County Hunter

On October 8, 2017 · 3 Comments

The itch to continuously visit new counties kept stalking me. I did really well this year with a long road trip back from Missouri in April. Then I drove all over the Midwest in June. Finally I took the whole family through the Four Corners region of New Mexico and Colorado. My county counting tally stood at 1,425 by the end of the summer and yet I still wanted more. Unfortunately, I’d used up most of my vacation hours for the year. I needed to find the closest unvisited county and hit it on a weekend. Three options existed, all two-or-more hours away. Nothing closer remained anymore.

Pocahontas County, West Virginia


Forest Moon of Endor? No. Green Bank, West Virginia - 1
Forest Moon of Endor? No. Green Bank, West Virginia. Photo by Stephen Little on Flickr (cc)

I should be able to reach to nearest border of Pocahontas County in about 3 hours and 20 minutes. Certainly this would be too far for a dash-and-grab, stepping my toe across the border and heading back home. That would make a round trip of nearly seven hours just to color a single county on my map. Even I thought that sounded ridiculous.

Fortunately, if I decided to select Pocahontas for my excursion, I could find a couple of interesting activities waiting for me there. The media featured Pocahontas periodically because of the town of Green Bank, home of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Scientists searched for aliens with that telescope among other things. In support, the government created a large National Radio Quiet Zone around the observatory to prevent interference with its delicate instruments. Nobody could use a mobile phone, a WiFi router or even a microwave oven within twenty miles of Green Bank. The town also attracted some rather unusual residents in recent years as a result; those who believed that they suffered from electromagnetic hypersensitivity.

Elsewhere in Pocahontas I could visit the Snowshoe Mountain Ski Resort. It offered year-round activities like many ski resorts do now. I could probably get there just in time to see the leaves change colors if I left sometime in the next couple of weeks.


Atlantic County, New Jersey


Atlantic City
Atlantic City. Photo by Eric Haake on Flickr (cc)

A little closer to home, 2 hours and 45 minutes away, I could be in Atlantic County, New Jersey. Theoretically. However, I’d need to thread the needle perfectly to avoid miserable traffic on dreaded Interstate 95. It could also take a lot longer. Then I’d need to add another half-hour to get to the only attraction worth seeing, Atlantic City. Can anyone believe I’ve never been to Atlantic City? I don’t know how that happened. I’ve had a number of opportunities over the year and yet I’ve never made the trip. Gambling isn’t my thing so that explains most of the reason. There are plenty of closer beaches.

Still, I wouldn’t mind strolling along the famous boardwalk, enjoying the flash of casino lights and hunting for every street from the Monopoly game. Really, to be honest, I’d use this as a springboard for a longer drive to capture Atlantic, Ocean and Monmouth Counties. This neatly aligned trio of counties remained the only ones in New Jersey I’ve yet to capture. Then I could mark New Jersey done.


Huntingdon and Blair Counties, Pennsylvania


Route to Huntingdon and Blair
Route to Huntingdon and Blair (Dark Blue)

Instead I chose Huntingdon and Blair Counties in Pennsylvania. I could get to Huntingdon in as little as two hours, the absolutely closest county I’ve yet to visit. I could push deep into Blair all the way to Altoona, the regions largest city, in about three. The Twelve Mile Circle audience won’t find out what I discovered just yet. I’ll keep readers in suspense. However, expect to see an article on Huntingdon and another on Blair in the coming days.

Green Bank and Atlantic City will be visited someday too. Maybe in the Spring. We’ll see.

Thanks a Million

On March 16, 2016 · 3 Comments

Longtime readers know that I check user statistics for Twelve Mile Circle daily. However, I don’t often examine figures that go all the way back to the earliest days of the blog. I did that recently, and to my surprise discovered that visitors had arrived from more than one million distinct sources since its inception. Google Analytics reported 1,012,891 users as of a few days ago. I adjusted some parameters and discovered that the site passed a million sometime early in the morning of Wednesday, February 10 — Ash Wednesday. Sure, there might have been a little double-counting, say when regular readers checked the site from home and then from work, although repeat customers were pretty small as a percentage when compared to all the one-and-done hits. I’m sure with the 12k buffer that at least a million different people have now stopped by, however briefly. Frankly, I’m completely humbled and astounded that I created something that reached so many people. If only I had a dollar for every visitor…


One Million Dollars
One Million Dollars by wbeem on Flick (cc)

Obviously my haul was considerably less although it did pay for a nice geo-oddity holiday to Saint Martin once. I supposed I should focus on more realistic celebrations such as finding places named a million. However there weren’t anywhere near a million such places. The US Geographic Names Information System listed only 47 and there were far fewer occurrences outside of the United States.


Million Acre Swamp


Winnie the Pooh overload
Winnie the Pooh overload by crabchick on Flickr (cc)

A Million Acre Swamp sure beat a Hundred Acre Wood although Winnipeg’s famous namesake warranted its own article. No, there wasn’t much noteworthy to say about the Million Acre Swamp in Wisconsin’s Pierce County (map) except perhaps to recognize its hyperbole. I found a reference to counting bears there — presumably other than Winnie — and that was about all of substance the Intertubes had to say about this swamp of an alleged million acres. I didn’t have anything further either.


Million Dollar Bridge



A million dollars used to be an amazing amount of money. It’s still meaningful to average folks and I’d be happy to take a donation of that size, however it doesn’t go a long way in government spending anymore. Back in the early 1900’s a million bucks was such an extravagance that it could bestow a nickname, like a Million Dollar Bridge in Alaska (map). "A million dollars for a bridge? — that must be one fancy bridge!" someone must have exclaimed a hundred years ago because the alternate name became more popular than its official name, the Miles Glacier Bridge. The bridge spanned the Copper River about fifty miles outside of Cordova, connecting the only town of significance in this part of Alaska to outlying communities.

It fared poorly in Alaska’s 1964 earthquake and the northern span collapsed. Did that stop people from using it? Of course not, this was Alaska. They constructed a ramp over the broken section and down to the riverbank. The Bridge Hunter website had some pretty terrifying photos of how it appeared in that condition, as did the video. As described in Alaska Dispatch News,

In the 1970’s, boards and eventually thick metal plates were put in place, somewhat precariously, creating a ramp from the bridge to its fallen span and the far side of the Copper. The span was lifted back into place in 2005, but braver locals still laugh about driving across those boards and the sound they would make as they rocked between spans under the weight of your car.

I’ll bet the repair cost more than a million dollars.


Million Dollar Pier


Night scene, Million Dollar Pier, Atlantic City, N. J.
Night scene, Million Dollar Pier, Atlantic City, N. J. by Boston Public Library on Flickr (cc)

Another million dollars, another early 20th Century structure, this time in the form of a pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey (map).

John Young’s Million Dollar Pier… included the world’s largest ballroom, named The Hippodrome, and a huge exhibit hall. The pier hosted movies, conventions, and exhibits of every description. Teddy Roosevelt gave a speech there in 1912. Some of the big bands played there including Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey and Artie Shaw.

It also hosted the 5th Miss America Pageant in 1925, won by Fay Lanphier, Miss California. Sadly the Million Dollar Pier was torn down in 1983. A succession of new structures occupied the site, with the current incarnation known as Playground Pier.


Rio Frio e Milhão



Milhão, Portugal

I’d hoped to find some million-themed place names in languages other than English. That didn’t work so well because many of them used something very similar to million as their word for million. However I did learn that the Portuguese word for million was slightly different, milhão. That formed part of the name of a parish in the far northeast corner of Portugal known as Rio Frio e Milhão (Cold River and Million, roughly translated). There weren’t any associations between the river and the number other than the parish had been formed in 2013 by cobbling together two settlements into a single unit within the larger municipality of Bragança. The Milhão portion had 161 residents as of the latest census, falling well short of a million. I didn’t learn how Milhão got its name although I’m sure there must have been a million something within its vicinity.

Directional Upstart Eclipses Namesake

On September 23, 2015 · 15 Comments

Loyal reader Cary suggested an article idea that built upon a previous topic, Upstart Eclipses Namesake. In that previous posting I offered "new" places that grew more prominent than their original namesakes. Examples I proposed included New Zealand (vs. Zealand), New South Wales (vs. South Wales) and others. There were several comments and a lively discussion — for instance the relative prominence of New Jersey and Jersey seemed to depend upon the side of the Atlantic of one’s abode — and it was all good fun.

Cary’s proposal took these efforts in a different direction, literally. Instead of new places, what if we looked at directional places instead? For example, suppose there was a town of Podunk and later a new settlement grew just to its north, and people lacking originality or hoping to ride Podunk’s coattails decided to call it North Podunk. Then suppose, over time North Podunk continued to grow until it eventually became significantly larger than Podunk. Cary was even kind enough to provide examples. I’m going to simply plagiarize Cary’s ideas in a callous manner, wrap a little text around them and call it a day. I like articles where someone else provides the hard part and I get to take a small break. Keep those ideas and suggestions coming!


Palm Beach vs. West, North and South Palm Beach, Florida


Palm Beach - "Whitehall" (Flagler Mansion)
Palm Beach – "Whitehall" (Flagler Mansion) by Roger W on Flickr (cc)

Palm Beach, that ritzy settlement on a sandy stretch of barrier island on the Atlantic side of south Florida, traced its founding back to the efforts of Henry Flagler. He was one of those Gilded Age gazillionaires at the tail end of the Nineteenth Century with abundant money to burn. Anyone familiar with Florida history should recognize the Flagler name. It’s everywhere. He laid the Florida East Coast Railway along the length of the state and plopped a string of luxury hotels down the tracks to Key West. He, maybe more than anyone else should be credited with opening Florida to mass tourism and settlement. Palm Beach was a crown jewel, the place he chose to build his winter mansion Whitehall in 1902 (map).

The opulence and wealth of Palm Beach attracted his well-heeled peers, however supply-and-demand with geography created limitations. There was only so much land available on a thin strip of barrier island. Parcels became obscenely expensive as wealthy industrialists seized the best spots for competing displays of extravagance. Those of lesser means built nearby in other directions, principally west across a narrow channel on the mainland. They still wanted to grasp a bit of the "exclusivity" of the Palm Beach brand, however. Thus grew additional towns of West Palm Beach, North Palm Beach and South Palm Beach. West Palm Beach has ten times more residents (about a hundred thousand) than Palm Beach (a little less than ten thousand). North Palm Beach is slightly larger (about twelve thousand). Only South Palm Beach has fewer residents (about fifteen hundred).

Certainly West Palm Beach overshadowed Palm Beach by population. However Palm Beach could still take some consolation. It’s most recent median annual family income was $137,867 while West Palm Beach was only $42,074.


Orange vs. West, East and South Orange, New Jersey


East Orange Station
East Orange Station by Adam Moss on Flickr (cc)

The story of "The Oranges" — and that’s how the collection of New Jersey’s orange-named places are often grouped — was quite a bit different. Why Orange? Like many places named Orange it referred to William III of England, a.k.a. William of Orange. A group of breakaway Puritans left the New Haven Colony in Connecticut in 1666 and settled in lands that would later become Newark and the Oranges (map). According to the City of Orange Township, the area composing the Oranges served as an agricultural portion of Newark. The interests of the two began to diverge by the end of the Eighteenth Century, with Orange finally detaching in 1806. Internal rifts appeared within Orange over the next few decades and it too split not long after earning town status in 1860.

… Orange was permitted to establish fire, police, street and other town departments. On March 13, 1860, Dr. William Pierson was elected as the first Mayor of the Town of Orange. Almost immediately, the new town began fragmenting into smaller independent communities primarily because of local disputes about the costs of establishing the new departments. The other areas separated from the Town of Orange…

That resulted in four Oranges: Orange, West Orange, East Orange and South Orange. Today Orange has about thirty-thousand residents, West Orange has about forty-five thousand, East Orange has about sixty-five thousand and South Orange has about fifteen thousand. Thus, two of the three directional Oranges grew larger than Orange.

Demographically the Oranges are starkly divided.

Orange and East Orange are relatively urban and working-class, while South Orange and West Orange remain affluent suburban enclaves. In addition, the residents of Orange and East Orange are predominantly African American (75.1% and 89.5%, respectively), while those of South Orange and West Orange are predominantly white.


Battleford vs. North Battleford, Saskatchewan


Downtown North Battleford
Downtown North Battleford by waferboard on Flickr (cc)

Battleford in Saskatchewan provided another interesting tale. First I wondered about its name. Was there really a battle on a ford or was it simply some Englishman’s surname that transposed to the colonies and found its way to the Canadian prairie? Battleford (map) sat near the confluence of the North Saskatchewan and Battle Rivers, and a ford actually existed there. That solved part of the mystery. Also the "battle" wasn’t a single clash, rather it reflected an ongoing series of conflicts between Cree and Blackfoot tribes within the larger geographic footprint. Learning that, I felt comfortable and could move on with my investigation.

Poor Battleford. It should have risen to such greater prominence. Things began well at its founding in 1875 and soon it became the capital of the North-West Territories. Then came the railroad. Originally the Canadian Pacific Railway would have passed directly through Battleford, cementing its future.

But in 1881 the community’s destiny was altered with the federal government’s abrupt decision to alter the route of the trans-continental railway to cross the southern plains: as a consequence, the territorial capital was officially transferred to Regina in 1883…

Then, to add insult to injury, the Canadian Northern Railway came along in 1905 and built a line to Edmonton, placing its route on the other side of the river from Battleford. Naturally a new settlement migrated there and became North Battleford, soon eclipsing the original Battleford. Current Battleford has about five thousand residents compared to North Battleford with at about fifteen thousand. Battleford could have been Saskatchewan’s capital. Instead it became North Battleford’s smaller cousin.


Others

Cary offered several other examples although I got tired of typing:

  • North Richland Hills vs. Richland Hills in Texas
  • North Tonawanda vs. Tonawanda in New York
  • West Covina vs. Covina in California
  • West Babylon vs. Babylon in New York

I’m sure the 12MC audience can find others. Thanks Cary!

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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