Counting West Virginia, Day 4 (Oddities)

Every trip seemed to end too quickly. We soon hit the final leg of our northern West Virginia odyssey and headed home. Two uncaptured counties remained on the itinerary, Taylor and Tucker. They formed doughnut holes on my map and they needed to be removed. Oh, how I hated those little white splotches. That completely irrational itch directed my motivation during the waning hours.

This also set a course for an amazing array of roadside attractions and geo-oddities. They clustered near a spot where West Virginia met the southwestern corner of Maryland’s westernmost county. That would be the "Middle of Nowhere" in layman’s terms.

Smallest Church?

Our Lady of the Pines

Our Lady of the Pines Catholic Church sat just south of Silver Lake, West Virginia (map). Who could possibly pass up an opportunity to see the "Smallest Church in 48 States?" Lots of people probably, although not me and not on this day. I’ve always been a sucker for oddball attractions.

It definitely fit the definition of small, measuring only 12 by 24 feet (3.6 X 7.3 metres). The interior made room for about a dozen parishioners plus an officiant. It even featured a complete Stations of the Cross with each station separated by barely a few inches. The caretakers deserved credit for creating an inspirational space on such a tiny scale.

I wondered about the 48 states. A plaque on an exterior wall provided a possible explanation: Mr. and Mrs. P. L. Milkint dedicated Our Lady of the Pines to the memory of their parents in 1958. That predated statehood for Alaska and Hawaii so maybe they never updated their claim when the number of states changed. Did it hold water? Not even close. Many houses of worship made similar boasts and several existed within smaller footprints. Nonetheless, it was a very small church in a gorgeous setting along our direct path and certainly deserved a stop.

Smallest Mailing Office?

Smallest Mailing Office

Besides, Our Lady of Pines features a bonus attraction. Just behind it stood the "World’s Smallest Mailing Office." I went inside. It featured a service window and a number of personal mailboxes, a mail slot and everything else one would expected in a post office all stuffed into a compact space (photo). However, it didn’t register as the smallest postal facility even in the United States. That honor fell to Ochopee, Florida as described in an earlier Twelve Mile Circle article, Going Postal.

I think Mr. and Mrs. P. L. Milkint simply liked to build miniature structures. I could appreciate that. People might not stop if the sign simply said "smallish church and post office."

Maryland Highpoint

Hoye-Crest, Maryland Highpoint

Less than a mile farther south on US Route 219, the highway shoulder widened where a sign marked a trailhead. We were in West Virginia, however the trail lead to the Maryland highpoint at Hoye-Crest, 3,360 feet (1,020 m). Oddly, the greatest elevation in Maryland could be approached best from a neighboring state. The path followed old logging roads across private property to the top of Backbone Mountain, then followed the ridge into Maryland to the highpoint (map). It wasn’t particularly arduous, rising about 700 vertical feet (215 m) over the mile-long trek. I prefer drive-up highpoints because I’m lazy and even so I didn’t have any trouble with this one.

Backbone Mountain hid a couple of additional features worth noting. The Eastern Continental Divide ran directly along the ridge. A glass of water poured there would flow either towards the Youghiogheny River and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico or towards the North Branch of the Potomac River and eventually into the Atlantic Ocean. Also the border between West Virginia and Maryland bisected the ridge so we visited Border Marker No. 3 along the trail (photo).

I still didn’t count myself as an official Highpointer although I’ve managed to visit a few of the easier ones. The list at this point included Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and the District of Columbia.

Fairfax Stone

The Fairfax Stone

Just a few miles farther south down the road appeared the entrance to Fairfax Stone State Park. King Charles II bestowed a substantial land grant reaching out to here in 1649. He defined a western boundary running from the headwaters of the Potomac River to the headwaters of the Rappahannock River in what was then the colony of Virginia. Nobody bothered to survey the line for another century because of its extreme isolation. Eventually ownership passed to Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax, who decided to mark his domain in 1746. He commissioned Peter Jefferson, father of future president Thomas Jefferson, to set a line between those points.

Jefferson’s marker on the North Branch of the Potomac came to be known as the Fairfax Stone, the source of the Potomac watershed. Later, others determined that the South Branch was actually the true source of the river although boundaries were already set by then. The Fairfax Stone remained (and still remains) the key marker. The state of West Virginia called it "as near as anything to being a cornerstone of the entire state."

The Fairfax Stone also figured prominently in a US Supreme Court case, Maryland v. West Virginia 217 U.S. 1 (1910). It defined the longitudinal separation between the states. Ironically the stone — actually a replacement because vandals destroyed the original — no longer touched Maryland. The North Branch took a brief western jog at the stone. Maryland began about a mile farther north after the court decision, where the river curved back to the east and crossed the appropriate line of longitude (map). It still marked the Grant, Preston, Tucker County tripoint in West Virginia, though.

A Growing Appreciation

Before I started counting counties in earnest I’d only been to the outskirts of West Virginia along with a couple of whitewater rafting trips. Since then I’ve completed four specific trips nibbling away at places I’d not yet visited. I’ve come to enjoy the state’s mountainous terrain, hidden corners and gracious people. More than anything, these trips allowed me to look past hillbilly stereotypes to appreciate the state on its own merits. That’s what traveling is all about. I do plan to continue returning to West Virginia even after I finish the final swatch and capture its remaining counties.

Articles in the Counting West Virginia Series:

  1. Let’s Begin
  2. Progress
  3. The U
  4. Oddities

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Old Greer County

I talked about the longest postal route in the United States recently, the saga of Jim Ed Bull and his 187.6 mi (302 km) daily slog from Mangum, Oklahoma extending through the rural countryside. I also discovered an interesting bit of trivia during my research. This little corner of southwestern Oklahoma used to be part of Texas until almost the 20th Century.

I’d stumbled across this historical marker.

Old Greer County Marker
Old Greer County Marker by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, on Flickr (cc)

OLD GREER COUNTY. S. and W. of North Fork of Red R. Greer Co. was named and governed as a part of Texas from 1860 until 1896 when U. S. Supreme Crt. decision made it part of Oklahoma Ter. This county area was claimed by 14 different governments from 1669 to Oklahoma statehood in 1907; since then it has been divided into 3 counties and the southern part of Beckham County.

I’ll maybe leave that "14 different governments" claim for another day. Right now I’ll focus on the first sentence, the one about being part of Texas from 1860 to 1896. That seemed easily verifiable and there were a number of sources available. I consulted the Handbook of Texas from the Texas State Historical Association, the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture from the Oklahoma Historical Society, and of course I went to a primary source, the actual U.S. Supreme Court decision, United States v Texas (1896).

I also took a shot at creating a map showing the approximate footprint of old Greer County, Texas, now divided into Greer, Jackson, Harmon and part of Beckham Counties, Oklahoma. This was the first time I’ve drawn something using Google’s Map Engine Lite now that the former Google Maps "My Maps" capability has been completely deprecated. I guess it turned out acceptably well.

The root of the issue extended all the way back to the Adams–Onís Treaty of 1819, that — among several things such as making Florida a part of the U.S. — formalized the boundary between the U.S. and Spain’s colonial territories in North America. The treaty relied upon the best map available at the time and referenced it by name, "Melishe’s Map of the United States, published at Philadelphia, improved to the first of January 1818."

The Melish Map had been drafted by John Melish, a Scottish immigrant with a penchant for detail and accuracy. He published his "Map of the United States with the contiguous British and Spanish Possessions" originally in 1816. It was the first map to depict the United States as extending to the Pacific Ocean. It also contained a couple of key problems that later created the situation in Greer County: the 100th Meridian was drawn about a degree too far east and the Red River was shown as having only a single branch.

Texas State Line-100th Meridian
Texas State Line-100th Meridian by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, on Flickr (cc)

Texas inherited the former Spanish boundary (later Mexican boundary) when it became an independent Republic and adhered to it when it became part of the United States. Texas also relied upon the most favorable interpretation of the Treaty. It used the Melish Map and its errors literally when it drew Greer County in 1860 and named it for the state’s former lieutenant governor John Alexander Greer who served 1847-1851. The Federal government disputed Texas’ interpretation. However the Civil War soon broke out and there were more pressing issues to address.

Greer County’s population grew tremendously in the post-war years. Only ten families lived in Greer in 1884 on expansive cattle ranches. Two years later, settlers established a county seat in Mangum. According to the Handbook of Texas, "A school system was set up, and by 1892 sixty-six school districts had been formed with an enrollment of 2,250 pupils." The population jumped from almost zero to several thousand in a decade. That amount of growth could no longer be ignored by the Federal government. President Harrison signed an act organizing the Oklahoma Territory and it contained a provision that required a solution. Otherwise the dispute would complicate eventual Oklahoma statehood. A Commission failed to reach an agreement and the case went to the Supreme Court.

The United States favored the true 100th Meridian and the Prairie Dog Town Fork (i.e., the southern fork; the main fork) of the Red River as the boundary between Texas and the Oklahoma Territory. Texas favored the 100th Meridian of the Melish map and the North Fork of the Red River, relying upon the explicit language of the Adams–Onís Treaty. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the United States and the disputed land became part of Oklahoma.

EPILOGUE: While Texas lost the case and was compelled to recognize the "true" 100th Meridian as its border with that part of Oklahoma, the two states continued to bicker about the accuracy of the survey that established the meridian. They didn’t agree on its permanent placement until 1930.

The full story has been preserved by the Old Greer County Museum in Mangum.

Odds and Ends 8

I have a slew of short topics not befitting an entire article on their own. That means it’s time for another installment of Odds and Ends.

Non-Native English Readers of 12MC

Due East from Eastern Time into Central Time
Breakdown of 12MC’s Audience from Non-English Speaking Nations

The Twelve Mile Circle receives a robust amount of website traffic from readers in nations where English is neither a predominant nor an official language. It doesn’t come close to the number of visitors from the United States, Canada, the UK, Australia and the like, however it’s more than I’d generally expect. I have a hard enough time writing for an English-speaking audience so people from other nations have a double handicap — my trouble stringing together an intelligible sentence along with reading my gibberish in a foreign language.

I examined statistics generated by readers since the beginning of 2013 and recorded the following Top 10 non-English language reader nations: Germany, France, Russia, Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland and Japan. Those ten comprised a little more than half of the set with another 150-or-so nations taking up the rest. I don’t have a point to make with this compilation, I just found it interesting. That’s all.

Loyal reader "January First-of-May" probably pushes Russia up as high as it is. Russia would still be in the Top 10 although a few slots lower, otherwise.

Metropolitan Area Pattern Game

Metro Area Web Traffic
U.S. Metro Areas with 12MC visitors on August 10, 2013

I based the article "Room to Grow" on the metropolitan area tab in Google Analytics, last November. I mentioned at the time that I hadn’t used that tab much before. I’ve kind-of grown fond of it since then. It doesn’t tell me anything useful that I don’t already know, however I’ve turned it into a little game. Each day I check to see if I can trace a route from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean following a contiguous trail of 12MC readers. I award myself double points if I can also connect to the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. I completed a route and nearly won double points from yesterday’s example.

No, I don’t actually track the points or anything like that. It’s a fun little mindless activity when I open Analytics each morning, like pulling the lever on a slot machine. I can’t trace a path as often as one might think.

Supreme Court

Supreme Court in Gaithersburg Maryland
Photo by Brandon M.; used by permission

I’m not sure how many readers went back and noticed the comment from "Brandon M." or saw my recent tweet (a good reason to subscribe to the 12MC Twitter feed) so I’ll repost his photo. Brandon read Order in the Court and noticed he’d be near one of the streets called Supreme Court, this one located in Gaithersburg, Maryland (map). He also said he checks the 12MC Complete Index Map for local geo-oddities when he travels. I thought I was the only one who did that so it’s nice to hear the index provided a useful purpose for someone other than myself.

Tripoint House for Sale

DEMDPA Tripoint

Wouldn’t you like to own a state tripoint? Longtime reader Bill forwarded an article link recently: "Delaware Spaces: Three states in the backyard, near Newark." It talked about homeowners who generously allow people to access the Delaware-Maryland-Pennsylvania (DEMDPA) tripoint, even though it’s located on private property. The article included an additional surprise, though. The property is for sale and can be yours for only $525,000!

I thought briefly about snapping it up and doing like Joe Biden used to do when he served in the U.S. Senate: commute daily from Wilmington, DE to Washington’s Union Station by Amtrak train. I certainly knew the route. I guess it was probably after the third or fourth time I mentioned this to my wife, ignoring her eye-rolls and icy glares, when she finally said, "It’s a good thing I love you." My tripoint dreams were dashed. That’s good news for the rest of you, though. You’ll have one less person to outbid if you want to own DEMDPA.

Great Captain Island

Great Captain Island

The same correspondence that inspired my Tombolo(s) of Connecticut article the other day also inspired Steve of Connecticut Museum Quest to finally complete his Southernmost Point in Connecticut page (subtitled "Then Things Really Went South"). This is the true, untold story of our visit to the island last summer with a modicum of embellishment for amusement’s sake. Visit Steve’s page — you’ll find it entertaining.

Great Taste of the Midwest

Founders at Great Taste of the Midwest
12MC Visits Madison, Wisconsin

Saturday was my annual pilgrimage to Madison, Wisconsin for the Great Taste of the Midwest beer festival. This is one of the best beer events in the nation in my opinion, which I know is a bold claim. It’s casual although exceptionally well-run, and it’s hard to beat the lineup of breweries represented. I’ll mark my calendar and hope to return again. 12MC readers in the Midwest should feel free to let me know if they’re one of the lucky few to get their hands on tickets next year.