A natural bridge or natural arch is described accurately by its name. It’s a geological formation eroded in such a way as to leave behind an opening below stone that continues to stand. Water seems to be the most common denominator. Before today I never realized that a Natural Arch and Bridge Society existed "to support the interests of both amateur arch enthusiasts and serious researchers of natural arches and bridges alike." It does, however, as I soon discovered during my search and it provides an excellent resource for these topics including a picture gallery.
I knew natural bridges existed in multiple places and I’ve visited several of them including some of the famous ones located at Arches National Park (my visit). I didn’t realize they were actually somewhat common and examples are located throughout the world. I’ll feature several instances located in the United States, all of which feature the phrase "Natural Bridge" in their their official names. That still leaves many worthy candidates untouched in spite of my attempt to keep the list down to a manageable size.
The natural bridge in Virginia may be THE natural bridge, not because it’s necessarily the most impressive but because it has quite an historical pedigree. It’s believed that George Washington surveyed this site personally in 1750. It later became part of property owned by Thomas Jefferson. He purchased it from the crown in 1774 when Virginia was still a British colony. This stone arch lent a name to surrounding Rockbridge County which receives a 12MC seal of approval for that wonderful geo-recognition.
Natural Bridge appears in Google Maps satellite view. It’s easy to see the small river that carved a path and created the arch. U.S. Route 11 drives directly across it although that doesn’t make much difference to tourists: fences have been constructed on both sides of the highway to keep visitors from stopping atop the bridge, peeking over the side and becoming a road hazard (street view).
… the General Land Office assigned the Hopi names “Sipapu,” “Kachina” and “Owachomo” in 1909. Sipapu means “the place of emergence,” an entryway by which the Hopi believe their ancestors came into this world. Kachina is named for rock art on the bridge that resembles symbols commonly used on kachina dolls. Owachomo means “rock mound,” a feature atop the bridge’s east abutment.
It’s hard to find natural bridges on Google Maps street view because they’re frequently located in hard-to-reach spots away from roads. Fortunately that’s not the case with Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz, California. Here the eroding water comes from the wave action of surrounding Monterey Bay.
This beach, with its famous natural bridge, is an excellent vantage point for viewing shore birds, migrating whales, and seals and otters playing offshore. Further along the beach, tidepools offer a glimpse of life beneath the sea. Low tides reveal sea stars, crabs, sea anemones, and other colorful ocean life.
Natural Bridge Caverns
SOURCE: Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
Natural Bridge Caverns (map) isn’t actually a natural bridge inside a cavern, sad to say. Rather, it’s a feature located just outside of the entrance to this largest commercial cave in Texas. The formation has an interesting evolution. In this instance water created a sinkhole and the natural bridge remained when surrounding terrain fell into the hole.
This is the only battlefield I know of that’s associated with a natural bridge. It’s located near Tallahassee, Florida where the St. Marks River falls into a sinkhole and reappears a little while later. Notice the water on the Google Maps satellite view and you can see where that happens. The battle is commemorated by Natural Bridge Battlefield State Historic Site:
During the final weeks of the Civil War, a Union flotilla landed at Apalachee Bay planning to capture Fort Ward (San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park) and march north to the state capital. With a timely warning, volunteers from the Tallahassee area – Confederate soldiers, old men and young boys – met the Union forces at Natural Bridge and successfully repelled three major attacks. The Union troops were forced to retreat to the coast and Tallahassee was the only Confederate capital east of the Mississippi not captured by the Union.
What’s the deal with Natural Bridge Avenue in St. Louis, Missouri? There’s no natural bridge here. That’s because the road used to extend much farther. Portions were obliterated by the expansion of Lambert Airport and the routing of Interstate 70. The reason may no longer exist but the name remains.
I wondered recently about towns bearing someone’s first name combined with counties bearing the same person’s surname. This interest had been sparked by learning that Gail was the county seat of Borden County, Texas. Both were named for Gail Borden, the condensed milk guy (and so much more). The only other instance of this first name – surname symmetry I’d known about was Horace in Greeley County, Kansas, and Horace wasn’t even the seat of county government.
The ever-inquisitive readers of Twelve Mile Circle discovered several more examples. I enjoyed every one of them and I recommend that readers go back to that original article and review the comments. They provide quite a compendium, and perhaps the most complete set of this obscure geo-anomaly anywhere. A couple of comments fascinated me enough to investigate them a bit further. Credit should go to the people who first brought them to my attention, with my sincere thanks and appreciation.
"John Deeth" offered Schuyler, Nebraska. It’s the seat of government in Colfax County (map).
I would never have discovered this combination on my own because I had no conceptualization of Schuyler Colfax, or why he should ever deserve the symmetry of a town-county combo named in his honor. I could have driven through Colfax County ad infinitum — and I have driven through Colfax County — and this never would have clicked. This also demonstrates rather clearly a truism in U.S. politics. Being elected the President of the United States is a magnificent event bringing instant fame and name recognition. Being Vice President on the other hand, in the famous words of John Nance Garner (VP to Franklin D. Roosevelt for two terms), is "not worth a bucket of warm piss."
It’s hopefully a safe assumption that most 12MC viewers, including those reading from outside of the United States, have at least heard of Ulysses S. Grant, General of the Union Army during the Civil War and 18th President of the United States. Now meet the guy who served as Grant’s VP during his first term (1869-1873): Schuyler Colfax.
Schuyler Colfax isn’t exactly a household name, however he was quite accomplished during his lifetime. He rose to Speaker of the House of Representatives and then became Vice President when he was only 45 years old. There’s no telling how successful he may have become had he not been implicated in one of the many scandals of the Reconstruction era. His downfall came during the Crédit Mobilier of America scandal which involved gifts of stock to influential government officials from a construction company helping to build the transcontinental railroad. After his fall from grace, Colfax followed a well-worn path blazed by numerous failed politicians before and since: he became a lecturer and went on the speakers’ circuit, thus proving that political pundits are nothing new.
He was fortunate in a sense to have been Vice President during a period of homesteading and rapid territorial expansion. Colfax became a label applied to many locatons throughout the United States in his honor. Imagine if the same were true today. There would be a bunch of places called Quayle, Gore, Cheney and Biden actually named for the men themselves instead of simply coincidental.
Schuyler the town in Nebraska, was situated along the Transcontinental Railroad. I wonder if Schuyler the person might have begun to appreciate this delectable irony as the years passed by.
In a related tangent, "Mr. Burns" noted that the City of Ulysses is the seat of government in Grant County (map), Kansas. It’s nice to see that both sides of the Grant-Colfax ticket were favorably bestowed with similar geo-oddities. Grant is just two counties south and one east of Greeley County by the way, so this might be a nice little corner of the state to experience a couple of first name – surname combos in one swoop.
"Joe" offered McKinney, the seat of government for Collin County (map), Texas.
I found this one remarkable for several reasons. Both locations are named for Collin McKinney who was an important figure in the Texas Revolution and in the early formation of the Republic of Texas. He was one of the principal authors of the Texas Declaration of Independence and its oldest signatory. Thus, his surname survives through the town name and his first through the county, which flips the order of precedence observed by other examples.
This might also be a first name – surname combination that contains the most residents. This rapidly-growing suburb of the larger Dallas metropolitan area recorded some of the greatest percentage population increases of the last decade. McKinney currently has about 130 thousand residents and Collin Co. about 780 thousand.
The Handbook of Texas contains a fascinating biography. One can thank Collin McKinney for all of the small, square counties in Texas. It was he who suggested their regular shape and arrangement (Wikipedia claims without attribution that he promoted areas of about 30 miles square so a rider to travel to the county seat and return in a single day, although I haven’t been able to corroborate that independently). Bottom line for all you County Counters out there who are trying to nail-down all 254 counties in Texas: you can either thank or curse Collin McKinney depending on your outlook.
As if that were not enough, Collin McKinney actually lived in the place named for him during the latter part of his life.
"Ian" postulated several combos based on U.S. Founding Fathers. I think my favorite instance was Jefferson County, Florida. It had a small unincorporated town called Thomas City although that’s not much more than a dot on a map. However the county seat is Monticello, which of course is named after Thomas Jefferson’s estate in Albemarle County, VA. Here’s where it gets even stranger: when looking at the map I discovered that it abuts a county in Georgia named Thomas. Thus, one can drive from Thomas in Georgia to Jefferson in Florida. It’s only coincidental, though. The county in Georgia was named for Jett Thomas (a War of 1812 veteran who was instrumental in the founding of the University of Georgia). I still found it amusing.
There were other honorable mentions: "Lindsay" suggested George, WA (which is one of my favorites) and "Greg" mentioned Hernando, in De Soto County, Mississippi (which I flew directly over on my last airline trip).
I spent some of last week on business travel to Williamsburg, Virginia. Unfortunately I was stuck in a conference room for most of the time but I did manage to make it out to the historic sites for a few brief moments. Geography made Williamsburg the capital of the Virginia Colony and geography later took that designation away.
This is a panoramic view from the center of the Palace Green. The shot starts with the Governor’s Palace and then pans over to the Elkanah Deane House and past the Wythe House before completing the circle.
Colonial Williamsburg is a historic reinterpretation of the city that once served as the Virginia Colony’s capital from 1699 to 1780. Iconic American thinkers including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe and Patrick Henry walked these streets and occupied these buildings while they represented their constituencies back home. Here they discussed issues, debated philosophies and defined the concepts that would influence democracy throughout the Commonwealth and into the fledgling United States.
The capital moved here originally to from escape malaria and other diseases that bedeviled the Jamestown settlement. Williamsburg served its purpose for close to a hundred years until its location also became a liability, and the capital moved once again. Geographically, Williamsburg sits along the spine of the Virginia Peninsula a few miles from both the York and the James Rivers. It was a great spot for removing oneself from the swampy, low-lying riverbeds that bred mosquitoes and harbored waterborne disease, but it was not so secure from marauding armies. There was grave concern that British troops could sail up either river, march a couple of miles, and sack the Virginia capital during the Revolutionary War. For security reasons, Virginia moved its capital moved 55 miles west to Richmond and it never returned.
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Williamsburg sits close to two major rivers, leaving it vulnerable to attack during the Revolutionary War
Williamsburg could have been left behind by time, it’s role fading in the collective historical memory. That’s not inconceivable. It’s has happened to other old capital cities including some I’ve described before: Kaskaskia, Illinois and Belmont, Wisconsin for example have all but fallen off the map. Railways and commerce bypassed Williamsburg. Many of its historic structures decayed during a century of neglect. Williamsburg did have the College of William & Mary though, and that provided enough of a spark to hold the town together and keep it going after the capitol moved.
The Colonial Williamsburg Courthouse on a beautiful Fall day
It would have been a shame if something so important, so historic had been allowed to disappear. Fortunately many forward-looking people including members of the Rockefeller family realized the possibilities starting with the early 20th Century. Surviving buildings have been restored to their original condition, or as close as could be reasonably determined. Other buildings were recreated from scratch to fill the gaps in accordance with historic architectural practices. Interpreters in colonial garb work throughout the area, anxious to educate the public. Everything is designed to give visitors a sense of what it must have been like to live in Williamsburg in those years leading up to the Revolutionary War, when the ideas of democracy flowed freely among its inhabitants.