Going Postal, Part 1

On December 14, 2014 · 2 Comments

I alluded to postal ZIP codes in the recent Zip Lines and I’ll carry that theme through the next couple of articles. I’d stumbled upon the United States Postal Service’s Fun Facts. Someday maybe I’ll explore what exactly makes a fact "fun" although for now I think I’ll simply steal liberally from that page and ponder some of its claims in greater detail. Today I’ll focus on post offices and in the next article I’ll shift to methods of delivery. Spoiler alert: don’t visit that USPS page unless you want to ruin the surprises.

Highest



Alma Colorado 2010
Alma Colorado 2010 by Gord McKenna, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


There was a surprising amount debate about the town with the highest elevation in the United States. I explored that previously in something I wrote a couple of years ago. Was it Leadville, Colorado, was it Alma, Colorado or was it some poseur town that annexed an adjoining ski resort? There was no doubt, however, about the post office building with the highest elevation. Clearly, that was the one in Alma (map) at 10,578 feet above sea level, serving ZIP Code 80420.

Rocky Mountain High, indeed. I’ll refrain from making any jokes about the highest post office being located in Colorado where a certain herbal substance has been legalized. We’re talking strictly about elevation here.


Northernmost and Westernmost – 48 Contiguous States



La Push to Sumas, Washington

It’s not that I don’t love Alaska and Hawaii, its that they skew anything to do with directional superlatives in the United States. I’ll give a little nod to Alaska momentarily although for purposes of northernmost and westernmost post offices I’ll focus on the contiguous 48 States. They were both in Washington and not too distant from each other. Best of all, the preferred route calculated by Google required a ferry. That would put it pretty high on the 12MC list of sites I’d like to visit someday. I’ll bet readers in Seattle could probably accomplish this easily. Wouldn’t it be cool to tell folks that you’d been to the northernmost and westernmost post offices in the Lower 48 in a single day? Perhaps mail yourself a letter from each spot? Maybe I’m the only one who would find that interesting. I don’t know.

The northernmost post office served Sumas, Washington, Zip Code 98295. The ZIP Code abutted the Canadian border although that wasn’t special. Lots of other locations shared that attribute. What made Sumas different, however, was the physical location of its post office building just a stone’s throw away from the actual border. I also wondered about the name Sumas. The City of Sumas provided an explanation. It also provided a website that looked like it had been transported through a dial-up model directly from the 1990’s. Wander over there if you’re ever feeling nostalgic about how the Intertubes used to appear including the use of 3-D buttons as links, educating people to "click here" and the placement of a site counter at the bottom of the page.

Sumas (pronounced Soo’mass) means "land without trees". Although lake and swamp once covered most of the area there was also a considerable area that because of natural flooding was a wide open grassland.

The westernmost post office, on the Olympic Peninsula, served ZIP Code 98350 in La Push, Washington. Its name also had an interesting etymology: "La Push is from French La Bouche, meaning ‘The Mouth’ of the Quillayute River, adapted into Chinook Jargon."


Coldest


Barrow, Alaska
Barrow, Alaska by NASA ICE, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

The USPS bestowed a tie for the coldest post offices, for Barrow, ZIP Code 99723 and Wainwright ZIP Code 99782, both on Alaska’s North Slope along the Arctic Ocean. The site didn’t offer an explanation for "coldest" although I knew that neither of those locations represented the lowest temperature ever recorded in Alaska. That happened that at Prospect Creek on January 23, 1971, when the thermometer fell to -80°F / -62°C. Rather, I believe the claim was based on average temperature. Barrow routinely remains below freezing for eight months of the year, often considerably below. However its oceanfront location and lack of elevation variation tends to keep its very cold temperatures relatively stable versus the spikes and drops found farther inland. It’s also getting warmer.

Instrumented weather and climate observations were first made at Barrow during the first International Polar Year in 1881-82. The modern era of weather observations commenced in 1920. Climate observations have continued uninterrupted to the present. These observations support what every resident in America’s northernmost town can see: climate change is happening—right now—in obvious and dramatic fashion.


Smallest


Ochopee Post with flag
Ochopee Post with flag by Chris Griffith, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Look at the cute little post office for Ochopee, Florida, (map) serving ZIP Code 34141. Just look at it. The entire building covers only 61.3 square feet (5.7 square metres). A nearby historical marker explained the situation.

Considered to be the smallest post office in the United States, this building was formerly an irrigation pipe shed belonging to the J. T. Gaunt Company tomato farm. It was hurriedly pressed into service by postmaster Sidney Brown after a disastrous night fire in 1953 burned Ochopee’s general store and post office. The present structure has been in continuous use ever since-as both a post office and ticket station for Trailways bus lines-and still services residents in a three-county area including deliveries to Seminole and Miccosukee Indians living in the region. Daily business often includes requests from tourists and stamp collectors the world over for the famed Ochopee post mark. The property was acquired by the Wooten Family in 1992.

It wasn’t a joke. It was a temporary fix that became permanent due to inertia.


Oldest in the Same Building


110708 207
Hinsdale Post Office by Doug Kerr, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I don’t know why this one fascinated me. Nonetheless it seemed remarkable that the post office serving Hindsdale, New Hampshire (map) had remained in the same building for two centuries, or about a century and a half before ZIP Code 03451 even existed. It didn’t have much of a backstory beyond its age. The town said its "1,327 square foot building was constructed on September 25, 1816, following the appointment of Hinsdale’s first postmaster in 1815." From an architectural perspective, "A Field Guide to American Houses describes this design as a Gable Front Family Folk house common on the East Coast of the U.S. before the Civil War." That was about all I found.

Republic of Indian Stream

On November 19, 2014 · 3 Comments

The short-lived Republic of Indian Stream owed its existence to frustrations rooted in divergent interpretations of the Treaty of Paris that ended the American Revolutionary War between the United States and Great Britain. The treaty included a number of provisions including those designed to establish firm boundaries between Canada and the United States. Ironically, a document intended to create a bright demarcation actually created additional confusion.

The treaty devoted an entire section, Article 2, to preventing "all disputes which might arise in future" along the border. That purpose seemed both noble and fair. The problem centered on its reliance on geographic landmarks to create a line, specifically its use of watersheds. The confusing portion of the clause read:

…that angle which is formed by a line drawn due north from the source of St. Croix River to the highlands; along the said highlands which divide those rivers that empty themselves into the river St. Lawrence, from those which fall into the Atlantic Ocean, to the northwesternmost head of Connecticut River; thence down along the middle of that river to the forty-fifth degree of north latitude…

It sounded fine in theory. However the United States and the Great Britain couldn’t agree on the placement of the "northwesternmost head of Connecticut River."



Was the northwesternmost head at Halls Stream, Indian Stream, Perry Stream or the Connecticut River itself? The United States favored Halls Stream while Great Britain favored the Connecticut River. One would have thought those little details might have been discussed and resolved before ink dried on paper. They were not. Negotiators failed to clarify their intent and created a small disputed area between Halls Stream on the west and the Connecticut River on the east.

The former belligerents negotiated the Treaty of Paris in 1783 and the United States ratified it the following year. Yet dueling interpretation remained fully intact for nearly a half-century afterwards. Finally local residents reached their breaking point. They tired of double taxation, military recruitment and rule of law. People in this disputed territory declared themselves to live in an independent state, the Republic of Indian Stream, in 1832. The couple of hundred residents formed their own legislature, minted their own coinage, established their own law enforcement, and set about creating the infrastructure of a tiny nation. The United States and Great Britain were not impressed. They continued to squabble and bicker while ignoring the notion of a sovereign Indian Stream.


Pittsburg, NH
Pittsburg, NH by Axel Drainville, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Republic, if it truly ever existed, ended in 1836. A force from Indian Stream "invaded" Canada to free one of its local citizens who had been arrested for an outstanding debt and imprisoned there. This created an international incident. The Republic quickly authorize its annexation to the United States and the New Hampshire Militia occupied the territory to protect it. Great Britain decided the dispute wasn’t worth the trouble and acquiesced to an American interpretation using Halls Stream as the border.


River Road Covered Bridge
River Road Covered Bridge by James Walsh, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

After finally resolving the boundary dispute, the former Republic of Indian Stream became New Hampshire’s Town of Pittsburg. It’s attractions included the beautiful Connecticut Lakes, a string of lakes along the Connecticut River named without regard to imagination, First Connecticut Lake, Second Connecticut Lake, Third Connecticut Lake and Fourth Connecticut Lake. It also included the Happy Corner Covered Bridge over Perry Stream. Other than an historical marker, there isn’t much evidence of the old Republic any longer.

Events in northern New Hampshire have been considerably more sedate ever since.

Insignificant Synonyms

On August 19, 2014 · 4 Comments

I considered synonyms and euphemisms for small, inconsequential places. Sometimes they even found their way into Twelve Mile Circle articles. Those wouldn’t be real places, right? They were just generic terms for middle of nowhere spots where nothing every happened and nothing ever would for the remaining history of the known universe. Or were they?

Podunk


at Aiken and Podunk
at Aiken and Podunk by Matt Moritz, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

I’ve always been partial to Podunk. I’m sure my opinion had a geographic and cultural component. I’d likely favor some other term if I grew-up elsewhere.

The Podunk were a Native American people of Algonquian origin that inhabited an area that later became the modern towns of East Hartford, East Windsor, South Windsor, Manchester and smaller parts of other towns in Connecticut.

Podunk or Pautunke, means "where you sink in mire", a boggy place, in the Nipmuc dialect… The Podunk tribe consisted of three bands: the Namferoke (Podunk, "fishing place"), who lived near the village of Warehouse Point; the Hockanum (Podunk, "a hook", or "hook shaped"), led by Tantonimo, who lived near the village still known as Hockanum; and the Scanticook (Nipmuc, "at the river fork"), who lived on the north bank of the Scantic River near the section called Weymouth.

There were various locales and features named Podunk, primarily in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York. The photograph of Aiken and Podunk came from Trumansburg, New York, in the Finger Lakes Region (map).

I was gratified to see that fellow geo-oddity aficionado Steve who writes Connecticut Museum Quest mentioned Podunk in several articles. Clearly, he was no stranger to Podunk.



Podunk, Connecticut

While the Podunk people occupied a sizable geography, the Geographic Names Information System identified a specific point as Connecticut’s current Podunk. It might have been possibly the only location we didn’t visit on the epic Connecticut Extremes tour a couple of years ago.


East Bumf**k

This section brings immaturity to a new level. No offense is intended. Some readers with delicate sensibilities might be advised to skip to the next one.


Awesome @globalrallyx racing @nhms tonight. Next week is Bristol! @bmsupdates
New Hampshire Motor Speedway by Jose Castillo, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

Speaking of euphemisms, readers will simply have to add the appropriate letters for the two asterisks in Bumf**k on their own. This is a family-friendly website. I’ve used East Bumf**k on occasion verbally, or Bumblef**k which is another entertaining variation. I can’t say I’ve referred to Bumf**k Egypt personally although I know that one is fairly common too. Seriously though, would anyone name a place Bumf**k? Well, no. There’s still hope for this world.

I had to check though. The 12MC audience would have been disappointed if I hadn’t at least given it a shot. I found something almost as bewildering and inexplicable in GNIS.



Bumfagging Hill, New Hampshire

Others discovered this little gem long ago, including one gentleman who hiked to the summit of Bumfagging Hill. One of the people who commented on his feat speculated that it… "derives from ‘bumfeg,’, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as an (obsolete) humorous synonym for ‘to flog, thrash.’ Maybe the colonists flogged their laundry up there, or thrashed miscreants." It sounded plausible enough to me.

In that case Bumfagon Brook (map), also in New Hampshire, likely had a similar etymology. I wonder how all of those NASCAR fans at New Hampshire Motor Speedway felt about their uncomfortably close proximity to Bumfagon Brook as they hooted and hollered for the next wreck?


Hicksville


The train to Hicksville
The train to Hicksville by Mashthetics, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

I wasn’t sure why Hicksville (map) became a generic term for an unsophisticated hamlet far removed from civilization. Hicksville in New York had a population of greater than forty thousand residents at the 2010 Census — hardly insignificant — and a median household income of $91,331 per year.

According to "The City in Slang",

Several names for small towns just extend epithets for provincial people, usually forming them with the suffixes -ville, -town, and -burg… the use of hicksville in New York was surely reinforced by the fact that the real city of Hicksville (an utterly coincident name) was nearby on Long Island.

That made sense.


A Few More

GNIS included entries and lat/long coordinates for all of the following places or features aligning with the theme:

  • Jerkwater, Pennsylvania (map)
  • Flyspeck Waterhole, Oregon (map)
  • One Horse, Arkansas (map)
  • Boondock Tank, Arizona (map)
  • Sticks, Pennsylvania (map)
  • The Backwaters, Indiana (map)

As some might say, "Thank God we live in this quiet, little pissant, redneck, podunk, jerkwater, greenhorn, one-horse, mudhole, peckerwood, right-wing, whistle-stop, hobnail, truck-driving, old-fashioned, hayseed, inbred, unkempt, out-of-date, white trash mountain town!"

Purpose
12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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