Not the City

On December 24, 2014 · 8 Comments

I examined a stack of family files online and I learned that a distant relative lived in Houston, Texas. That wasn’t completely unexpected because I’ve traced numerous family members back through there. However the records didn’t make sense as I read through them. Geographic identifiers seemed unfamiliar and out of place. I slowly realized that they referenced Houston County, not the City of Houston. Wouldn’t it make sense for Houston, the city, to actually reside within Houston County? Yes it would although that wasn’t the case. The City of Houston fell more than a hundred miles away in Harris County.

There were a handful of other instances where counties and major cities that shared their names in the same state failed to overlap. I examined the top 100 cities by population in the United States and found six occurrences, Houston included. The cities had more inhabitants than the same-named counties in every example, usually considerably larger and sometimes ridiculously larger. Invariably the counties were prefaced by "not to be confused with…" when described by sources, such as in "Houston County, not to be confused with Houston."

I attempted to rank the six examples based on two factors, the percentage difference in their respective populations and the physical distance that separated them. Then I focused my attention on the counties because they were so much more obscure than the cities. Each one had at least a single bit of interesting trivia.

Wichita County, Kansas


Grain Elevator
Grain Elevator by Eric Crowley, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Wichita County (map) had a population of 0.5% of the City of Wichita, and was located 262 miles (422 kilometres) away. That was by far the biggest difference in population and distance. Wichita won.

Kansas was notably violent in the Nineteenth Century along a lawless frontier. Fights often broke out in the western counties as they were being drawn, settled, and placed within a governance structure. Money could be made or lost based on a location where a county seat might or might not be established. The dispute in Wichita County was called the "Bloodiest of Them All." A history written as part of a Depression-era project of the Works Progress Administration, Kansas, a Guide to the Sunflower State, described the situation:

With the organization of Wichita County in 1886, the two towns became bitter rivals for the county seat. As usual, both factions resorted to extralegal measures. Gunmen were imported "to preserve order." From Dodge City the Coronado partisans brought a former sheriff while Leoti sent to wild and wooly Wallace for a crew of "fun-loving" cowboys who terrorized all law-abiding citizens… On the eve of the county seat election Coulter and six or seven other young men from Leoti loaded a case of beer into a rig and drove over to the rival town… A burst of gunfire precipitated a pitched battle in the town’s main street.

Perhaps that’s one reason why Wichita County still prohibits the sale of alcohol by the drink even though Kansas amended its Constitution to allow that about thirty years ago.


Houston County, Texas


Houston County -- First County Created Under Republic of Texas, June 12th 1837
Houston County — First County Created Under Republic of Texas, June 12th 1837 by bk1bennett, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Houston came in second place in my analysis so let’s go ahead and talk about it. Houston County (map) had a population of 1% of the City of Houston, and was located 116 miles (187 kilometres) away.

The ever-useful Handbook of Texas became indispensable once again. It noted that Houston was the first county created in the brand-new Republic of Texas in 1837. Sam Houston, President of Texas, signed the order. He won the war so he could name anything after himself, and he did. The City of Houston was founded in the same year, obviously also named for Sam Houston. The city did better, about a hundred times better at least by population.


Austin County, Texas


Old Austin County Jail, Bellville, Texas 0130101401BW
Old Austin County Jail, Bellville, Texas by Patrick Feller, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Texas had too few heroes from the Revolution for its very large geographic footprint, it seemed, and only so many names to share. I found a similar situation for Stephen F. Austin. Austin County (map) had a population of 3% of the City of Austin, and was located 114 miles (183 kilometres) away. The area that became the County of Austin played an important role during the years immediately prior to Texas forming into a republic in 1836. Although Washington-on-the-Brazos became the initial capital of an independent Texas upon the establishment of its constitution (as 12MC described in One Star Many Centers), San Felipe had served that same purpose as the provisional capital immediately prior to and during the revolution. San Felipe (map) was the focal point of the original Stephen F. Austin colony and it was located in what later became Austin County.


Lincoln County, Nebraska


Golden Spike Tower and Visitors Center, North Platte, Nebraska
Golden Spike Tower and Visitors Center, North Platte, Nebraska by David Becker, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Lincoln County (map) had a population of 13% of the City of Lincoln, and was located 226 miles (364 kilometres) away. It had a fairly sizable town — North Platte — so that pushed it farther down on the list. North Platte was noted for the world’s largest rail yard at Bailey Yard. Lincoln County displayed a justifiable sense of pride in its monstrous rail yard and erected the Golden Spike Tower, "an eight-story building which overlooks the expansive railroad staging area" (map). This must be nirvana for rail fans.


Boise County, Idaho


Horseshoe Bend Idaho
Horseshoe Bend Idaho by Richard Bauer, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Boise County (map) had a population of 3% of the City of Boise, and was located 27 miles (43 kilometres) away. The downfall of Boise County in my calculations was that it practically abutted the City of Boise, pushing it way down on the list. Boise county had two major towns, Idaho City and Horseshoe Bend. I used the term "major" loosely as neither had more than a few hundred residents. Nonetheless the fine citizens of Horseshoe Bend, being the larger of the two, attempted to grab the county seat of government by wrestling it away from Idaho City. They made at least two recent attempts, in 1974 and in 2004. However, unlike their counterparts in Kansas a century ago, their weapon of choice was a petition for referendum rather than a gang of drunken cowboys with guns. Their attempts failed. They might have had been more successful with drunken cowboys.


Richmond County, Virginia


Richmond County Courthouses
Richmond County Courthouses by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Richmond County (map) had a population of 4% of the City of Richmond, and was located 52 miles (84 kilometres) away. Interestingly, the two Richmond places in Virginia represented different things. Richmond County, formed in 1692, derived its name from Charles Lennox, 1st Duke of Richmond. The City of Richmond, founded in 1737, was named for the town of Richmond in the southwestern part of London, England. I’m sure if I tried hard enough I could probably connect those two Richmonds together somewhere back in English history. I took a basic glance and followed threads back from both directions and grew tired of the task. Someone with more patience than I should feel free to give it a go.


Ringers

I’ll mention two other possibilities that I discovered and discounted: Baltimore City vs. Baltimore County in Maryland and St. Louis City vs. St. Louis County in Missouri. Those were both instances where a city split from a county and became an independent entity. Those didn’t feel like the same situation presented elsewhere.

Seriously Broken

On October 29, 2014 · 5 Comments

I was amazed to find so many broken place names. I didn’t know what led people to memorialize broken objects, just noted that they they did and it amused me. Broken Lakes, Broken Ridges, Broken Points, Broken Valleys and on and on. The list was so exhaustive that I had a terrible time limiting my selection to the largest of such populated places, a couple of themes and some oddballs.

Native Americans Broke Stuff


Priorities
Priorities by Barry Lenard, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

That’s what I felt anyway after identifying several names related to the original inhabitants of the Americas. The largest location I found was Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, a major suburb of about a hundred thousand residents on the eastern side of Tulsa (map). The image I selected didn’t have all that much to do with Broken Arrow per se except that it was taken there and it seemed to serve as a poignant commentary of one sort or another. It could have been taken anywhere, I suppose.

According to the City of Broken Arrow

When a group of Creek Indians established a settlement near what is now our city, they called it "Broken Arrow." Broken Arrow is the name of the place where many of those same Creeks had lived when they were in Alabama – before moving west on the Trail of Tears. While many Americans think of the term "broken arrow" as meaning an act of peace by Native Americans a few hundred years ago, the Creeks who got that name did so because they broke branches of trees to make their arrows, rather than cutting them.


Broken Bow, Nebraska
Broken Bow, Nebraska by BitHead, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

A broken arrow in Oklahoma could be paired with a Broken Bow in Nebraska (map) although it was considerably smaller with about 3,500 residents. Broken Bow was the seat of local government in Custer County and one could be forgiven for thinking that the name referred to Custer’s demise at the Battle of Little Bighorn somehow. The explanation provided in the History of Custer County, Nebraska was rather more mundane.

Mr. Hewitt was a blacksmith and a hunter, and while out hunting one day he found, on an old Indian camping ground, a broken bow and arrow, which he carried home with him… some time afterwards he received notice that the third name [for the town] he had sent to Washington had been rejected, and going to the box after a piece of iron he picked up the broken bow, and the name "Broken Bow" came to his mind quickly.

I also discovered a similarly-sized Broken Bow in Oklahoma about a three hour drive from Broken Arrow. It was named for the Broken Bow in Nebraska, strangely enough.


Miners Broke Stuff



There was once a broken hill in a distant western corner of New South Wales, Australia, deep in the outback. Actually it was a string of hills "that appeared to have a break in them." Then a ranch hand discovered silver ore there in the late 19th Century and the broken hill became Broken Hill (map), a large mine and a settlement.

Miners extracted silver, zinc and lead from "a boomerang-shaped line of lode." It was a dirty, dangerous job and more than 700 people died on the site. A memorial served as "a stark reminder of the fact that more people have died working the mine’s in Broken Hill than Australian soldiers died in the Vietnam War."

Ironically, the broken hill that served as the town’s namesake no longer exists. It was mined completely away.


mine de cuivre - Zambie (around Kabwe)
mine de cuivre – Zambie (around Kabwe) by Amis de la Terre, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Another broken hill, this one in Zambia, resembled the broken hill in Australia. Foreign prospectors noticed the similarities and named it Broken Hill after the Australian location: "the mine became one of the biggest mines before the advent of copper mines on the Copperbelt." The town was later renamed Kabwe (map) in the post-colonial era, an indigenous word meaning "ore or smelting."

In 1921, a miner working at Broken Hill noticed a skull in the debris and he retrieved it. This came to be known appropriately enough as the Broken Hill skull. It belonged to a distant human ancestor known as Homo heidelbergensis that lived more than a half million years ago. The skull can be seen today at the Natural History Museum in London.


Some Other Broken Stuff


BR day lodge
BR day lodge by Jason Blair, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

New Zealand had a Broken River, and near there a Broken River Ski Field (map).



Broken Island, Falkland Islands

Finally, I noticed Broken Island in the Falkland Islands (or Islas Malvinas if one prefers, although I don’t really want to get into the geo-politics of the situation). Google misspelled the name. Every other source I consulted agreed that it was Broken Island.

I included that last one because I didn’t have a 12MC push-pin on the Falklands in my Complete Index Map. Now I do. I’m still waiting for my first website visitor from the Falklands by the way. Its Internet country code top-level domain is .fk. We could have a lot of fun with that one.

Shaped Like it Sounds (Street Edition)

On December 26, 2013 · 1 Comments

Several months ago, right after I returned from my Dust Bowl trip and tallied my new County Counts, I noticed that one of them, Lincoln County, Colorado was sort-of shaped like the letter L. That led to Shaped Like it Sounds, a brief collection of States, Counties and Towns that mirrored the first letter of their names geographically.

That concept suddenly jumped to the next level when I noticed this amazing specimen of a road in a suburb of the Melbourne, Australia metropolitan area.



Y St., Ashburton, Victoria, Australia

Behold the occurrence of Ashburton’s Y Street in the City of Boroondara, on the eastern side of Melbourne. This one was rather atypical of a Y Street since it was actually shaped like the letter Y (you may need to drill in to see the actual labeling, or consult a different map). I couldn’t find any other single-letter streets nearby so it didn’t appear to be part of a larger grid. Someone consciously labeled this Y street due purely to its shape. It seemed rather odd. How would someone create a set of logical street addresses for a road that split like this?

Imaging giving someone directions: "OK, drive up Y Street to the Y-intersection. Now, bear left onto the left branch of Y Street; be careful not to take the right branch of Y Street. Yes, they are all the same Y Street…"


What About Other Letters of the Alphabet?

The highly unusual nature of Y Street became more apparent as I searched in vain for additional instances. I was certain there had to be others — it seemed too tempting to not spawn similar thoughts elsewhere — although I couldn’t find anything. Hundreds of towns with perfectly square or rectangular alphabetical grids jammed the results of major online search engines to the point of uselessness. Try to find an actual S-shaped S Street, or a circular O Street, or a crescent C Street. Post them in the comments if you find anything. I gave up.



Ewe Road, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, USA

I found much better luck when I converted my attempts from a single letter to a phonetic spelling. For example, convert the letter U to Ewe or You and one could easily discern several horseshoe-styled streets, paths or driveways that met the criteria. Some of them may have been designated intentionally. Others required greater imagination to appreciate and may reflect a Rorschach interpretation of my overly wishful thinking.

Nonetheless, I discovered a few possibilities after more time spent hunting than I’d care to admit.

  • (C): See Road, Valley Head, WV (map) – Turn the orientation on the map so that East points upward and a large C-shaped crescent appears
  • (L): Ell Road, Hillsdale, NJ (map) – A definite and most assuredly intentional L. There were several other Ell roads/streets although the one in Hillsdale was probably the best. Ell was the most common Letter-Shape road.
  • (O): O Circle, Adel, IA (map) – Oh! I so wanted to believe it was an O. It formed a circuit albeit more rectangular than circular when combined with N Avenue and 250th Street. "Circle" in this corner of Iowa appeared to represent any street with a 90° bend that didn’t change names. I don’t know why.
  • (S): Ess Road, Kansas City, MO (map) – Ess Road had a couple of legitimate S curves.
  • (U): Ewe Road, Mechanicsburg, PA – I featured that one in the image above.
  • (U): You Road, Kane, PA (map) – Someone with a driveway had a good sense of humor
  • (U): You Way, Parrottsville, TN (map) – A definite U although I’m kinda wondering more about the name Parrottsville(¹) than the shape of the road.
  • (Y): Why Lane, McVeytown, PA (map) – It forms a Y intersection when combined with adjacent River Road; nowhere near as good as the Australian example though.

Additionally if anyone want to take a logical leap and say that snakes represent S, then there are hundreds of Snake Streets and such with multiple twists and curves.


What Were They Thinking?



O Circle, Omaha, Nebraska

I spotted three distinct segments of O Circle in Omaha, Nebraska and they all appeared ramrod straight except for their terminations at bulbous cul-de-sacs. What a completely lost opportunity. I did notice a dog about to relieve itself on a fire hydrant quite stereotypically, and that should count for something at least until the Street View car drives through the neighborhood again.

My disappointment with C Street in Crescent City, California was also palpable. With a name like Crescent City, shouldn’t it have a crescent-shaped street and wouldn’t C Street be the perfect candidate? Nope. It was simply one among many perpendicular and parallel lines (map) on a much larger grid.

Ditto for See Crescent in Avenell Heights, Queensland, Australia (map) which was neither a C nor a Crescent. A pox on the person who named that one deceptively.

By preemption, I’ll also note that any straight-line I street might be said to resemble its namesake, as would any L street if we considered the lowercase, or a T street that terminates in a T intersection. None of those were worth pursuing.


(¹) Mysetery solved: "Parrottsville was settled in 1769 by John Parrott, an American Revolutionary War Soldier." It had nothing to do with Jimmy Buffett.

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12 Mile Circle:
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