Counting West Virginia, Day 2 (Progress)

On October 20, 2016 · 0 Comments

The rain that began the previous afternoon continued all night. It lifted, however, just as we began the first full day of our adventure. I probably would have headed to Pittsburgh’s two famous funiculars, the Duquesne Incline and the Monongahela Incline had I been alone. However I had my older son with me so I made a concession. He loved zoos and I wanted him to enjoy the trip too.

Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium

Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium

I can take-or-leave zoos although I admitted that the one in Pittsburgh was better than many we’ve seen. We arrived just as the gates opened at 9:00 am, the very first people admitted for the day. We toured the grounds mostly by ourselves that first hour. Many of the animals got their first meal right around opening so we managed to see most of them awake and active. The zoo also featured an aquarium, one of the few in the nation including both attractions in the same park. Naturally we saw every single exhibit in excruciating detail. I never complained as I kept up my best Good Dad behavior. I knew I’d bore him later with some of my geo-geek sites. We finally ran out of animals after about four hours.

My son felt happy to add another zoo map to his growing collection.

Onward to the Panhandle

Now I could focus on the real meat of the adventure, heading towards West Virginia’s northern panhandle to capture some new counties. I’d planned a short, simple drive for the day since I knew the zoo visit would consume a big chunk of it. First we hit Brooke County as we entered West Virginia on US Route 22. Then the highway took a slight northern jog near downtown Weirton, just nicking Hancock County before crossing back into Brooke and shooting across the Ohio River into Jefferson County, Ohio. I snagged three new counties in about five minutes. My elapsed time in Hancock lasted less than thirty seconds. It still counted!

I’ve been thinking about reader Brad Keller’s comment on my recent Northern Panhandle of West Virginia article. He said he’d heard that Weirton (map) might be the "the only city in the US that touched both the Eastern and Western border of their state." Reader January First-of-May offered Juneau, Alaska as another possibility, an option that I also considered. The Cairo, Illinois suggestion, however, hadn’t come to my mind and I thought it might be legitimate. I also thought of Laughlin, Nevada (map) bordering on California and Arizona. If I wanted to cheat I might also suggest the city of Washington in the District of Columbia. The boundaries were made coterminous in 1871, so by definition Washington touched all of the District’s borders.

Wheeling Our Car Down to Wheeling

Wheeling West Virginia Suspension Bridge
Wheeling Suspension Bridge
via Google Street View, October 2015

We remained on the Ohio side of the river on Route 7 — part of the Ohio River Scenic Byway — until to just outside of Wheeling. We crossed back into West Virginia, choosing to drive over the historic Wheeling Suspension Bridge (map) rather than using the standard Interstate Highway crossing. It was the largest suspension bridge in the world when constructed in 1849. Obviously the original designers didn’t envision vehicles heavier than horse-drawn wagons when they built it. That meant tight traffic controls in modern times: no trucks, buses or trailers. Cars needed to maintain 50 foot intervals. Traffic lights at either end restricted the number of cars on each pass. We crossed without any trouble in our little sedan.


West Virginia Independence Hall

The day went so well that we had time stop at West Virginia Independence Hall (map), a place that I mentioned previously. This time I could use one of my own photos in the article. Visitors guided themselves through the building although the docent offered a suggestion: start in the basement, take the elevator to the third floor and work back down to the first. That sounded fine so we started in the basement with an introductory video recounting how West Virginia became a state in 1863. I knew the story already so I spent more time paying attention to the actors than the events portrayed. The video must have been filmed in the late 1970’s because the hairy, bearded men all looked like the Bee Gees circa Saturday Night Fever. The women all sported poofy manes of that same era. The production values reminded me of a vintage episode of Little House on the Prairie. What was it about again?

The rest of the tour unfolded much more routinely. The third floor recreated the original courtroom where leaders of the day discussed their break from Virginia. The second floor contained an exhibit of various Civil War battle flags, and the first floor held all of their permanent exhibits. The restoration faithfully replicated every detail. Despite its historical significance, the building was allowed to fall into total disrepair in the Twentieth Century. It became a decayed hulk by the 1960’s. The restoration took decades, finally completed only a few years ago.

Stay tuned for more adventures in this series.

Counting West Virginia, Day 1 (Let’s Begin)

On October 16, 2016 · 0 Comments

I don’t feature the most obvious geo-oddities of the United States anymore unless I plan to actually visit them in person. Perhaps a few longtime Twelve Mile Circle readers noticed the foreshadowing when I discussed the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia a few days ago. Maybe others saw photos I began to post on the 12MC Twitter account. Clearly, I intended to focus some personal love and attention on that northernmost pinnacle of the Mountain State.

The Premise

Route Through West Virginia

The Columbus Day weekend offered an ideal opportunity to fill-in some nearby blanks on my county counting map. I finished Virginia a few months ago so maybe West Virginia would be the next logical target. I wouldn’t be able to complete it in a single long weekend although I could certainly take a chunk out of it. Originally I intended to head out onto the highways on my own. However, my older son also had a 3-day weekend and he decided to tag along. I warned him that the trip would long drives, random geo-oddities and obscure historical sites. He seemed fine with it so I started pulling together my plans and the route.

We would head first up to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to get some miles behind us. From there we would head to the northern tip of West Virginia and turn south, zigzagging across the Ohio River valley, capturing counties on both sides. We would then proceed east across West Virginia filling a couple of doughnut holes, and head home. I could capture 10 new counties if all went according to plan. That happened for the most part.

The Trip Began

The only difficulty took place on the first leg of our road trip. We couldn’t leave until afternoon. Traffic near Washington, DC rarely goes well under the best of circumstances. Friday afternoon on a 3-day weekend, well, that was practically a guaranteed disaster. We suffered through stop-and-go traffic on the Beltway, then on Interstate 270, and all the way west out to Hagerstown, a distance of 70 miles (115 kilometers). The road opened up as we moved deeper into Maryland and north towards the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Clouds started moving it. We ran into the very outermost bands of Hurricane Matthew, many hundreds of miles from the worst parts of the storm. It rained the remainder of the drive to Pittsburgh and indeed throughout the night. Driving the Pennsylvania Turnpike through the western part of the state is never easy, with its twisting lanes and narrow shoulders over the mountains. Throw in heavy rain, road spray and lots of trucks and it became quite the nail-biting experience.

First Leg Done

A four hour drive took five and a half hours. I needed a beer after that.

Church Brew Works

We headed straight to Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh. We didn’t even bother to stop at the hotel to check in first. Nope. I definitely needed that beer. I’d been wanting to go to Church Brew Works for awhile so it was nice to finally check it out in person. The place drew quite a crowd on a Friday evening and we arrived just in time to get what appeared to be the last table available. Our luck changed from that moment forward. We found only smooth sailing for the rest of our expedition.

West Virginia County Outline Map

My West Virginia county map showed only six counties remaining once I completed the trip. They aligned in a nice belt through the middle of the state. Maybe I could finish West Virginia with one final push? It certainly seems doable. If anyone comes back to this page in the distant future (I’m posting this in October 2016) and notices the blanks filled, it means I’ve succeeded.

Stay tuned for more adventures in this series.

Weird Place Names Kept Coming

On August 14, 2016 · 0 Comments

I found myself in familiar territory once again, with an overflowing backlog of article ideas. That signaled time for another round of house cleaning. In the past I’d featured weird place names that I’d encountered while I searched for other topics. Then I focused on More Weird Place Names and finally Even More Weird Place Names. I thought I could build upon that theme while cutting down the pile. Those weird place names just kept coming.


First I decided to take care of some unfinished business left over from the previous effort. Reader "Kiru" said, "Just a suggestion for the next one – there’s a small village near me in Devon, England called Woolfardisworthy. As weird of a name that is, the pronunciation is even worse!"

That sounded intriguing. The next opportunity arrived today so I decided to check it out. Also I couldn’t even imagine how to pronounce it. I considered I’d probably butcher it with my mid-Atlantic American accent even if I knew. Fortunately things like YouTube existed and I found my answer easily enough. Kiru knew the deal. Woolfardisworthy, when spoken through the mouths of local residents came out something similar to Woolsery.

I solved that mystery quicker than I expected although I encountered something more unusual in the process. Two towns with that same strange name existed in Devon. Was the town Kiru referenced located in mid Devon (map) or north Devon (map). They sat about 48 miles (78 kilometres) apart map.

Their history also intertwined. According to Tour Devon, the name came from the Saxon language meaning Wulfheard’s homestead, "denoting the fact that the village was probably originally founded in 680 when the Saxon Abbot Wulfheard of Crediton was granted two manors." I figured the one in north Devon in the Torridge district was probably the right one. It seemed to be the larger of the two manors granted to the awesomely named Wulfheard of Crediton.

Neversink River

Neversink River
Neversink River. Photo by Ted Kerwin on Flickr (cc)

The buoyancy on the Neversink River must be amazing. I supposed someone could fall overboard and literally never sink. Nobody needed life jackets. What magical properties existed in the waters of New York? I pondered that notion as I drove across the Neversink on the way to New England recently. The river stretched about 55 miles (89 km), flowing past Port Jervis before joining the Delaware River. It served as one of the important water sources for New York City, dammed to form the Neversink Reservoir in 1950 (map).

The etymology remained uncertain although it most certainly did not come from the English words Never and Sink, sad to say. It likely passed down from the original Native American inhabitants speaking an Algonquin language. The Intertubes offered various theories and translations. Many of them converged on Mad River or Wild River, or variations on that theme. European settlers Anglicized the phrase into something more familiar that they could actually pronounce.

Nanty Glo

Nanty Glo...
Nanty Glo. Photo by Natalie Litz on Flickr (cc)

I’d seen Nanty-Glo spelled with a hyphen and Nanty Glo without, so I consulted the Geographic Names Information Center. That hardly cleared up the situation, however. According to the US Geological Survey, the hyphen should be used when referring to the Borough of Nanty-Glo and dropped for the Town of Nanty Glo. Either way, they both designated the same basic area in western Pennsylvania (map). The name intertwined with the history and geology of the underlying terrain. Local mountains contained large coal deposits that people began to mine in the Nineteenth Century. Immigrant from Wales — another area with a rich coal mining tradition — brought much of the mining knowledge and labor. Thus the name came from the Welsh language, Nant Y Glo, meaning a ravine, brook or valley of coal.

A similarly-named town of Nantyglo also existed in Wales (map).


Ixonia, Wisconsin
Ixonia, Wisconsin. Photo by Christopher Paquette on Flickr (cc)

I’ve driven between Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin on Interstate 94 more times than I can probably count. I always wondered about the town behind the exit sign for Ixonia (map). Did it reference a fascination with the number nine, from the Roman numeral IX? No, actually it reflected pure happenstance when a dispute arose as the township formed. According to the Town of Ixonia,

To simplify matters it was agreed upon to put the letters of the alphabet on slips of paper and have young Mary Piper draw them until a name could be formed. As the result, "Ixonia" was the name given town 8 on January 21, 1846, and remains the only town bearing this name in the United States.

Thankfully, young Mary Piper selected a random combination that everyone found acceptable. She could have done a whole lot worse as she averted a crises single-handedly. However I still remained skeptical. If Ixonia began life as Town 8 wouldn’t it make sense to name it sequentially the next time, as IX?

Geo-geek conspiracy theory!

Programming Note

I’ve published Twelve Mile Circle on a Sunday morning / Wednesday evening schedule for awhile. I now have a weekly Wednesday evening activity that complicates things so I plan to post on Thursday evenings instead. Don’t panic when nothing appears on Wednesday. 12MC isn’t going away!

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