may be the ferry ride from Guernsey to Sark over volatile English Channel waters. There can’t be too many highpoints around the world where seasickness would be a greater concern than altitude sickness.

The maximum elevation occurs at Le Moulin ("the windmill") at 114 m (374 ft). There is indeed an old Sixteenth Century windmill atop the summit, accessible easily from Rue de Rade. Peakbagger included trip reports for Le Moulin too. I enjoyed the most recent report (lightly edited for clarity):

In a teeny-weeny shop we ask for tea. The owner Helen told us, she had no license to sell us hot drinks, but anyway she can give us some tea. My answer: if I forget this money here on the table, so it is not necessary to have a license, to take it. We had a wonderful talk in the store and Helen asked Mr. Axton to open the mill. So it was possible for us, to climb the mill to the highest point of Sark and thus Bailiwick of Guernsey.

An expedition to Mt. Everest, this was not. It’s starting to sound better and better.

Isle of Man

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The most daunting highpoint, if one can call it that, of all the Crown Dependencies can be found at Snaefell on the Isle of Man. It’s a more respectable 620 m (2,036 ft) elevation. One can climb to the top after driving up the A-18 road to a small car park at the base of a small trail (map).

The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy motorcycle race follows A-18, by the way. Check out some of the video clips from previous races. The clip of Guy Martin viewed from the air includes a great scene of A-18 and Snaefell in the final scene.

Snaefell Mountain Railway Terminus: Summit
SOURCE: 28Gwyn on Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license.

I’d rather take the Snaefell Mountain Railway though. How tough can it be to reach the top if this trolley-like vehicle can make it there on a schedule? The railway runs from the village of Laxey to the Snaefell summit during the warmer months, roughly from early April through the beginning of November. As the railway website explains,

There is only one tram at a time going up or coming down. The ride from Laxey to the summit takes thirty minutes and offers amazing views of Laxey Glens and surrounding countryside. At the top is a cafe and ticket station. Paths are located about the summit where walking is permitted. Sheep often roam free on the mountain, so can be easily encountered. From the top on a clear day it is said one can see the six kingdoms. The kingdom of Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland, Mann and Heaven.

Those are the leisurely highpoints of the Crown Dependencies, accessible by bicycle, stroll or public transportation, where the biggest worry may be where to stop for tea and how to get it heated.