I had so much fun hunting through counties with the recent Google Maps boundary release that I simply kept going. Somehow I fixated on a set of United States counties that are "New" in the sense that they start with the prefix New and are named after something older. There are several states so designated and I figured there would be plenty of counties too. I was quite surprised to learn that this isn’t the case. It’s actually rather uncommon and many of the examples are boring or obvious.
It wasn’t entirely a wasted effort, though.
New Haven County, Connecticut
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If it’s New Haven I wondered, then what was Haven? Apparently it was the Massachusetts Bay Colony. A set of Puritans considered themselves even more pure than their Puritan brethren. The colony in Massachusetts wasn’t theologically devout enough for this group of about five hundred people led by the Reverend John Davenport. They left in 1638, arriving at a suitable harbor along the Connecticut coastline, their New Haven.
Let’s note that New Haven County isn’t really a county anymore except for minimal instances such as the decennial census. Connecticut abolished county governments in 1960. Functions performed by counties elsewhere are performed by towns in Connecticut.
New Madrid, Missouri
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One perplexing aspect of New Madrid is its unusual pronunciation: New MAD-rid. I figured it couldn’t possibly be named for Madrid in Spain. Well, I continue to learn new things every day because New Madrid was indeed named after the city in Spain.
In 1789, Spain granted Col. George Morgan, a Princeton graduate and Indian trader, governorship of a portion of New Spain… Promising to develop the region, he took control of the town and renamed it New Madrid, hoping to turn it into the future capital of New Spain… New Madrid, as the seat of government for one of five Spanish districts in the territory, became one of the first five counties in Missouri.
It’s also remarkable for two nearby geo-oddities: Reelfoot Lake (one of the earliest 12MC articles) formed after the massive 1811-1812 earthquakes along the New Madrid fault; and the exclave known as Kentucky Bend or Bubbleland.
New Castle, Delaware
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I have to mention New Castle County because this northernmost slice of Delaware anchors the Twelve Mile Circle! The circle is centered on the town of New Castle that’s located in the county of the same name appropriately enough. Yet, I couldn’t find the castle for which the county was named. Does it tie back to Newcastle in England? I did find that it traces to 1664, being so designated by James, the Duke of York when he received the original land grant. Before that and sometimes afterwards it was part of a territory contested by Swedish, Dutch and English interests. This area was within or around several different New prefixes such as New Sweden, New Netherlands, and New Amstel before the English finally gained the upper hand and made sure that New Castle stuck.
There are also some fairly straightforward ones:
- New York County, NY (map): Duke of York (later King James II)
- New London County, CT (map): London, England.
- New Kent County, VA (map): Kent, England
- New Hanover County, NC (map): The House of Hanover that ruled Great Britain at the time, and then by extension back to the German Hanover.
That’s the complete list of New [Something] Counties. There are also several instances where New is mashed together with some other word.
- Newport County, Rhode Island (map): The originally settlers left Portsmouth, Rhode Island after a falling-out with the Puritan leader Anne Hutchinson. I’m going to guess that Newport may have derived from the name of the earlier Rhode Island settlement. Rhode Island is another one of those states where its counties have little meaning.
- Newport News, Virginia (map): Nobody is quite sure. It may have something to do with Christopher Newport who led the three ships to the original Jamestown Colony (where I visied recently). News may have come from an old English term for "new town." There are several other theories. Newport News isn’t actually a county. It’s one of those odd Virginia independent cities that are considered county-equivalents.
- Newaygo County, Michigan (map): This one is a ringer. It’s of Ojibwe Indian origin and has nothing to do with anything new.
And I’ll throw in a Newberry and a few Newtons.
- Newberry County, South Carolina (map)
- Newton County, Arkansas (map)
- Newton County, Georgia (map)
- Newton County, Indiana (map)
- Newton County, Mississippi (map)
- Newton County, Missouri (map)
I went a little overboard with all the county map links in this post. I’m still having too much fun with the new Google Maps feature.
It’s not every day that I get an opportunity for a do-over. I was in Williamsburg, Virginia during the early part of this week. It’s so tantalizingly close to The Swap that I featured a few weeks ago.
I travel to Williamsburg about once a year on business and I have mixed feelings about the town quite frankly. The history buff in me enjoys the old colonial aspects. Last year, however, I caught the H1N1 Swine Flu down there. I guess that played in the back of my mind as I drove along Interstate 64 following the spine of the peninsula. Remember all the panicked people standing in line for flu shots a year ago? I didn’t have to worry about that. I gained my immunity the old-fashioned way: waves of fever lasting most of a week. I passed the virus promptly to my dear wife and our family cat. I digress though. I must be feeling particularly tangential this evening so let me get back on topic.
Quickly summarizing the salient point for those who don’t wish to read the original article, York County and the independent city of Newport News (considered a county-equivalent for Census and other purposes) swapped an unusually large amount of land in 2007.
I told myself that I’d cross the territorial boundaries of the geo-oddity during my next Williamsburg trip. It’s a mere fifteen minutes away from The Swap.
View Newport News – York Co. Adjustments; twelvemilecircle.com in a larger map
I didn’t feel motivated after a full day of work so I considered every excuse conceivable: I was tired; traffic might be a hassle; it looked like it might rain. The ridiculousness of these rationalizations finally took hold and I was able to push through the excuses. I hit the road and visited both parcels personally.
This section along Richneck Road switched from York County to the City of Newport News. I wasn’t sure if I would reach the spot. Currently it’s closed to all but local traffic due to construction. One reason why Newport News wanted this parcel was so that it could expand Richneck Road to relieve traffic pressures on chronically congested roads nearby. I can attest that the effort is underway. Notice the dirt that’s been pushed away in the photograph. I considered myself fortunate to reach the spot without dodging construction equipment.
The parcel that switched from the City of Newport News to York County belongs to the Naval Weapons Station Yorktown. Most of it sits behind a secured perimeter with the exception of a large parking lot directly outside of the entrance. I’m guessing this may be a staging area for base access. Several tractor-trailers idled there waiting for permission to enter.
I parked and took a quick photograph, taking care to not record anything of military significance and quickly went on my way. Yes, I realize it’s completely visible in Google Street View. However I didn’t want to make any guards nervous or get my license plate noted in some database somewhere. I can only hope that nobody comes knocking on my door after a secret government computer correlates all the unusual spots I’ve visited over the years. Who’s going to believe that it’s due to my unnatural fascination with geo-oddities?
I take these personal risks for the loyal readers of the Twelve Mile Circle! Actually I did it for myself but I hope you enjoyed it too.
An obscure page on the U.S. Census Bureau website, Substantial Changes to Counties and County Equivalent Entities: 1970-Present , may not hold much interest to the general public but it’s a site that I’ve bookmarked and visit once in awhile. It’s an ongoing catalog of boundary changes that involve at least 200 people or areas larger than ten square miles. Impacts like that can be a big deal to the County Counting community.
I hadn’t gone to the page in awhile — putting it off intentionally as a matter of fact — because I knew changes had been brewing in Alaska and I just didn’t want to deal with them at the moment. I was procrastinating.
My recent visit to Alaska forced me to confront the issues though. I couldn’t generate an accurate count of my "new" boroughs (what they call counties in Alaska) without a valid baseline. Sure enough, boundary changes in the last three years impacted my map. There are two new boroughs, a few name changes, and some redrawing of lines. I’ve brought my Alaska tracking page up-to-date.
That’s not what grabbed my attention. I knew Alaska was going to require some attention. No, what surprised me was the 2007 change that took place in the Commonwealth of Virginia: a land swap involving York County and the independent City of Newport News.
View Newport News – York Co. Adjustments; twelvemilecircle.com in a larger map
Virginia has that odd system of independent cities that are considered County-Equivalents for Census purposes, and those cities have the ability to annex county lands under certain circumstances. It’s not entirely illogical to conclude that Virginia should therefore represent a disproportionate percentage of changes on the Census website. It’s also understandable that boundary adjustments might be necessary in various places around the United States simply because surveying techniques have improved. What is highly unusual, however, is a willful exchange of land between counties or equivalents for business reasons.
This was a swap. It wasn’t a straight annexation and it wasn’t a boundary adjustment intending to correct an error. Instead, York County and the City of Newport News willfully agreed to exchange separate parcels in an arrangement that became effective July 1, 2007: "a county-to-city transfer of 397.22 acres (population: 22) and a city-to-county transfer of 87.00 acres (population: 315)."
This seemed strange. I wanted to know more so I turned to the public records of both local governments. I found an explanation in the minutes of the County of York Board of Supervisors, April 17, 2007.
Mr. Carter gave a presentation on proposed Resolution R07-51 to approve a voluntary agreement of annexation and de-annexation between the County of York and the City of Newport News… he displayed a map showing the area of Newport News that would be adjusted into the County and the area would be adjusted from the County into the City. He stated the objective of the boundary line adjustment would be primarily to facilitate the construction of a road… Mr. Shepherd asked if the land picked up in the swap was on the Naval Weapons Station. Mr. Carter said that is correct, and the net change to York County would be minus 310 acres, which represents less than one-half of one percent of the county’s total land area.
I found it was a little more complicated once I dug into it further. The impetus seems to have been a housing development known as Colony Pines. A portion of it had already been completed within the boundaries of pre-2007 Newport News. Another portion remained undeveloped on the other side of the border in what was, at the time, York County. The swap allowed the entire area to fall within the City of Newport News with its higher property values, and made the parcel instantly more valuable and suitable for development. The benefiting developer, in return, agreed to pay for the construction of a vital connector road through the parcel.
- York County, by giving up the remainder of Colony Pines tract, estimated that it saved $8 – $10 million that would have been needed to construct a new elementary school upon the population of the currently empty parcel. They also picked-up a parcel on the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station with the expectation that the Navy, as has become custom in recent years, would eventually release title to the land back to the County with no strings attached.
- The City of Newport News benefited by gaining more land than it gave up, and assured the absorption of an affluent and expanding community within its boundaries.
- Both will benefit from a connector road that will relieve severe traffic pressures on both sides of the boundary once it’s completed.
That little map was actually one of the more difficult ones I’ve ever produced by the way, not because of its complexity but because it was hard to find a definitive source. Google Earth and Mapquest haven’t updated their imagery to reflect the boundary change. The websites for both jurisdiction had maps, and the one for Newport News is exceptional, but neither presented the entire picture. I had to resort to primary documentation submitted to the local Circuit Court.
I guess the only stakeholders that didn’t get much in return were those who got swapped from one jurisdiction to another. I found great concern expressed by York County for the eight families that had to be switched into Newport News. Ultimately the County believed it would be better to proceed. I didn’t hear much about the 315 residents formerly of Newport News, but they live here:
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These are residential apartments on the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station. Members of the military and their families generally retain residency in their home states during their service. Very few of these residents would be Virginia residents and even fewer of them would have any formal association either with York Co. or Newport News. Thus, even though it was a lot of people, the swap didn’t have any meaningful impact upon them. They lived on the Station before the swap, and they lived on the Station after the swap, under military jurisdiction. It was essentially a zero sum proposition for them.
That, succinctly, seems to be the logic behind the only willful exchange of meaningful county-level acreage in the United States — for reasons of convenience — in at least the last forty years.