Something has been bothering me since I mentioned the town of Washington, Virginia recently in Flip-Flopping. It claims to be the oldest town named for George Washington, platted by none other than George Washington himself in 1749. I noted that it’s often called Little Washington to differentiate it from nearby Washington, DC which dates to 1791. "Little" Washington is only 68.7 miles (111 kilometres) from "Big" Washington according to Google Maps. Was this the closest distance between two towns that share the same name?
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Washington to Washington
It was not, by the way, but I’ll get to that later.
I began by establishing some ground rules.
- The names had to arise independently although they could originate from a common source. Both Washingtons were named for George Washington. Clearly the city of Washington was not named for the little village in rural Virginia, though.
- They could not be part of the same basic metropolitan area. Kansas City (Missouri/Kansas), St. Louis – East St. Louis (Missouri/Illinois), Niagara Falls (New York/Ontario) and similar occurrences were specifically excluded. See how I crossed an international boundary on that last one? Right. The two Congos fell into this same category and I tossed that possibility from consideration too (plus, they’re countries not towns).
- They both had to be "meaningful" places. That was subjective. I defined it to mean that they both had to appear as labeled places on Google Maps. In the event of an approximate tie I would consider it better if each town was large enough to have a government and a web presence. Washington, Virginia is the seat of government for Rappahannock County in addition to being a town in its own right, for example.
- Google Maps would also serve as the final arbiter of distance using simple queries such as "Washington, VA to Washington, DC." No lat/long coordinates or street addresses could be used to shorten distances.
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Greenville to Greenville
I began by consulting Wikipedia’s list of the most common U.S. place names and I figured I’d start with those found in Rhode Island. None of those towns would be very far from a state border by definition. The same would hold true, relatively speaking, for neighboring Connecticut and Massachusetts. That winnowed the list down to Greenville, Riverside, Kingston and Newport for Rhode Island. I didn’t get any cross-border cooperation, though. Nonetheless and to my surprise, Greenville, Rhode Island to Greenville, New Hampshire — crossing through the entire width of Massachusetts — scored very well at 79.6 miles (128 km).
I also uncovered an odd Google Maps glitch, and I’m not sure if it was specific to me or whether it will be repaired before someone else attempts it. I tried to route from "Greenville, NH to Greenville, VT" and it calculated a 0.4 mile path to Panda Wok. I wonder how much Panda Wok paid Google for that nifty little trick?
Then I started getting a weird sense of déjà vu, like maybe I’d already published this article before. That possibility dawned on me as I examined other common town names on the list, particularly Franklin. I worry about the day that it will happen, and believe me it will happen someday. I now have several hundred articles under my belt and it’s hard to keep them all straight. Today is not that day. I searched my archives and found that two Franklins appeared in The Jeffersons and Beyond in a different context with a distance of 102 miles (164 km) between them.
While I was at it I also observed Washington, Maryland on the list and compared it to Washington, DC. It did almost as well as Washington, VA, at 69.7 miles (112 km); only a mile farther! (map). Mostly though, the list was a bust.
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Lens to Lens
Then I transitioned to the desperation method. That involved looking near state and provincial borders for similar towns, and failing that, moving on to national boundaries. Languages tend to slop across European borders so maybe I could find something there. I spotted Lens in northern France and focused on it only because it was a short name. Could there be a Lens in Belgium. Yes, and the distance between them was 66.5 miles (107 km).
I found the best answer of the day completely by luck.
Now I turn the challenge over to the wise and all-knowing 12MC audience. I think there has to be better occurrences, probably numerous ones, that meet the four basic criteria.
I’m still catching-up from my brief holiday hiatus from Twelve Mile Circle responsibilities. It serves me right for thinking I could keep a low profile with so much geo-weirdness happening in the world at any given time. I imagine many of you saw mainstream press coverage of a few legislators in New Hampshire proposing warning signs for motorists about to enter neighboring Massachusetts?
The argument is that Massachusetts requires automobile insurance and motorcycle helmets, it places greater restrictions on guns and fireworks, and its more restrictive by nature in general. New Hampshire is all "Live Free or Die" and Massachusetts is, well, it’s the People’s Republic of Taxachusetts. That’s how it’s being framed by the NH Legislators involved. I think one quote from the article articulates this position rather succinctly: "Basically I had people come to me and tell me they had accidentally crossed the border and ended up on the wrong side of the law… If they had seen a sign saying ‘hey, you’re about to go into Massachusetts,’ they could have turned around." Indeed.
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A Section of the Hostile Border Region
I’ll leave it to each of you to determine a personal point of view since 12 MC isn’t a political blog (albeit we’ve waded into NH-MA waters briefly before). I also realize this bill is probably a bit tongue-in-cheek, voicing frustration without much expectation of actually passing. Nonetheless that doesn’t mean that I can examine some of the potential implications and have some fun with it.
Would this be the only instance where one state warns motorists of potential problems or restrictions in a neighboring state? I’ve seen plenty of examples that goes the other direction, where a state wants travelers to understand its restrictions to avoid unknowing trouble. I see this in my own beloved Commonwealth along major roads as one crosses the border: Speed enforced by aircraft; Speed Checked by Radar and Other Electrical Devices; and Radar Detectors are Illegal. I’ve seen actual border stops such as California’s Agricultural Inspection Stations (went through the Lake Tahoe Station once). Occasionally I see friendly exit messages like "Drive Safely — Return Again Soon" However the New Hampshire proposal would be a new one to me. Does anyone know of something similar — a warning about a neighboring jurisdiction — and can provide an associated Google Map link?
I like to examine the actual text of a bill when I see an article like this. I know, I’m weird. However source documents often provides revealing information that doesn’t make it into the news. The Legislature is called the The New Hampshire General Court; it is bicameral with a House of Representatives of 400 members. The General Court brags that it’s "the second largest legislature in the United States following the U.S. Congress." New Hampshire is also the 46th smallest of the 50 states so it seems there may be a bit of a Napoleon Complex going on here. It shouldn’t be surprising that "creative" ideas might make their way into the legislative process when representation covers such tiny slices of geography.
The bill, HB 1412 says, "All roads that cross the New Hampshire/Massachusetts state line shall bear signs that say “Warning: Massachusetts Border 500 Feet.” Lest anyone consider this a frivolous use of taxpayer funds, lawmakers propose that " No public money shall be used to pay for such signs." Instead a citizen, group, association or business will sponsor each sign, and in return will be able to erect "a suitable recognition sign."
I’ve combined both signs into a single sign for further cost savings
My next round of Adsense funding will go towards sponsoring a sign if HB 1412 passes and becomes New Hampshire law. The heck with another holiday abroad. Sponsorship competition will be stiff for signs along busy roads such as Interstates 93 and 95 but those wouldn’t be nearly geo-odd enough for me anyway. I’ll need to find someplace obscure. I have plenty of opportunities among the 138 existing road crossings between the two states.
Well, I counted 138 crossings — that’s what passes for a fun Saturday evening on the 12MC — although I can’t guarantee that exact number. It’s close enough for our purposes. The more significant point to understand is that there are plenty of border crossings that will need sponsors. The court decision for Yarnell v. Cuffley makes it practically impossible to deny 12MC sponsorship, so we’ll be able to sponsor a sign if the law passes and I have the necessary cash on hand.
I found a few possible locations for the Twelve Mile Circle warning sign:
- It would probably be most useful along some random tertiary road that doesn’t even warrant a state border marker. However that seems rather boring for 12MC purposes.
- The loops of Brooks Road and Brooks Road Extended may be more appropriate, requiring three signs to comply with the proposed law.
- Motorists also need to know what they’re getting into when they visit these two houses at the end of a remote cul-de-sac. As an aside, I’d be thrilled to live in a home with a state border running straight down the driveway like the guy towards the east.
- Maybe the Highway 12 crossing is a possibility, you know, because this is the Twelve Mile Circle?
- My inner Beavis & Butt-head appreciates the special needs of an approach to Pecker Pond.
Any other sponsorship suggestions from the wise 12MC audience?
Sports Nation Divided says that Turner, Montana is the "Saddest Town in America" because it’s the farthest away from a major league baseball team. I’m looking at you, Weekend Roady.
Many years ago my fiancé (now wife) and I traveled through northern New England for two weeks. This was so long ago that we actually tent-camped our way through a string of rustic state parks with few amenities. That changed to Bed-and-Breakfasts once we got married, and then changed again to whatever hotel happened to have an indoor pool and a free breakfast buffet once the kids came along. Imagine though, a time when I once trampled through the wilderness without regard to creature comforts.
One of our stops delivered us to the top of Mount Washington, the highest point in the state of New Hampshire and indeed anywhere in the northeastern United States: 1,917 metres (6,288 feet). The observatory atop the mountain claims to be the "Home of the World’s Worst Weather" but it didn’t live up to that reputation during our visit. It was postcard perfect.
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We saw a terrible column of black smoke rising from the valley. What could possibly burn on the barren rock above the tree line? It moved closer. Soon enough we saw that it belching from an ancient machine, a mighty hissing steam engine pushing a passenger car, the Mount Washington Cog Railway
I didn’t know anything about the cog railway prior to our visit. I will take a ride if I ever return, now wiser and lazier after the passage of more years than I’d like to admit.
The Washington Mountain Cog Railway is an institution. It was the very first mountain cog railway ever constructed, and of course it continues to be the oldest by definition. Tourists have taken the railway safely to the summit of Mount Washington since 1869, pushed along nearly unimaginable gradients up to 37%.
SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons, image in the public domain
Generically it’s a "rack and pinion" railway, a technology particularly suited to steep mountainous terrain. The rack is a toothed track strung along a rail bed and the pinion is a cog wheel that aligns with the rack. It’s easier to picture than describe. They’ve been deployed worldwide in places where ordinary trains would spin their wheels on their tracks.
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A rack and pinion design has worked efficiently for over a century at Snowdon, the highest peak in the British Isles other than Scotland. The Snowdon Mountain Railway rises to a 1,085 m (3,560 ft) summit from Llanberis, a village in Gwynedd, North Wales. It is the only example of a cog railway in the United Kingdom.
Reputedly the SMR served as an inspiration for the fictional Culdee Fell Railway, which in turn spun off into the whole Thomas the Tank Engine phenomenon. That probably doesn’t matter much to you unless your household went through a Thomas the Tank Engine phase, as mine did when the kids were younger.
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Not every cog railroad dates back to the Nineteenth or earliest days of the Twentieth Century. The technology continues to fill a small but important niche in the modern world.
Perisher is a large ski resort in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales, Australia. The only road into the area was frequently blocked by the same weather that makes the resort so attractive, an overabundance of snow. The proprietors dug a tunnel through a mountain to provide an alternate path, and within the tunnel they constructed an underground rack railway. Perisher Skitube Alpine Rail has delivered skiers to the resort since 1987.
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A segment of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway in Tamil Nadu, India, is a cog railway climbing up through thick, uninhabitable jungle slopes. The rack-and-pinion portion of the railway running from Kallar to Coonoor includes "208 curves and 13 tunnels, and 27 viaducts" as noted by UNESCO when it added Nilgiri to the Mountain Railways of India World Heritage Site. It has operated here since 1908.
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More accessible, yet also confronting the challenges of extreme topography, the Trem do Corcovado of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, climbs to the top of Morro do Corcovado. This is the famous mountaintop crowned by the statue of Cristo Redentor — Christ the Redeemer — that is easily one of the most recognizable and iconic images of the nation.
There are other examples, but Cog railways are still a rather unusual phenomenon. Even so, a rack-and-pinion design is still the best technology for a very special set of circumstances. That hasn’t changed in more than a hundred and fifty years.