I’ve slowly been overhauling the non-12MC part of my website — the portion for which the howderfamily.com domain was obtained long before Twelve Mile Circle became the tail wagging the dog — to upgrade to Google Maps API v3. It’s been a slow and tedious process. Recently I revisited a genealogy page I wrote about ten years ago and created a map where one hadn’t existed previously.
It reminded me that I’ve had it pretty easy when we visit the in-laws in Wisconsin, with an elapsed airtime of about an hour between airports. My ancestors undertook a journey of similar distance when they moved from Maine to Wisconsin in 1844. They seemed pretty satisfied that it took "just one month."
The family patriarch described the entire journey in a letter that he sent back to his brother in Maine. I received a copy of the letter in 2002 and wrote about it in a genealogical society journal. The resulting article is reproduced elsewhere on my site. It includes a lot of family history content so feel free to skip it. Instead I’ll focus on what will more likely interest the 12MC audience, the geography and logistics of a North American journey in the 1840′s.
View Sylvester Journey – 1844 in a larger map
I took a much closer look at the letter this time around so I could design a reasonable replica of the route. The letter contained several place names, a few actual dates, and a verifiable historic event, all of which allowed me to reconstruct a full sequence of steps including days of the week. I could determine with near certainty that the journey began on Saturday, October 5, 1844 in Phillips, Maine and concluded a month later on Tuesday, November 5 in Jamestown, Wisconsin.
Markers on the map include supporting text from the letter. Colored lines represent changes in transportation modes.
Phase I – Cart and Foot: October 5-7
The journey began by hauling family and freight down to a port. The group stopped to visit with some relatives along the way so it took three days to get to the nearest river town with ocean access. The port was just outside of Augusta, the capital city of Maine on the Kennebec River.
Phase II – Ship: October 7-8
They sailed down the Kennebec River into the Gulf of Maine, hugged the coastline and entered Massachusetts Bay. They disembarked at Boston, Massachusetts.
Phase III – Railroad: October 8-10
The Boston and Albany Railroad
SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons released to the Public Domain
The Boston and Albany Railroad received its charter in 1831 and laid track westward in phases. One could travel the entire route between the two cities by rail beginning in 1841. The family took early advantage of this transportation leap to shorten its movement across Massachusetts.
The letter never mentioned a railroad although no other feasible method could have covered the same distance in a similar amount of time. It referenced a three hour segment between Boston and Worcester for example, a distance of 46 miles. A stagecoach would have averaged 5 miles per hour. A typical speed for a train in the early 1840′s would have been about 10 to 20 miles per hour.
A rail line existed, the speed of motion matched historical averages for trains of that period, and towns mentioned in the letter (where the family stopped) mirrored the Boston and Albany Railroad route.
Phase IV – Canal Boat: October 11-18
SOURCE: Flickr by USACE Buffalo via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license
Erie Canal Boat Replica
Nothing moved faster overland than a railroad but routes were still a novelty in the early 1840′s. Rail hadn’t become a ubiquitous form of transportation like it would a couple of decades later so the family had to find another option. Waterways were still the superhighways of the era, and New York had a great one: the 363 mile (584 km) Erie Canal which opened in 1825.
It took the group a full week to cross New York. That duration was consistent with Erie Canal averages, where boats traveled at about 4 miles per hour (6.5 kph), with rest stops and additional time to traverse dozens of locks that often became choke points.
In one of life’s odd coincidences, my mother’s side of the family (in a canal boat) and my father’s side of the family (farmers living near Lockport) came within amazingly close proximity of each other on or around the evening of Thursday, October 17, 1844 — literally a "ship that passed in the night." The families wouldn’t get another chance for more than a hundred years and in a completely different location.
The canal boat docked in Buffalo, New York on the shores of Lake Erie.
Phase V – Great Lakes Steamship: October 21-26
The Great Lakes Steamship Great Western – 1838
Once again it was logical that the family would take advantage of a waterway. The first commercial steamboat services began in the first decades of the 19th Century and were quite common by the 1840′s. The Great Lakes were filled with them.
Here the family narrowly averted a calamity. They had the misfortune to arrive in Buffalo on the afternoon of Friday, October 18. Four steamships were ready to set sail that evening but they were already crowded with passengers. The family wasn’t in a hurry so they decided to wait until the next morning. A huge storm with hurricane-force winds hit that night and lasted into the following day, a storm so severe that it is still recorded in history as the Lower Great Lakes Storm of 1844.
As described in the History of the Great Lakes, Chapter 36:
For several days before the occurrence of the flood a strong north-east wind had been driving the water up the lake, but on the evening of the 18th a sudden shift of the wind took place, and it blew from the opposite direction with a tremendous force, never before or since known to the inhabitants of Buffalo. It brought with it immense volumes of water, which overflowed the lower districts of the city and vicinity, demolishing scores of buildings, and spreading ruin along the harbor front, playing havoc with shipping, and causing an awful destruction of human life.
The family escaped unscathed and was able to resume its journey the following Monday on the steamship Great Western. It took less than a week to arrive in Chicago.
Phase VI – Cart and Foot: October 30-November 5
The family decided to rent a hotel room and rest in Chicago for four days. Then they purchased "a wagon and a span of horses" and continued onward for the final leg of the journey. It took 6 days to cover approximately 180 miles (290 km) to their new home, so about 30 miles (48 km) per day which was described as "the most fatiguing and expensive of our journey."
The family arrived in Jamestown, Wisconsin, their final destination, pretty much exactly a month after they left Phillips, Maine.
I’ll keep that in mind the next time I fly up to Wisconsin and complain about an airport weather delay.
Checkerboarding has nothing to do with the game of checkers other than bearing a striking resemblance to its playing surface. Nor is it some awful new interrogation technique invented to pry information from suspects under duress.
It is this.
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I discovered the anomaly on Google Maps in Oregon awhile ago while discussing Latitude Longitude Sequences and dismissed it as a probable error. Not so fast, replied a couple of contributors in the article comments. Reader Craig observed that the checkerboard phenomenon has been superimposed upon the physical terrain and reader Page noted correctly that it originated as a result of 19th Century railroading.
Simply explained, the government was rich in land but poor in cash, hoping to construct a transcontinental railroad while devoting significant resources to fighting a Civil War already underway. That railroad would finally stretch across the nation in 1869 when the Union Pacific met the Central Pacific at Utah’s Promontory Summit (my visit). The government dangled a carrot in front of the railroads to keep the construction going. It offering several miles of land on either side of the tracks (the amount varied over time), replicating a process that had been used further east with some success. It wouldn’t be a single, solid ribbon of land overlaying the tracks, however. It was a patchwork of every-other block of one square mile.
SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.
Notice the resulting pattern, akin to a checkerboard, and thus the name.
Why would a government create such an odd situation? It felt that railroads could sell the land to finance construction and underwrite future operations and maintenance. Undoubtedly the value of the land would rise over time because of its proximity to the emerging rail lines. Towns would form at transportation hubs. Farms would sprout around them. Everyone would be happy and prosper. The government wanted a piece of the windfall so it retained half of the squares, intending to sell its parcels as settlers moved west along the lines.
It didn’t turn out quite as expected. The land wasn’t all that great, settlers didn’t have much money and many of the parcels remained unsold. The government eventually doubled the land grants just to keep the railroads motivated. This resulted in huge 40-mile wide (64 km) checkerboard gashes criss-crossing the nation. The railroads sold much of their land over time, often to timber companies wherever routes snaked through the western mountains. The government also sold parcels when it could find a willing buyer, gave a bunch away to homesteaders for free, and allotted other portions to Indian reservations. Much of the rest of the government’s share remained public space eventually falling within the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management.
Amazingly, these railroad incentives created more than a century and a half ago continue to be visible upon the terrain today. That’s what I’d stumbled across accidentally in the earlier article.
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Observe the boundaries within the checkerboard patterns in the Siuslaw National Forest in satellite view. Feel free to toggle back-and-forth between map and satellite and notice how they match.
I found an even better example:
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This instance occurs near Snoqualmie Pass in Washington. The square, characteristically one mile on each side, has been clear-cut logged. The lush green area surrounding it is National Forest. It’s that stark. Squares unsold by the government were protected. The others owned by railroads were either leased or sold to logging companies and were harvested.
SOURCE: Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians
Native Americans got a pretty raw deal too. Imagine a reservation where every-other-parcel was owned by an outsider. The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians were one leading example of a checkerboarded tribal nation:
All even-numbered sections and all unsurveyed portions of Township 4 South, Ranges 4 and 5 East, and Township 5 South, Range 4 East, San Bernardino Meridian, were added to the Reservation, except Sections 16 and 36 and any tract the title to which had passed out of the U. S. Government. The Government had previously given the odd-numbered sections to the railroad in the early 1870s as an incentive to build a cross-country rail line… On a combined basis, the Tribe and its members currently represent Palm Springs’ largest single landowner.
At least it may have work out for them, eventually. I looked at maps of Palm Springs and noticed that many of the golf courses and resorts there are located on Agua Caliente property. I imagine they’d rather have a contiguous reservation along with that, though.
Environmentalist don’t much like checkerboarding. It makes it very difficult to protect swaths of sensitive land since people who own private parcels are guaranteed access to them across the public spaces. Hunters don’t much like the situation either. It causes lots of confusion as they try to remain on BLM parcels and wrestle with whether it’s legal to jump from corner-to-corner, staying on BLM land while avoiding private land. Apparently corner hopping is not allowed, a situation that seems to favor those who own private parcels (with guaranteed access) over those who wish to use public land (and cannot corner hop).
An incentive program failed in the 19th Century and the nation continues to deal with the mess.
A tip of the keyboard to the Basement Geographer who is taking a (hopefully brief) break from writing. The Basement Geographer is one of my personal favorites and I never miss an article. Thank you for all of your great work over the years, Kyle.
Loyal reader Mr. Burns pointed out that my intended Dust Bowl route will traverse a psuedo-geo-oddity, moving from Central Time to Mountain time heading due north. That happens in other places sporadically, although not as rarely as moving east from Mountain Time into Pacific Time for example. One can’t be too choosy in this depopulated corner of the nation so I will take what I can get. Mildly unusual works for me.
The whole concept of Mountain Time in Kansas feels strange. Maybe it’s the name. The thought of referencing jagged peaks to a Great Plains state like Kansas seemed alien and out of place. Nonetheless, four of Kansas’ 105 counties on its westernmost edge do in fact observe Mountain Time, and there were many others that did the same in previous decades.
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Most interstate travelers probably enter Mountain Time in Kansas while driving along Interstate 70, about 35 miles before they hit Colorado. Look closely at the image and notice the green sign announcing the change. Mountain Time intrudes into Sherman, Wallace, Greeley and Hamilton Counties. I will likely clip only the southernmost of those counties, namely Hamilton. Even the small rural road I plan to use appears to have a time zone notice (street view) so it shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Time Zones are defined in Title 49 of the United States Code of Federal Regulations, which deals with Transportation. That’s an historical artifact reaching back to the rise of railroads dependent upon standard times to define passenger and freight schedules. According to the Department of Transportation, standard times were created in 1883 (and each location could select its preferred time), then switched to Federal oversight in 1918 via the Interstate Commerce Commission, and finally shifted to the Department of Transportation in 1966 upon its creation.
49 CFR 71.1 clearly defines the Kansan portion of Mountain Time for those who simply must know the pertinent details.
(d) Kansas-Colorado. From the junction of the west line of Hitchcock County, Nebraska, with the Nebraska-Kansas boundary westerly along that boundary to the northwest corner of the State of Kansas; thence southerly along Kansas-Colorado boundary to the north line of Sherman County, Kansas; thence easterly along the north line of Sherman County to the east line of Sherman County; thence southerly along the east line of Sherman County to the north line of Logan County; thence westerly along the north line of Logan County to the east line of Wallace County; thence southerly along the east line of Wallace County to the north line Wichita County; thence westerly along the north line of Wichita County; thence westerly along the north line of Wichita County to the east line of Greeley County; thence southerly along the east lines of Greeley County and Hamilton Counties; thence westerly along the south line of Hamilton County to the Kansas-Colorado boundary; thence southerly along the Kansas Colorado boundary to the junction of that boundary with the north boundary of the State of Oklahoma.
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Consult a map and it’s easy to understand why a few Kansas counties continue to cling to mountain time.
Goodland, Kansas, a town within Mountain Time and sitting astride I-70 is located 200 miles (322 km) east of Denver, the capital of neighboring Colorado. Likewise, Goodland is 344 miles (554 km) west of Topeka, the capital of Kansas, and 406 miles (653 km) from the state’s largest metropolitan area, Kansas City. Clearly Goodland had an incentive to skew towards Denver rather than Kansas City. Nonetheless the bump can lead to time confusion. The best, in fact the only article I found that addressed this situation came from the Rocky Mountain News in 2008 — "Clock Change a Daily Challenge in Part of Kansas." It’s worth a read.
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Mountain Time in Kansas shifted farther west over the past century. It used to run much closer to the 100th Meridian, a traditional division between east and west not only in the United States but also in Canada. Notice the current area of Kansas in Mountain Time (shaded) versus the boundaries recognized by various railroads in 1908, the black lines. Railroads focused on their tracks and not on the surrounding countryside so it’s difficult to reconstruct an exact historical time zone boundary line. The dark horizontal lines should be viewed as rough approximations exaggerated in length to enhance visibility.
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Dodge City was one of those places on the boundary a hundred years ago. The town and its residents observed Central Time, which was their prerogative during the period before Federal oversight. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad defined time a little differently. They drew a line precisely through the Dodge City railway station. Trains heading east from this point recognized Central Time. Trains heading west recognized Mountain Time. The railroad constructed two large decorative sundials on either side of the figurative line to recognize the distinction, a visual reminder to passengers and crew alike. Those some sundials still stand at the station today, recently restored, a relic of a period when Mountain Time cut much deeper into Kansas. Both sundials appear in the satellite image.
I couldn’t find a photo with a Creative Commons license to embed on this page so feel free to open a new tab to view one on Flickr. They wanted to charge $35 for a license to embed it here. Sheesh!
The momentum is pushing all of Kansas into Central Time although the four holdout counties don’t seem to be in much of a hurry.
I know there are a couple of beer geeks in the audience. You may want to check out my Findery post about my recent visit to the smallest brewery I’ve ever seen.