Jeff Davis

On April 14, 2013 · 11 Comments

I received an interesting query from loyal reader "Katy" via the 12MC Google+(1) account the other day. She was looking for examples of towns that were named after people that included the namesakes’ first and last names.(2) Several possibilities came to mind and one name in particular, Jefferson Davis, kept recurring.

Jefferson Davis — which I’ll mention primarily for the international audience less familiar with United States history — was the first and only President of the Confederate States of America (1861-1865). His name still invokes a wide spectrum of reactions based upon specific points of view about the Civil War, the Confederacy, Reconstruction and the evolution of the New South. I won’t wade into that topic except to note that different parts of my family fell onto both sides of that conflict so I’m abundantly aware of the range of considerations. I’ll take the cowardly exit and focus solely on the use of Jefferson Davis as a geographic identifier.

The largest territorial expressions of Jeff or Jefferson Davis occur at the U.S. county level: Jeff Davis Counties in Texas and Georgia; Jefferson Davis Parish in Louisiana; and Jefferson Davis County in Mississippi. Additionally there is a Jeff Davis Township that is a part of Little River County, Arkansas. Their formations tend to cluster chronologically at either side of the flip between the 19th and 20th Centuries; far enough removed from the Civil War to not seem treasonous while close enough to be a part of the emotional fabric of people directly involved.

View Jeff Davis in a larger map

Jeff Davis County, Texas

Texas was part of the Confederacy, however it seemed odd to find a county named for Davis so far out along the western edge of this immense state. It actually hearkens back to an earlier history, though.

The direct association between Jefferson Davis and the Civil War is so strong that his earlier life often goes unnoticed. Davis graduated from the prestigious U.S. military academy at West Point, fought as a Colonel in the Mexican-American War, served in the US Congress, and completed a term as Secretary of War during the Franklin Pierce administration (1853-1857). The county in Texas drew indirectly from Davis’ term as Secretary of War.

Fort Davis was established in west Texas in 1854 to protect travelers along the San Antonio-El Paso Road who were being attacked by Native American tribes including the Mescalero Apache (defending their homeland). The fort was named for the Secretary at the time, Jeff Davis. That was nothing unusual. Nobody could predict how his role would change.

Confederate forces captured Fort Davis without firing a shot in 1861 in what would certainly be an important symbolic victory albeit the Union Army wasn’t much of a threat in this remote corner. The Handbook of Texas, published by the Texas State Historical Association noted that the real threat were actually the Mescalero Apache who were described as "unimpressed" by the change of leadership at the fort. Confederate forces abandoned the fort a year later after ongoing harassment and ambushes led by the Apache.

McDonald Observatory; Jeff Davis Co., TX — View Larger Map

Jeff Davis County is notable for a couple of other reasons:

  • It shares a border with Mexico at a single point; a nearly impossible capture for county counters who adhere to every border variation.
  • It’s home to the Davis Mountains which the handbook of Texas called the "highest mountain range located entirely within the state of Texas," and also named for Jeff Davis. McDonald Observatory was built in the dark skies of the Mount Locke summit at 6,791 feet (2,070 metres) and is accessible by the "highest state maintained road in Texas."

Jeff Davis County was established in 1887. One could argue whether the name truly referenced the antebellum Jeff Davis or reflected lingering Confederacy nostalgia, however, it’s undeniable that a prior connection existed.

Jeff Davis County, Georgia

I wish every state had its own version of the Handbook of Texas. It would make research a lot easier. My problem with Texas was culling and summarizing (a nice problem to have); with Jeff Davis, Georgia I had a deficit of information. What little I found confirmed that the county was named for the former Confederate president in 1905.

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Jeff Davis Co. was an outgrowth of Appling and Coffee Counties. It was necessitated by the growth of the town of Hazlehurst which became the seat of government for the new county. Hazlehurst started as a rail town during the Reconstruction era and grew from there. The town’s history page noted: "Georgia’s 142nd county would have been named Cromartie County if not for a custom to name counties only after deceased citizens." John Cromartie was Appling County’s state legislative representative, and very much alive at the time, while Davis had passed away in 1889.

Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana

Birthplace of Louisiana Oil Industry – View Larger Map

Jefferson Davis Parish in Louisiana came into creation within the same basic time period, 1912. It was one of five parishes carved from what was known as "Imperial" Calcasieu Parish, a behemoth of more than 3,600 square miles. I couldn’t find much more information about the circumstances of its naming, although I will note that I’m fascinated by a couple of completely unrelated bits of trivia:

  • This is part of Acadiana – Cajun Country – so it’s interesting to see a departure from French to a Confederacy theme.
  • Jennings, a town in Jefferson Davis Parish, is credited as the birthplace of Louisiana’s oil and gas industry based upon the first oil well placed on the Mamou Prairie near Evangeline in 1901. "To date, over 220,000 wells have been drilled in Louisiana." Here’s a slightly less known fact: that first well, the Heywood #1 Jules Clement well, was actually over the border in neighboring Acadia Parish (map). Just sayin’.

Jefferson Davis County, Mississippi

Jefferson Davis represented Mississippi both as a member of the House of Representatives and as a United States Senator. It’s not unexpected that Mississippi created a Jefferson Davis County in 1906. The African American population of said county was 57.38% in the 2000 Census, though. I’m a little puzzled that the name hasn’t been changed.

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Beyond the borders of Jefferson Davis County and farther south along Mississippi’s Gulf coast in Biloxi stands Beauvoir, the home where Jefferson Davis spent his final years. It is also the site of the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library. Both properties were damaged extensively in Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, and the library is scheduled for its grand re-opening in June 2013 after extensive renovation.

I don’t have the ability to discuss all 115 geographic features named either Jeff Davis or Jefferson Davis in the US Geological Survey database, although they include mountains, valleys, streams, reservoirs, buildings and schools. A surprising number of them are located outside of the traditional Southern states, too.

(1)12MC is pretty active on Google+ and Twitter; consider joining up if you enjoy Twelve Mile Circle. Those outlets allow me to share items that don’t make it onto the pages here. Links are available at the top of the page and in the column to the right.
(2)Katy offered Maxbass, ND and Carol Stream, IL. I’m still exploring possibilities and will likely feature this in a future article. Feel free to add other examples in the comments and you may find yourself mentioned on 12MC!

Just Keep Turning

On February 10, 2013 · 16 Comments

I think it’s time for another participatory article. The 12MC audience seems to its like little puzzles and challenges. I had to drive to a local shopping center a couple of miles from my home yesterday afternoon to pick up my wife. An Interstate Highway stood between the two locations, acting as a natural barrier, with no direct straight-line route between them. This created a situation requiring the use of several roads both to find an underpass below the highway and then to snake my way back to the desired endpoint.

Once back home again, it occurred to me that I’d taken 9 completely different roads to move from Point A to Point B. The detours and turns increased the driving distance to 3.2 miles (5.1 kilometres). Thus, with some quick math, my little trip involved 2.8 roads per mile (1.7 roads/km). That’s a lot of roads and a lot of turns in a very short distance. Certainly I could find better, though.

Reston, Virginia

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I’m hamstrung by my own neighborhood because it’s built on a grid. Usually that’s a good thing. The most efficient path between two points rarely involves anything more than maybe three or four roads. Only an odd situation such as an inconveniently placed Interstate Highway could raise the count so I needed to look elsewhere.

There are large planned communities on the outer perimeter of my area, built in the style of the now largely discredited cul-de-sac model of urban sprawl. Those seemed ripe for better examples. Some residents have to take multiple roads to get anywhere, even to exit their housing developments. I picked a particularly remarkable occurrence on the metropolitan edge, Reston, Virginia, and quickly improved my result. That’s not intended to pick on the fine residents of Reston of course — I could have selected any of several other communities — it was the first one that came to mind.

The result: 7 roads in 1.2 miles = 5.8 roads/mile (3.6 roads/km).

Kissimmee, Florida

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What might confound the road network more than a planned community like Reston? How about a gated community combining the effect of two awful design elements: cul-de-sacs and limited access. I seemed to recall numerous gated communities in and around Orlando, Florida, and quickly found two such communities adjacent to each other in Kissimmee to wonderful effect.

The result: 9 roads in 1.2 miles = 7.5 roads/mile (4.7 roads/km).

Hot Springs Village, Arkansas

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Then I got greedy. If a gated community produced a great result then the largest gated community in the United States should score even better! That place is reputed to be Hot Springs Village, Arkansas (albeit without a citation). Sometimes assumptions aren’t scalable and this one may be an example. It’s one gargantuan gated community, that’s obvious, with an absolutely spellbinding spaghetti network of roads. The various water features and golf courses also increased road complexity and raised my hopes. However it was more grid-like than it appeared at first glance, using circular patterns rather than rectangles. I generated a decent score although I couldn’t raise it up to the level of Kissimmee or beyond.

Incidentally, when does a gated community grow so large that the alleged benefits of gates become meaningless? Hot Springs Village is 55.7 square miles with a population of nearly 13 thousand. I would have to assume that at some point along the continuum it reaches a semblance of equilibrium with the outside world.

The result: 8 roads in 1.1 miles = 7.3 roads/mile (4.5 roads/km). Good, not best.

Diamondhead, Mississippi

View Larger Map

I discarded size and seized upon the obstacle element introduced by Hot Springs Village. What about a planned, gated community with the addition of internal through-road barriers such as golf courses? I have family that live along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and some of them are located in a community called Diamondhead that seemed to match the criteria. It’s a nice community that happens to have particularly weird streets. I nearly get carsick driving through Diamondhead with all of its crazy turns and switchbacks that drill to the depths of the development. In addition the oddity of Hawaiian-themed names in Mississippi has always confounded me although that’s not particularly germane to the topic today. I’ll just note the dissonance and move along.

I produced my best score yet. Just as importantly, I can reasonably expect to replicate this route in person some day.

The result: 8 roads in 0.8 miles = 10.0 roads/mile (6.2 roads/km); and a variation with 7 roads in 0.5 miles (map) = 14 roads/mile (8.7 roads/km) (if only Malino Place changed names at the T!).

The Contest and the Rules

It’s pretty simple. Try to improve upon 10.0 roads/mile. Feel free to use any of the communities I’ve explored already. I didn’t mine them exhaustively so better examples may be lurking in there. Alternately, feel free to examine places more familiar to you.

  • As always, the default route on Google Maps is the final authority. No additional manipulations are allowed. You can specify only the two endpoints (using lat/long to shorten the distance on the beginning and ending roads is fine).
  • A given road can be counted only once even if Google Maps says "bear left to remain on road X" or "turn right to remain on road Y" or "do a U-turn on road Z" or whatever. You’ll notice that I tossed the second instance of Manoo Street in my Diamondhead example (even though it approximated a turn)
  • Let’s not get silly. We can all find better examples using only three roads. I won’t place a minimum on the number of roads, however, anything with fewer than 7-or-so roads begins to lose credibility. The goal is to produce an example of ridiculousness without becoming a ridiculous example.
  • What if an arrow-straight road changes names multiple times as it crosses town boundaries? I guess it would count although it does conflict with the spirit of the effort. That might be a good idea for a different contest, though.
  • You may conduct your examination using whatever measurement of distance makes you happy. Use chains, nautical miles or astronomical units for all I care, however, please convert your calculations both to miles and kilometres when presenting results. Google has easy converters (e.g., mi to km and km to mi).
  • The results need to be repeatable. Provide the map link or embed the map itself within your comment.
  • In the event of a roads/mile tie, the "better" result will be the one that involves more roads. In other words, 20 roads in 2 miles would be a lot more impressive than 10 roads in 1 mile.
  • Extra kudos will be bestowed upon anyone who has actually walked, biked or driven the submitted route in person.

I would say that any example meeting or exceeding double-digit mileage results (10.0+ roads/mi) or an equivalent (6.2+ roads/km) is pretty impressive. You should feel free to pat yourself on the back and call it a day. I know that my best score can be improved upon however, and I wonder by how much. I need to find a community shaped like a maze or the capital on an Ionic column.

US State Capital Surnames

On November 22, 2012 · 6 Comments

We’ve waded through surnames that paired with nations and those that matched U.S. states. Now it’s time for the third and final installment of this investigation, the list of surnames that matched capital cities of U.S. states. A quick summary of the rules — information is pulled from Frequently Occurring Surnames from Census 2000 and provided in a shared Google spreadsheet — and we’re just about ready to go. Matches between surnames and state capital names were the least likely to indicate any kind of correlation beyond a common etymological root. It wasn’t legitimate to conclude that people with the surname Phoenix traced their ancestral homeland to Phoenix, Arizona, as an example.

I did make one accommodation. Many of the capital cities were obviously based upon the surnames of settlers, historical figures or other notables with various suffixes tagged onto them such as -burg, -ville, -ton, -polis or city. I felt it was fair to discard those extraneous characters.

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Jackson Wins

Fortunately I didn’t have to invoke that rule for the most frequent occurrence, an honor bestowed upon Jackson. It’s both the capital city of Mississippi and the 18th most common surname in the United States with 666,125 instances. Jackson was an exact match. I say this with all due respect to my close family in Mississippi (and there are a bunch of them): doesn’t it feel good to come out on top of a list for once, and it’s not for a negative reason?

Jackson, as a surname, can be interpreted literally to mean "Son of Jack" with Jack additionally serving as the diminutive form of John. One would expect lots of Jacksons and Johnsons and indeed that is the case. Andrew Jackson, an important figure in the history of the nascent United States, became a namesake for the Mississippi capital even before he became President. Jackson was just ending his role as the first U.S. military governor of Florida when Mississippi named its capital for him in 1822.

The final major battle of the War of 1812 had propelled Jackson into national visibility and adoration. He led the U.S. victory over British forces at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 and became an instant hero. Jackson carried his military exploits into the First Seminole War, setting a stage for Spain to cede Florida to the United States and positioning him for his election to President in 1829.

Jackson, the city, is also the site of the Jackson Dome which has become one of the more popular articles on 12MC for reasons that completely escape me. A handful of visitors drop by there every day.

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Son of Harry’s Town

We have another son to consider with the surname Harris, the root of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. One has to sound it out a bit to uncover "Harry’s Son." It’s easier to hear it in the less-mangled version, Harrison. People got lazy, slurred the last couple of letters and it morphed into Harris, a version used by more than half a million people (593,542) in the United States. That was enough to make it the 24th most popular surname in 2000.

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania isn’t named for anyone famous, just some guy who settled in the area in the Eighteenth Century. As noted in the Harrisburg City Archives,

John Harris emigrated first to Philadelphia from Yorkshire, England, and later to Lancaster County. As a pioneer, he wished to venture farther west to build a productive life in a new land. Through his Philadelphia contacts, Harris received a land grant of 800 acres, on what is now the site of downtown Harrisburg and part of Shipoke.

His son John Harris Jr. platted a town here in 1785, named it for the family and incorporated the village in 1791. It became Pennsylvania’s capital in 1812.

Washington came next on the list, assuming one considers Washington to be the "capital" of the District of Columbia. The first issue is simple. The District is not a state. The second is more complicated. Washington is coterminous with the District (separate city charters for Washington and Georgetown were combined into a single governing unit by the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1871). It’s hard to claim that the District has a distinct capital for its municipal government since it’s so completely enmeshed within its role as the capital of the United States. Maybe I could argue that the capital of the District is the Wilson Building? I’m going to set this aside. One should feel free to refer to the surname in the context of the State of Washington in the previous article if the topic warrants further elaboration.

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Once a National Capital

Two other capital city surnames round-out the popular top tier with greater than a hundred thousand appearances each.

The surname Austin is an Anglicization of Augustine, with Latin roots implying "greatness." That’s the reason why Roman emperors were often titled Augustus. Austin, Texas was named for Stephen F. Austin, the "Father of Texas." It served as the national capital of the Republic of Texas from 1839-1846 before it became the state capital of Texas with its admission to the United States. There were 113,160 people with the Austin surname in the 2000 Census.

The surname Montgomery is a bit shrouded in history and traces back with Norman roots to the 11th Century at least. Montgomery, Alabama was named in 1819 for Richard Montgomery, a general during the American Revolution. Paradoxically, the surrounding county was also named Montgomery, although for a different Montgomery, Lemuel P. Montgomery who died in the 1814 Creek War. There were 112,144 people with the Austin Montgomery surname in the 2000 Census.

I think that little bit of geo-trivia is a good place to stop my surname-geography comparison.

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