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.

Webby Finds

On September 17, 2013 · 0 Comments

I can’t seem to make a dent in my list of potential Twelve Mile Circle articles. I keep writing steadily and in the process I run into several more morsels that go onto a never-ending pile. It’s become a perpetual motion machine.

I’m going to do something I haven’t done in a very long time. I’ll featuring some obscure and beloved websites. The last time I devoted an entire article to something like this was all the way back in March 2010 and even then I did it with some trepidation. Websites tend to come-and-go, and those recommended by 12MC don’t seem to fare well after I mention them. In fact, I’m pretty sure a 12MC endorsement is pretty much a death knell. Nonetheless, the sites I’ll feature are very well established with prospects of solid longevity. Maybe we’ll break the curse. Either way, at least I can place check marks next to three entries on my overflowing topic list in a single shot and call them done.

Odd Wisconsin

Wisconsin State Capitol
Wisconsin State Capitol by
"not fit for any civilized nation of people to inhabit."

The Wisconsin Historical Society publishes Odd Wisconsin in blog format about once a week, beginning about a year ago. It hits on three of my interests: geography; history and weirdness. As they note, their mission is to "Amuse, surprise, perplex, astonish, and otherwise connect you with your past." They "lower a bucket into the depths of Wisconsin history and bring to light curious fragments of forgotten lives."

That bucket has been lowered into some rather interesting places. I’ve learned:

  • The Madison area — the site of the state capital since 1836 — was once described as "not fit for any civilized nation of people to inhabit."
  • Wisconsin and beer are practically synonymous, and several American brewing empires traced their origin to the state. Nonetheless beer almost became illegal during the early years of statehood. Voters passed a prohibition referendum in 1853 and it failed only because the state legislature didn’t endorse it.
  • One area could have become Petersylvania; no, not Pennsylvania, Petersylvania after Rev. Samuel Peters.
  • The town of Dekorra was poised by geographic happenstance to become a major settlement like Madison or Milwaukee. Never heard of it? Exactly.

Bridge Hunter

trestle looking down
Trestle looking down by ken ratcliff, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
Niobrara River Cowboy Trail Bridge

I could get lost on for days, just drilling down randomly on the 30,000+ bridges contained on its pages. Contributors add bunches of new ones to the site every day. Almost three hundred vertical lift bridges? Simply mind-blowing. I could also feast on 600+ tunnels or nearly a hundred ferries listings if I ever grew tired of bridges, too.

Let’s try it out. Say, I want to see only Nebraska bridges and then select Cherry County from the clickable map. The Niobrara River Cowboy Trail Bridge looks promising, and there it is with four photographs, a Google Street View image, lat/long coordinates and various vital statistics. Just like that, I learned about an old Chicago & Northwestern railroad trestle (map) that was converted to pedestrian use as part of the Cowboy Trail, which is a Rails-to-Trails project. Now I’ll have something interesting to do when I visit Nebraska’s largest county. There are thousands of possibilities like that simply waiting to be discovered on the site.

I wonder if the website attracts the wrong crowd sometimes. The URL is only a single letter away from Bride Hunter. Lonely-hearts with bad typing skills in search of mail order brides might arrive on the site only to leave disappointed.

Virginia Places

Veramar Vineyard Berryville

Veramar Vineyard
12MC Visits Lots of Virginia Places

I’ve used Virginia Places as a reference for years. It is copyright © 1998-2013 so I guess the owner continues to maintain its content even thought the formatting seems to be stuck in 1998. Virginia Places serves as a reference for a geography class at George Mason University (Geography of Virginia – GGS380) so signs look promising for it to stick around for awhile.

The index page includes that annoying, anonymous Virginia quote that one sees scattered throughout the Commonwealth: "To be a Virginian either by Birth, Marriage, Adoption, or even on one’s Mother’s side is an Introduction to any State in the Union, a Passport to any Foreign Country, and a Benediction from Above." Whatever. I’ll forgive Virginia Places for that brief transgression because I like leafing through the rest of its pages.

Completely Unrelated

Remember last year when I served as a chauffeur for someone participating in the Dust Bowl Marathon Series? My participant selected the half-marathon option, so only half-crazy.

We’re doing it again. This time it will be the Riverboat Marathon Series (Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana), April 12-16, 2014. That gives all of you plenty of time to get in shape and join us for one or more of the races. I’m already salivating over the number of counties I’ll capture.

Zea Mays Everta

On July 18, 2013 · 0 Comments

I guess it’s the current heat wave that’s baking me and forcing me think about how nice it would be to sit inside an ice-cold movie theater at the moment. That’s not a possibility right now. Still it would be splendid, and by association, when I think of a theater I think of popcorn. Aren’t vicarious associations wonderful?

The binomen Zea Mays is more popularly referred to as corn or maize depending on where one lives, and the variety Everta pertains specifically to popcorn. Many kinds of corns are actually capable of popping when steam and pressure build up inside the hard outer shells of their kernels. However only Everta has been cultivated with the sole purpose of accentuating this delightful quality to perfection.

Bat Cave Well

It is believed that popcorn may have originated somewhere in PerĂº several thousand years ago. The oldest existing ears of popping corn, however, were unearthed in the United States at least according to the Popcorn Board. Yes, that is a real organization. I’d love to get a job there. People would ask, "So where do you work?" and I’d answer, "Oh, I work for the Popcorn Board. Would you like some? Butter and salt, or just plain?"

The earliest direct popcorn evidence traced to the Bat Cave Archeology Site, a series of rock ledges used as shelters on the edge of the Plains of San Agustin in western New Mexico. I couldn’t geolocate the exact spot — and indeed it’s not publicized because it’s considered to have continuing archeological significance — so the best I could find was USGS coordinates for Bat Cave Water Well. Besides, I don’t think Batman would be happy if told everyone where to find the Batcave. The map above should be reasonably close even if it’s not the exact spot where those ancient ears of popcorn were found in the 1940’s and 1950’s, and dated back a solid 4,000 years.

View Popcorn Capitals of the World in a larger map

Most popcorn cultivation, processing and consumption happens in the United States. The Agricultural Marketing Research Center’s Popcorn Profile noted that popcorn popularity began to skyrocket during the middle of the 20th Century, first as an affordable snack during the Great Depression and then as an alternative to candies made scarce because of sugar rationing during the Second World War. Those momentous back-to-back events lasting longer than a decade created an unanticipated tangential consequence for the crop. They established and solidified popcorn as a major snack food in the United States. AGMRC noted that "more than 80% of U.S. production is consumed domestically" so the habit continues to last more than a half-century later.

Several agricultural communities vie for the title of "Popcorn Capital of the World" Mapping the contenders outlines a primary cultivation area for this highly specialized crop: the US midwest from Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and into Ohio, plus other states to a lesser degree. Growing popcorn still remains largely a mom-and-pop operation unlike more widely-consumed commodities. Again referring to the AGMRC Popcorn Profile,

Popcorn was produced by 968 farms on over 201,000 acres in 29 states during 2007 (most recent data). Nebraska is the top popcorn-producing state and produced 294.5 million pounds of shelled popcorn, or 34% of all popcorn production. Individual farm acreages used for popcorn production are quite small. For example, the majority of popcorn-producing farms raised only 100 to 250 acres of popcorn in 2007.

I thought I’d take a closer look at those towns claiming the Popcorn Capital crown to see which ones deserved the title legitimately. I took an extremely unscientific approach. Which place celebrated their popping harvest with the most gusto?

  • Van Buren Popcorn Festival, August 8-10, 2013: the website included a countdown clock and promised "Three Days of Family Fun, Food, and Free Entertainment."
  • Marion Popcorn Festival, Sept 5-7, 2013: the Village People will be the musical headliners on the main stage on Friday night!
  • Valparaiso Popcorn Festival, September 7, 2013: named the "Best Festival of the Region" by readers of a local newspaper.
  • North Loup Popcorn Days: Aug 23-25; Free popcorn all weekend.
  • Ridgway Popcorn Day, Sept. 5-15, 2013: It seemed to be combined with the Gallatin County Fair although I wasn’t sure specifically which day was "Popcorn Day." It might be the day of the Popcorn 5K; Sept 13.
  • Schaller Popcorn Days, July 12-13, 2013. I couldn’t find a dedicated website although the Storm Lake Pilot Tribune provided some advance publicity). I’m sorry we missed it.

My research demonstrated that each of the Popcorn Capitals took their title seriously. I don’t think I can crown a champion.

I only felt bad for the Village People. It’s a tragic slide from the heights of 1970’s disco superstardom all the way down to the 2013 Marion Popcorn Festival. I am sure that Marion, Ohio is a wonderful town, however nobody is going to confuse it with Greenwich Village.

Completely Unrelated

I’ll be leaving on my annual state visit in a few days, and this year it’s Kentucky. Thank you for your suggestions — I do intend to incorporate some of them into my itinerary. Don’t be concerned if the regular 12MC publication schedule gets a little flaky either. I’ll post my discoveries from the road at times when it makes sense.

I would also encourage readers who have not yet subscribed to 12MC Twitter feed to consider doing that because I’ll likely post updates and photographs of Kentucky geo-oddities in real time.

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