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.
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?
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."
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.
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:
- Let’s Begin
- The U
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr
Several years ago, way back in November 2009, Twelve Mile Circle published an article called Counting Border Crossings. It revealed a new way to track travels suggested by loyal reader Jon Persky. Many people count countries, states, provinces, département, territories, counties or whatever. Jon’s method counted a place only when an adventurer traversed each border that it shared with every one of its neighbors. Refer to that original article for additional explanation. It’s not that complicated. Anyway, his analysis resulted in a comprehensive map of possible crossings for the internal state-level divisions of the United States.
Possible Border Crossings
The map included crossing between individual states as well as with provinces of Canada and states of México. Some efforts could be completed only by ferry as designated by green dots.
I seemed smitten with the concept at the time and I vowed to track my personal progress. Then I promptly forgot about it until I stumbled upon that old article recently. I still loved the premise and I decided to update my personal map. This is how it looks now.
My Crossing Marked with Black Dots as of September 2016
In 2009 my tally stood at 75 crossings with only 6 states completed. My 2016 results improved to 95 crossings and 17 states completed without any conscious effort. I said at the time, and I still agree, that "this game is insidiously difficult… players have to cover large distances to complete even the smallest of states because the object is to work the perimeter." Many possibilities will also remain uncounted on my map until I take a lot more trips into Canada and México.
Those Geography-Based Running Trips
Pretending I’m a runner
The secret to my success happened by accident as I chauffeured a participant in several Mainly Marathons race trips. Longtime 12MC readers probably remembered the premise. These races catered primarily to a very specialized subset of marathoners who wished to complete a course in all 50 states. Others had completed literally hundreds of marathons and simply wanted to increase the lifetime totals. My participant specialized in half-marathons and insisted she was only "half crazy."
Each series featured back-to-back races in different state on subsequent days. For example, the New England Series I wrote about in May included seven races in seven days in seven states (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York). I’d also served as driver for other races including the Center of the Nation, Riverboat and Dust Bowl series. All told, those races involved 23 separate states. The whole premise of race site selections focused on minimizing driving distance while crossing between numerous states, a perfect combination for Jon’s concept. How else would I reasonably expect to find a reason to cross between New Mexico and Oklahoma, as an example?
Shhh… don’t tell anyone. I actually started running the 5K’s each day beginning with the Center of the Nation series. That made me about 12% crazy by my calculations. It was the only way I could stop eating piles of snacks at the aid table as I waited for my runner to finish.
I Loved the Tripoints
KYTNVA Tripoint. My own photo.
Back then I said, "I haven’t even completed my own home state of Virginia where I’m missing its border crossing with Kentucky and I doubt that I’m going to get this one anytime soon." I couldn’t have been more wrong. Immediately thereafter I began an effort to capture every county and independent city in my beloved Commonwealth, although the effort lasted several more years. However, for this purpose, the quest drew me to the isolated counties at the far southwestern corner of Virginia. There I crossed the Kentucky-Virginia border at the KYTNVA Tripoint in 2013.
Other tripoints offered additional border crossing opportunities. I crossed Massachusetts-New York for the first time at the CTMANY Tripoint, thanks to Steve of CTMQ. I also leveraged an amazing three tripoints on the Dust Bowl trip for additional first-time crossings; Colorado-Oklahoma at CONMOK, New Mexico-Oklahoma at NMOKTX and Colorado-Kansas at COKSOK.
Wolf Island on the KY/MO border. My own photo.
A couple of new crossings stood out above the rest. Kentucky-Missouri might have been the best. These two states shared a very short border along the Mississippi River. Anyone looking at a map would see that no road crossed the river anywhere between them. However, a dry-land border still existed! The river shifted at some point leaving a small part of Kentucky stranded on the Missouri side (map). It retained the curious name Wolf Island even though it wasn’t an island anymore. I found a gravel road leading to a pasture where I could cross from Missouri into Kentucky via Wolf Island. Any hour later I crossed between the two states again, this time over the Mississippi River on the scenic Dorena-Hickman Ferry (my video). I felt proud that I completed the border crossings using the only two means available, both creative and completely non-traditional.
A second favorite might have been my crossing between Utah and Nevada. I took the family to Utah in 2011. One morning, while the family slept, I decided to drive 150 miles (250 kilometres) each way from Ogden to West Wendover, Nevada. Why? To visit the only place in Nevada that legally recognized Mountain Time. That was completely nuts, and that’s what made it so memorable.
The Ones that Got Away
I paid a steep price when I forgot Jon’s game. A couple of opportunities wriggled away while I wasn’t paying attention. Last summer I went to Asheville, North Carolina and captured a slew of new counties. I was pretty close to Georgia and I could have snagged the Georgia-North Carolina crossing. I don’t know when I’ll get that chance again. Ditto for Nebraska-Wyoming and Montana-South Dakota when I took my Center of the Nation trip. Those may be too remote to hit without special effort, especially Montana-South Dakota. That one would require a drive over many miles of gravel road (street view). Missouri-Tennessee, on the other hand would have been an easy pickup. Alas I missed that opportunity too.
I still loved the concept. Maybe this time I won’t forget about it for several years. No promises.
Of course I had to visit Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg. The Twelve Mile Circle audience loved geo-oddities and I needed to deliver. I’d been to New England several times and I’ve plumbed its depths for nuggets repeatedly. What was left? Well, this lake with a really long name for one. That wasn’t the only remarkable feature in this corner where three states connected, this easily accessible area with an overabundance of lovely features all neatly aligned and waiting for my appearance. It became a day for geo-oddites.
Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg offered 45 characters of awesomeness too good to pass up, or perhaps more accurately 45-ish characters as there were several different spelling variations. I’ve often seen this touted as the longest place name in the United States and I had to experience it in person. We trudged down to Massachusetts to check it out (map). The lake itself wasn’t all that remarkable; it was certainly a pretty gem sparkling in the early afternoon sun although it competed with many other wonderful lakes sprinkled about the countryside. Its real distinguishing feature was its name.
Many people have written about the unusual name and their accounts littered the Intertubes, including some appearing in respectable publications like the New York Times. Fact needed to be separated from fiction. The cold, hard truth was that Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg contained an element of fiction. Numerous sources traced its long-form name back to newspaperman Laurence J. Daly who edited the local periodical, The Webster Times. He’d concocted a fanciful tale on a slow news day in the early 20th Century about an agreement between Native American tribes, claiming the full translation meant "you fish on your side, I fish on my side and nobody fish in the middle." It sounded great but it wasn’t accurate.
It took a while but, gradually, the You-I-Nobody fantasy built a head of steam, aired on national radio broadcasts, rewritten in newspapers everywhere, and buoyed by a "Ripley’s Believe It or Not" illustration. People with Webster-area roots began mailing clips about Mr. Daly’s tale to the editor of the Webster Times, Laurence J. Daly, he recalled in my presence more than once.
The U.S. Geological Survey recorded the body of water officially as Chaubunagungamaug in the Geographic Names Information System. That was an impressive string of 17 characters although far short of 45. It also included some additional history.
In 1642, Woodward and Saffery, the first surveyors of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, called it "The Great Pond." In 1645, Connecticut Governor John Winthrop called it "The Lakes of Quabage." In a 1707 survey, John Chandler recorded the name as “Chaubunnagungamoug.”
Various translations of the shorter string, Chaubunnagungamoug, referenced the Algonquian language spoken by local Nipmuc Indians, and generated meanings such as Place of the Boundaries or Lake Divided by Islands. GNIS also recognized Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg and similar spellings as legitimate variants. Did I actually visit the place with the longest name in the United States? Well, maybe. I didn’t have to go out of my way to experience it so it wasn’t like it involved any special effort.
I was much more interested in some unfinished business, the only object skipped in 2012 during an epic Craziest Geo-Oddity Adventure Ever. I hit every conceivable geographic feature of importance in Connecticut on a single day as I circled the state with Steve from Connecticut Museum Quest (now simply CTMQ). I truly believed that we were the first people ever to undertake that quest and it may never be surpassed. The Connecticut-Massachusetts-Rhode Island tripoint had been on our original itinerary (map) and we failed to capture it. We had to abandon our final objective with daylight running short and exhaustion kicking-in. I seemed to recall being quietly content with that decision at the time. We’d seen enough.
Steve reminded me of our omission when I put out a call for my 2016 travel plans. The CTMARI Tripoint absolutely had to make the cut. The goal was never about Lake Chargogga-whatever, it just happened to fall along a convenient line as I charted our course towards Connecticut’s Quiet Corner where I could reach the tripoint. I relied upon Steve’s CTMARI page for directions and you should too. Not only did it include the clearest, easiest path to the tripoint, it also included an account of the Great East Thompson Train Wreck of 1891, "The only time in US railroading history that FOUR trains crashed into each other!" Go over there and read it. I’ll wait.
We followed Steve’s recommendations, had a relaxing walk through the woods, and arrived at the tripoint just as expected. The cellular network extended nicely to this corner despite its perceived remoteness and I fired-off a self-congratulatory tweet with photo to the world. I could now finally call the journey to all Connecticut Extremes complete.
I’m certainly no peak bagger although I’ve managed to summit a few state highpoints over the years, usually those requiring minimal effort because I’m lazy and unmotivated. It’s always an added bonus if I can drive all the way to the top. I think my total stood at 6 state highpoints prior to this trip: Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina and Tennessee. Plus the District of Columbia. Then I added Rhode Island.
Jerimoth Hill would never be described as a challenging summit requiring great technical expertise. Literally, it was merely one crest amongst many rolling hills at the far northwestern corner of Rhode Island (map). It happened to extend a few feet higher than others nearby when someone drew artificial lines a few centuries ago to create a colony that later became a state. Still, at 811 feet (247 metres), Rhode Island had a higher elevation than Mississippi, Louisiana, Delaware and Florida. It used to be a running joke in the highpointer community that fewer people had reached the summit of lowly Jerimoth Hill than the peak of Mt. Everest. A crotchety landowner blocked access to the summit at the the point of a gun for decades, eventually allowing people to visit on special days once or twice a year. He passed away several years ago and it became the property of the state of Rhode Island after a series of real estate transactions. Now anyone can park by the side of Old Hartford Pike and walk a gentle trail through fragrant pine forest a few hundred yards to the marker.
In reality it’s completely unremarkable and practically indistinguishable from any other knoll nearby. However, I gave the Rhode Island highpointers all due credit for doing their best to make their summit special. I got the sense that their treatment was more than a little tongue-in-cheek, with its stone cairns, summit register box and Himalayan prayer flags like one would expect on much more exalted mountaintops. Still, Jerimoth Hill counted as a state highpoint just as much as Denali and I doubt I’ll ever travel to Alaska and climb to 20,310 feet (6,190 m). I took my short stroll through the woods to a small boulder and I deemed it a success.
Easy Road Trip
Best of all, these three geo-oddities were aligned neatly and in close proximity. Anyone should be able to replicate my feat. I imagined it might be a nice day-trip for 12MC readers from Boston or Hartford.
New England articles:
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr