Any Excuse for a Road Trip, Part 1 (The Premise)

On April 23, 2017 · 3 Comments

People following Twelve Mile Circle’s Twitter account knew something must be happening. Suddenly tweets tagged to places like Ste. Genevieve and Cape Girardeau in Missouri began to appear on my feed just before Easter. I hadn’t announced the trip ahead of time although I’d been planning it for several weeks.

I’ve been aiding and abetting my wife’s scheme to run a race in all 50 states for quite awhile. Now she wanted to add Missouri, otherwise she’d face an alarmingly obvious Midwestern doughnut hole by the end of the summer. That seemed like a great excuse for me to do some exploring, and I hatched a crazy plan. I had to work most of the week so I’d fly to St. Louis on Friday morning to meet my wife who’d already be there, then we’d drive to Cape Girardeau to be ready for the race the following morning. After the race we’d drive as far as the middle of Ohio, stay overnight, then drive the rest of the way home to Virginia to celebrate Easter with family. A two-day road trip covering a thousand miles (1,600 km) plus a half-marathon, then dealing with dysfunctional relatives? What didn’t sound great about that?


Breaking it Down


Route from Missouri
The Route. New Counties in Dark Blue

All reservations melted away when I discovered that I could tweak the route and add 19 new counties on Saturday while driving only 20 minutes extra. I could also grab five new Missouri counties on Friday. My county counting list would jump by 24 over the course of a single weekend. I plotted a route on the special Mob Rule page that I use for experiments. Previously unvisited counties appeared on my map in dark blue while those I’d visited before appeared in light blue.

I didn’t have a lot of time to play around so the preponderance of new pickups would have to be Interstate Highway counties. That seemed a fair trade-off. I needed to capture them eventually so I might as well take advantage of the opportunity now. The basic route left Missouri, went over to Interstate 57 in Illinois, then to I-64 crossing Indiana, leading to I-71 in Kentucky and Ohio, then on to I-70 heading east out of Ohio, and finally home.

I also added a couple of new "overnight" counties; Cape Girardeau, Missouri and Muskingum County, Ohio . I considered those new members of the gold standard of county county visits. In my mind, staying overnight added a much higher level of prestige and credibility to a capture than simply crossing the border for literally a few seconds as happened with some of the others. I’ve now completed an overnight in 227 counties. I don’t think I could ever finish that odd quest though. It would take 8.6 years to spend the night in every county if I slept in a different one every night until completed. I’m not nearly that obsessive.


Jogging Not Racing


County Jogs
Jogging to Counties

The racing would take place on Saturday morning on foot. However, that still left plenty of time for jogging, and definitely not the kind on foot. Those involved little jogs that I took as we leveraged our proximity to snag a handful of additional counties. Two of those happened on Friday. With minor detours, really just a couple of miles out of the way, I captured Bollinger and Scott Counties in Missouri. The next day I took a similar short diversion and captured Hamilton County, Illinois. As I said to my son, "it would be a crime to come so close to (Bollinger/Scott/Hamilton) and not cross the border." The family collectively rolled their eyes even though I knew they’d appreciate it someday.

Oh, I guess I forgot to mention that the kids participated in this adventure too. They were on spring break from school so mom drove out with them to St. Louis. They took a nice, leisurely route getting there and then they went sightseeing for a few days. Their friends all went to Florida or the Caribbean or Europe, while they had to go county counting in the Heartland. I’m sure their therapist somewhere in the distant future will get an earful. Whatever.

My county counting total stood at 1,390 (or 44.2% of all counties in the United States) as the trip concluded.


Uh Oh, Doughnut Hole


County Left Behind
Pulaski County, Illinois – Doughnut Hole

Solving one problem can sometimes create other problems, and that happened here too. My frenzied pace and inability to deviate much from the most efficient route created a clearly visible doughnut hole. Someday, and I don’t know when, I will need to return to this area to cross the border into Pulaski County, Illinois. However, it will have to stand alone at least for the foreseeable future. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll find myself unexpectedly near the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers again. I never expected a second opportunity only three years after my original visit to the area. Lightning could strike a third time.


Any Excuse for a Road Trip articles:

Centers of Michigan

On December 8, 2016 · 2 Comments

For once I wasn’t looking for the geographic center of something, as problematic as that could be given various definitions. Not in Michigan. And for the record, the town of St. Louis claimed to be the "middle of the mitten." It moved to a spot a few miles north-northwest of Cadillac taking the Upper Peninsula into account. However, that was beside the point. Instead I came across two Michigan place names while searching for completely different things. Their similarities deserved closer scrutiny.

Center Line



Center Line, Michigan

Actually I started by investigating Warren, Michigan and I noticed a hole. A big one. A nice rectangle right in the middle of it (map). Naturally I drilled down and discovered the town of Center Line. The much larger city of Warren completely surrounded it. Center Line described itself as "a small close-knit community of 8,257 residents… nestled inside the state’s 3rd largest city"

Warren and Center Line both began as villages in a rural corner of Macomb County. However, Center Line incorporated first, becoming a city in 1936. Warren also started growing rapidly around that same time. Warren Township minus Center Line incorporated as a city in 1957. It simply exploded in population to the point that it completely overshadowed Center Line over the next couple of decades.

I also wondered about the name. There didn’t seem to be any line and it certainly didn’t seem to be the center of anything other than the city of Warren itself, which it predated anyway. The town’s website mentioned "several theories" which also meant nobody really knew the answer. The most plausible explanation seemed to be,

There were three Indian trails leading from the fort at Detroit to other trading posts in the northern wilderness. The first was the river trail which followed the river and ended at Port Huron; the second was the Saginaw trail and ended at Mackinaw at the Straits of Mackinaw. Through the center of the two trails, the Indians had beaten a trail which followed the "center line" [as observed] by the French.

The trail became Sherwood Avenue (map).


Michigan Center



Michigan Center, Michigan

Later I also discovered Michigan Center. Center Line and Michigan Center fell nowhere near each other. A good 85 miles (140 kilometres) separated them. Nonetheless finding a second Center in Michigan excited me. It doesn’t take much to get me going.

The name derived from the Michigan Meridian. Benjamin Hough surveyed the meridian in 1815, marking 84° 21′ 53″ west longitude. Settlers then moved into the area and platted Michigan Center a few years later in 1837. However, the meridian didn’t pass directly through Michigan Center. I measured it. The meridian ran between Michigan Center and the neighboring town of Jackson. I guess they figured it was close enough. Who would really know? Seriously.


Fort Defiance


Fort Defiance,  Defiance Ohio
Fort Defiance, Defiance Ohio. Photo by Tim Tonjes on Flickr (cc)

Then I went down a little tangent. I wondered why Hough followed such an odd longitude when he surveyed the Michigan Meridian. The line actually pointed farther south into a neighboring state. There stood Fort Defiance at the confluence of the Auglaize and Maumee Rivers (map). A town called Defiance, Ohio later grew up there.

General "Mad" Anthony Wayne built Fort Defiance in 1794.

Following the Battle of Fallen Timbers, Wayne utilized Fort Defiance as his base of operations. He ordered the destruction of all American Indian villages and crops within a fifty-mile radius of the fort… Until the War of 1812, Fort Defiance served as one of America’s western-most outposts in the Ohio Country and helped protect local citizens from American Indian attacks…

Fort Defiance also figured in the 1807 Treaty of Detroit. The United States negotiated the treaty with several Native American tribes, namely the Chippewa, Ottawa, Potawatomi and Wyandot. Land to the east of a line drawn due north of Fort Defiance came under American control. That’s why Hough needed to survey that line. It served briefly as an international boundary.

Misplaced Romans

On November 13, 2016 · 2 Comments

The Geographic Names Information System listed 94 populated places in the United States called Rome. I figured maybe some should exist in other nations that created a bunch of new places around that same time period. Alas, I didn’t find any such places in Canada, South Africa, Australia or New Zealand. Why Rome seemed so popular in the U.S. (and only the U.S) remained a mystery. I still enjoyed a peek at some of the more engaging Romans of the New World.

Rome, Georgia


Americana - Romulus and Remus in Rome Georgia
Romulus and Remus in Rome Georgia. Photo by Lee LeFever on Flickr (cc)

Americans of European descent began to push into northwestern Georgia in the 1830’s, displacing native Cherokee. One group settled at the confluence of the Etowah and Oostanaula Rivers, at the beginning of the Coosa River. This would be a perfect spot to gather locally-grown cotton and move it downriver to Mobile Bay, to a port on the Gulf of Mexico. They needed a name. Five men placed their choices in a hat; Hamburg, Pittsburg, Warsaw, Hillsboro and Rome. Obviously someone pulled out Rome, and that’s the name that stuck starting in 1834. Rome had seven hills just like its more famous namesake in Italy. That seemed to be the only reason.

Rome suffered the effects of the Civil War like many Georgian towns. I decided to skip forward in time instead and focus on its odd fascist connection.

Rome’s Statue

City officials placed the Capitolene Wolf nursing Romulus and Remus in front of City Hall (map). It faithfully replicated the original at the Pallazio Del Conservatori in Rome (map). That made sense.

Roman legend held that a wolf suckled the abandoned twins Romulus and Remus. As adults they quarreled about where to found a new city. Romulus killed Remus and named the new city after himself. The statue of the Capitolene Wolf commemorated what I’d guess might have been a happier time in their lives.

Officials in Georgia did not commission the statue. It came as a gift. The American Cotillion Company decided to build a rayon factory in the city. However, it didn’t do it all on its own. It formed a joint venture with an Italian company. The statue came courtesy of Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in 1929, arriving "as a forecast of prosperity and glory… from Ancient Rome to New Rome."

Rome removed the statue in 1940 and flew an American flag in its place during the Second World War. It didn’t reappear until 1952.


Rome, New York


Fort Stanwix
Fort Stanwix. Photo by Anne White on Flickr (cc)

Rome also sprouted in New York in the mid-19th Century although its history of settlement went back a century earlier. The Jervis Public Library in Rome offered an interesting explanation for the name.

There are several theories as to how Rome, New York got its name; none of them are definitive… The name, "Rome," apparently first had been applied to the township to which the village belonged. The township was formed in 1796 from Steuben township, and named "Rome" as part of what is now called the Classical Naming Period, a time when upstate New York communities were being named after classical European cities. This type of naming was, for some reason, a popular trend at the time.

Rome’s Portage

Once again I decided to skip a bunch of history and focus on a single narrow era. Rome existed for a very specific reason. It stood at the point of the Oneida Carry (aka the Great Carrying Place). Here, only a couple of miles separated the Atlantic watershed from the Great Lakes watershed. Traders and trappers used the portage as a way to connect the English colonies to a distant frontier hundreds of miles inland, deep within the North American continent. The St. Lawrence River — much farther north — wouldn’t be practical for merchants in New York City. Their emissaries paddled up the Hudson River to the Mohawk. There they portaged over the Oneida Carry to Wood Creek then paddled onward to Oneida Lake, the Oswego River and finally to the Great Lakes themselves.

European troops battled over this spot repeatedly. The English built Fort Stanwix (map) there to protect it during the French and Indian War. Britain and the new United States clashed at the Oneida Carry during the Revolutionary War, and Americans fortified it during the War of 1812. It became obsolete overnight during the canal era a couple of decades later. Rome became just another port along a canal and nobody needed a portage anymore.


New Rome, Ohio


Speed Trap
Speed Trap. Photo by – POD – on Flickr (cc)

Why would I include New Rome, Ohio on this list (map)? It didn’t have the name recognition of the others and it didn’t even exist anymore. History at this location came much later, a brief period from its founding in 1947 to its dissolution in 2004. The village never covered more than a few blocks on a 12 acre footprint. Yet it held a dark secret.

It’s population fell from 111 in 1990 all the way down to 60 in the next census a decade later. People grew disgusted with the clan that controlled New Rome and the police force that relentlessly harassed residents and visitors alike. Car and Driver called it a Town Without Pity.

New Rome didn’t have much of a tax base although it straddled a major road for a quarter mile. There it created one of the most notorious speed traps in the nation, generating nearly $400,000 a year at its height. The speed limit dropped suddenly at the village border so police could catch "speeders." A stoplight gave them time to check everyone else for a laundry list of petty violations like dirty license plates. Nearly everyone in power was related by blood or by marriage and money collected had a habit of disappearing.

New Rome’s Demise

It got so bad that Ohio passed a narrowly-tailored law that allowed the dissolution of very small towns with few public services and repeated instances of malfeasance. As memorialized by New Rome Sucks,

The village of New Rome died abandoned and alone on September 9th, 2004. Born in 1947 it has been a source of corruption and abuse for many years and will never be missed. Funeral will be held on September 18th. The procession will start at 2:00pm in the old Kroger parking lot and will be lead by Jim Bussey and the New Rome Sucks Crew.

Thus came the fall of the inglorious New Roman Empire.

Purpose
12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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