Familiar place names always catch my attention. Often they share a bond with locations near my home in the Washington, DC area. Several years ago I wrote about one such situation in A Tale of Three Ridges. This time Crystal City served as the common denominator.
Crystal City, Virginia
Arlington Crystal city. Photo by DymphieH on Flickr (cc)
Virginia’s Crystal City abuts Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. However, most flyers probably never noticed it. Minds tend to wander across the Potomac River to the famous monuments on the National Mall. However, a glance in the opposite direction would show large blocks of office towers and apartments instead. That skyline marked Crystal City.
Crystal City didn’t exist until the Cold War. This unplanned creation handled the overflow of Federal agencies, government contractors, and residents. Jackson City once stood there in the mid 19th Century, providing space for two forts during the Civil War. Then the area declined.
After the war ended, it devolved into a seedy red-light district, complete with saloons, betting parlors and brothels — most of which were burned down in 1904 by a self-appointed cleanup crew known as the "Good Citizens League." From those ashes rose an industrial sprawl of brickyards, warehouses, iron-fabricating factories and junk lots that spread south.
The revival began with the construction of the Crystal House apartments (map) in the 1960’s. It happened to feature an ornate crystal chandelier. That started a naming trend for new construction in the area — everything became Crystal something-or-another.
I used to work in Crystal City. The old American Meridian ran directly through it. I drove across it every day, living in the former Western Hemisphere and working in the the Eastern Hemisphere. Twelve Mile Circle even sponsored a Happy Hour gathering back in 2010 at a Crystal City pub almost directly atop the Meridian. I had fond geo-geek memories of the place.
Crystal City, Texas
Crystal City Popeye. Photo by Jerry and Pat Donaho on Flickr (cc)
The Crystal City in Texas provided the excuse for this article. My genealogy hobby uncovered a distant relative in that town in Zavala County. He lived there in 1910, working in a livery stable. It seemed odd that the town shared a name with a place in Virginia. The city explained its origin:
Two land developers, Carl F. Groos and E. J. Buckingham, developed the town in the early 1900s. In 1905 they purchased the 10,000-acre Cross S Ranch, sold off most of the land as farms, and platted the townsite of Crystal City, named for the clear artesian water of the area.
Usually when I describe little places like this I struggle to find much of historical value. Crystal City defied that trend. It became known for several reasons in the last few decades. First, it served as one of the largest internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II. Then it received a lot of coverage in early 2016. Federal agents arrested almost every top official. They allegedly took bribes from a guy called Mr. T. who ran an illegal gambling scheme. Those indicted included the mayor, mayor pro tempore, city manager and two of three councilmen.
I preferred to recognize Crystal City for its motto, as the "Spinach Capital of the World." They even placed a statue of Popeye the Sailor Man in front of city hall (map) and included him on the city seal.
Crystal City, Missouri
Crystal City-Missouri Police. Photo by World Police Vehicles on Flickr (cc)
However, the fun didn’t end there. I discovered additional Crystal Cities. One of them landed in Missouri (map). That city said,
Around 1843 an Eastern company conducted a search in this area of Missouri, looking for land with valuable minerals. In 1868 Forrest Sheppards, a mineralogist and geologist, located silica (sand rock) near the mouth of Plattin Creek. The sand was of superior quality for glass manufacturing. What followed was an enthusiastic pursuit of development, and The American Plate Glass Company was founded here by Captain Ebenezer B. Ward of Detroit, in 1871.
Crystal City began as a company town named for the glass. The factory remained until 1990, or nearly 150 years. However, the company controlled every facet of life for the first few decades. An independent town grew immediately to its west, with privately owned homes and business, particularly saloons. The two came to be known as The Twin Cities, Crystal City and Festus (Minnesota’s Minneapolis and St. Paul might disagree). Festus supposedly got its name from a lady who opened her bible onto a random page. Her finger landed on Acts 25:1 and the name Festus. This replaced Tanglefoot. It didn’t seem like much of an improvement.
They could change Crystal City to Cletus and create the perfect hillbilly combination, though.
Crystal City, Manitoba
Grain elevator in Crystal City, Manitoba. Photo by Agent Magenta on Flickr (cc)
Canada included a Crystal City too, in Manitoba (map).
Greenway proceeded to map a street layout for a "city" south and east of Crystal Creek. The idea of our "town" being a city in the then future was not so far-fetched. Crystal City had a population of 230 plus, with Brandon recording around 100, while even Winnipeg numbered in at 400 in 1878. Greenway had seen Ontario towns with less, become great, simply due to time, immigration and internal growth. The dream for the town was to become a city, a leader in the southern prairies, maybe even the provincial capital.
Of course, this Crystal City never grew into that great city. Fewer than 400 people live there today.
Rivers can make great boundaries when they cooperate. Frequently they do not. These creatures of nature flow where they want to flow. Sometimes they erode deep furrows through solid rock, changing course only after eons pass. Other times they cross alluvial plains, shifting into multiple ephemeral streams awaiting the next flood. Problems will undoubtedly occur when people rely upon frequently-shifting rivers as boundaries. The shifts create winners and losers.
Two recent border situations came to my attention, handled in distinctly different ways by those involved.
The Red River
Reader Glenn seemed amused by the craziness of the border between Texas and its neighbors — Oklahoma and Arkansas — along the Red River, in an email he sent to 12MC a couple of months ago. The border rarely followed the river exactly, it reflected a version of the river that existed a long time ago. Many of the cutoffs on the "wrong" side of the river still retained names from a bygone day; Eagle Bend, Horseshoe Bend, Whitaker Bend and Hurricane Bend. Others seemed to represent the year of the flood that changed the underlying channel; such as 1908 Cutoff and Forty-One Cutoff.
Fixing the Border
Bend in Red River, Texas. Photo by brewbooks on Flickr (cc)
I might have left it at that, a simple observation of a messed-up situation. However, the decision to use the Red River beginning with the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819 continues to reverberate today. This treaty between Spain and the United States addressed a host of boundary issues. A line along the Red River remained in place when México gained independence from Spain in 1821, when Texas gained independence in 1836 and when Texas joined the United States in 1846. The river had different intentions though and meandered as it pleased.
The Red River figured prominently in a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Oklahoma v. Texas, 260 U.S. 606 (1923). The Court noted that even though the river wandered, it remained within two "cut banks" broadly defined.
… we hold that the bank intended by the treaty provision is the water-washed and relatively permanent elevation or acclivity at the outer line of the river bed which separates the bed from the adjacent upland, whether valley or hill, and serves to confine the waters within the bed and to preserve the course of the river, and that the boundary intended is on and along the bank at the average or mean level attained by the waters in the periods when they reach and wash the bank without overflowing it.
The Court set the boundary between Texas and Oklahoma on the south side of the Red River. Surveyors then marked and set the boundary.
The Current Dispute
Except the river kept changing while the boundary, as determined by the Court in 1923, remained fixed. The latest dispute began within the last several years. It got much more complicated. While the line between Texas and Oklahoma began at the south bank, the Federal government held the portion from the middle of the river to the south bank in public trust for Native Americans. This formed a narrow strip, a 116 mile (190 kilometre) ribbon. Much of that strip is now on dry land. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management estimated that 90,000 acres actually belong in the public domain, and not to the people living there, farming it or grazing their cattle for the last century. Lawsuits continue to rage.
The River Meuse
Netherlands / Belgium Border Adjustment
Underlying Map from OpenStreetMap
Reader Jasper sent me a heads up that Belgium shrank and the Netherlands grew on November 28, 2016. The two sides came to an amicable agreement and adjusted their border. Didier Reynders of Belgium and Bert Koenders of the Netherlands signed a treaty in Amsterdam, in the presence of their respective monarchs, King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, and King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima. The announcement came in a Press Release with coverage in local media (Google Translation of an article in Flemish).
The areas in question fell along the banks of the River Meuse, forming a portion of the boundary between the two nations. They established their original border there in 1843. However, these neighbors decided to straighten their common river to improve navigation in stages between 1962 and 1980. This left a piece of the Netherlands and two pieces of Belgium on the "wrong" side of the river between Visé and Eijsden (map). Police could not access these spots easily and they became havens for illegal activities. This included a situation where a headless body washed ashore on one of the exclaves. Territorial complexities hampered the investigation.
In an unusual twist and in a supreme act of neighborly cooperation, the two nations simply agreed to swap their stranded parcels. It seemed the most logical option, and yet, it remained exceedingly rare in other border situations worldwide. Nobody wants to be the loser. Belgium simply gave up 14 hectares (35 acres) in the deal and called it good.
I’m not sure if I ever flew on Braniff Airlines although I certainly recognized the name. That’s why I mentioned it when I spotted Braniff Street outside of Hobby Airport in Houston, Texas in the previous article.
A Very Brief History of Braniff
Braniff (Calder colors) DC8 N1805. Photo by Bruno Geiger Airplane Pictures and Collection on Flickr (cc)
Braniff International Airways began flying in 1928, the creation of brothers Thomas Elmer and Paul Revere Braniff. They flew first out of Oklahoma City. Braniff grew and expanded into Texas in the 1930’s, and then throughout the American Midwest. Over time it expanded the network even farther, within the United States and later into Latin America and Europe. Braniff also moved its headquarters to Dallas, Texas, initially to Love Field and later to the new Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The airline came to be known for its customer service and its brightly colored jets, including a couple that sported designs by Alexander Calder.
The United States deregulated its airline industry in 1978 and that spelt trouble for Braniff. It had been one of the strongest, fastest growing airlines in a regulated environment. However it simply couldn’t compete with cheaper, more flexible airlines that soon flooded the marketplace. Braniff folded in 1982, surviving only five years into deregulation. The name lived on for awhile, used by other companies that purchased it after bankruptcy, reduced to a zombie-like state.
Many people remembering Braniff fondly and have tried to preserve its legacy.
Braniff retained a particular stronghold in Texas during its heyday. The Braniff Street in Houston wasn’t unusual. Other ghostly fingerprints remained throughout the state. I found Tom Braniff Drive running along the edge of the University of Dallas (map). It intersected with Airport Freeway, leading directly to Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport. I found it odd that someone placed a road honoring one of Braniff’s founders so far away from the airport however, a good 10 miles (16 kilometres) distant. I didn’t feel the choice was completely coincidental although I wondered what connection it might have with the university.
A little light searching uncovered a Braniff Graduate School of Liberal Arts at the University of Dallas. That implied something larger than a casual correlation. However Tom Braniff died in 1954 and the university didn’t exist until 1956. That chronological mystery revealed itself easily too. Braniff teamed up with his friend, businessman (later Senator) William Blakely to form the Blakely-Braniff Foundation in the 1940’s. The foundation provided a substantial donation to the university in 1966, creating a graduate school in Braniff’s memory.
San Antonio, Texas became and remained a Braniff destination from the airline’s earliest days.
Braniff Drive, San Antonio, TX
I didn’t have any more to say about that other than noting how nicely Braniff Drive aligned with one of the runways at San Antonio International Airport.
Braniff International Airways. Image provided by Boston Public Library on Flickr (cc)
A much more interesting situation presented itself in Corpus Christi, Texas. This city included a street named for Braniff too. Nearby stood other streets named for airlines, airplanes and aviation pioneers like Eastern, Stinson, Wright, Curtiss, Lockheed, Cub, Fairchild and Ryan. Airport Road ran perpendicular a few blocks away. Yet, Corpus Christi International Airport stood several miles away (map). I had unwittingly uncovered the remains of the old Cliff Maus Field.
Cliff Maus left as airport manager in 1934 to take a job with Braniff Airways. He was killed soon afterwards when his plane crashed in a thick fog on the outskirts of Fort Worth… the City Council voted to change the name of the airport to Cliff Maus Municipal Airport.
Ultimately Cliff Maus Field didn’t have runways long enough to accommodate emerging jet aircraft. Corpus Christi International opened in 1960 and Cliff Maus fell by the wayside. Redevelopment took place over next half-century and largely obliterated the field. Del Mar Community College took a portion of it for its west campus on Airport Road. The Cliff Maus Apartments occupied another corner. A public golf course claimed another section. Housing developments also moved in.
Few remembered Cliff Maus, and soon, few will likely remember Braniff.
A few airports outside of Texas also hid remnants.
However, I figured the weird conglomeration of Braniff Road, Place, Crescent, and Green in Calgary, Canada was probably a coincidence.