Ten Years of 12MC

Ten years is a long time to do anything. I knew this day would finally come and I’ve watched it looming on the horizon for the last several months, with decidedly mixed feelings.

Scenes from Within the Twelve Mile Circle

The very first article on Twelve Mile Circle appeared on November 6, 2007. I never suspected this site would last another decade. I’ll bet it probably survived longer than 99% of blogs, a steady stream of articles as the years quickly passed. I watched my older son go from kindergarten to high school during that period, and my younger son from diapers to middle school. Somehow the list of potential topics in the hopper always hovered around a hundred and I never suffered from writer’s block.

That’s a Wrap

Irish Tripoint
Irish Tripoint

Every good thing must come to an end eventually and the tenth anniversary seemed like a nice place to pull the plug. Originally I planned to take this thing out to twelve years so I could say 12MC went "full circle." However, last summer when I repeated an article, it flipped a mental switch within me. I knew I needed to wrap this thing up. The details for this decision don’t really matter. My life is a lot more complicated now than it was ten years ago and it’s become increasingly difficult to find enough time to put the necessary quality into each article. I’ll leave it at that. I probably should have done it sooner.

12MC Won’t Disappear Completely

Center of the Nation
Center of the Nation

Twelve Mile Circle won’t be updated twice a week anymore. I’m going to take a break for awhile and when I’m ready I’ll start publishing again. That may not happen until after the holidays. I’m not sure. Maybe something really interesting will come up before then and I’ll want to share it.

It won’t be the same site, though. Future articles will cover things like my travel adventures and my county counting efforts. They will include periodic updates on my numerous obsessive-compulsive lists (like ferries, lighthouses, breweries, fortresses, and waterfalls). Also, be assured that anytime I personally visit a notable geo-oddity I’ll want to rush to the keyboard to tell everyone about it. Even so, I won’t be posting regularly. Articles will appear on their own schedule, when I feel like it.

What readers won’t see, however, are the types of articles that served as the backbone of this site for all these years. That’s what most people came here to see so I apologize in advance because I’m sure I’ll disappoint a lot of you with the new direction. I’ll always have that back catalog of 1,409 articles in the Complete Index though. Hopefully that will ease the pain a bit.

Keeping in Touch

Jerimoth Hill
Rhode Island Elevation Highpoint

Some of you may still want to follow along. It probably won’t make sense to check the front page looking for new articles. Updates won’t happen that often. I’ll suggest some ways to follow along, though. New articles links will always be posted on the world’s lamest twitter account, TheReal12MC. You can also use an old school News Reader to subscribe to the RSS feed. Or we can part ways amicably with no hard feelings.

A Big Thank You

Four Corners
Four Corners AZ, CO, NM, UT

Twelve Mile Circle was always my own thing. I wrote it specifically as a way to get away from the stress of the outside world while pursuing a few natural curiosities. This never became a popularity contest, of trying to attract the greatest number of eyeballs. It always amazed me that anyone else would ever want to read it at all, much less follow it faithfully. I appreciated all of the thoughtful and respectful comments too. In all of those years I had to block only a single troll from the site.

I’m glad many of you enjoyed the last decade and maybe a few of you will even stick around for what’s to follow. I wish each of you the best and hope your personal pursuit of geo-oddities brings a lifetime of joy.

Delaware Trifecta

The Howder Clan found itself in northern Delaware this weekend, indeed within the actual Twelve Mile Circle itself for which this site is named. Of course I carved out some time for a few geo-oddities in this very rich concentration of such spots. Some of them I’ve discussed before and others I’ll probably cover on my permanent site so it would be safe to consider this entry a trip summary without the usual level of detail.

I sneaked out just as the first fingers of light crept over the horizon, hoping to return before the family woke up and started the day. They don’t much understand or appreciate this little hobby of mine although they’ve learned to tolerate it over time. Still, I’m not allowed to turn our trips into geography lessons so I was mostly on my own.

(1) Delaware Highpoint – Ebright Azimuth

Delaware Highpoint
The Delaware highpoint sign and pocket park

There is absolutely nothing remarkable about the Delaware highpoint. Nothing. It cannot be distinguished from the surrounding terrain; no hilltop, no view, no discerning features. Hundreds of cars pass here daily and barely a handful would ever notice the roadside marker. Pennsylvania sits a few hundred feet further north and even that nearby horizon looked like it might be slightly higher. Geographers can’t even call this place a hill much less a mountain so they had to go with azimuth, a reference point for measurement.

On the other hand there can’t possibly be an easier state highpoint to visit. Just drive up and park along the nearby residential street perpendicular to the site. The sign has been moved to the "correct" side of Ebright Road now. That must have been fairly recent as Google Street View still places it on the other side. Also the state has built a nice traffic nub immediately in front of the sign which slows down approaching vehicles and gives viewers a safe photo platform without being mowed down.

There’s also a bench for resting as one contemplate the arduous climb up to the summit of this supreme geographic achievement. With all the hoopla and fanfare one would think this pocket park would mark the true state highpoint but it doesn’t. For that, walk another 50 feet or so towards the radio tower to the chink in the sidewalk marked with white paint. The actual survey marker has been placed there in bare dirt. I can’t figure why they couldn’t have simply placed the sign next to the marker. Aesthetics perhaps.

There’s a little controversy with this highpoint because it’s so darn flat. Some people say the actual spot may be located nearby in the trailer park memorialized by so many state highpointers in their summit accounts. Others contend that the trailer park doesn’t count because the mound it rests upon was created by artificial means. Your call. It’s easy enough to touch all of the bases if that’s a concern, and it did concern me so I touched them all.

(2) The Wedge

Delaware Wedge
Peaceful now, but once outlaw country

The family did have to suffer through the Delaware Wedge. My wife and I know a couple from our school days who settled in Newark, DE. It would have been a shame to miss them since we were up in northern Delaware anyway and we made plans to visit with them for the afternoon. Newark is a stone’s throw from the Wedge, and only slightly out of the way. You can guess where this is heading.

The Wedge resulted from a compounding of surveying errors. I’ll keep this brief for today, but essentially surveyors ran into a bunch of problems trying to connect the Mason-Dixon line with the Twelve Mile Circle. The result was about 3/4 of a mile off. This left an 800 acre wedge, a no-man’s land or an every-man’s land depending on your point of view, that provided shelter for all kinds of lawless activities. Nefarious activities existed even into the Twentieth Century when bootleggers during prohibition used the proximity of multiple state borders to stay one step ahead of the law.

Coincidentally, an article on the Wedge appeared in Wilmington’s newspaper, the News Journal, just four days before my visit ("Delaware’s Triangular Oddity"). I wish I could provide a link but it doesn’t appear to have been made available on-line. That’s a shame because it was very well done, in full color and with great graphics. Given that fact, I wondered why we were the only visitors at the Wedge marker on such a lovely Saturday afternoon. The family responded with their typical eye-roll. They wouldn’t even get out of the car. They forced me to trudge over to the marker and record this momentous achievement on my own.

From there it’s possible to continue on New London Road (Route 896) for another half-mile or so, clipping the corner of Maryland and hitting Pennsylvania about thirty seconds later. At least my older son thought that was pretty cool. Thirty seconds was the extent of his attention span, being about the same amount of time he could manage to pull himself away from Lego Star Wars on his Nintendo DS. Nonetheless he thought it was amusing so perhaps there’s hope for him.

(3) Twelve Mile Circle Stones

Delaware Arc Border Stone 17
Stone 17 on the Twelve Mile Circle

Delaware Twelve Mile Circle stone #17 is a few hundred yards away from Ebright Azimuth so I collected that sighting while I was on my adventure earlier in the morning. This stone dates to the 1892 United States Coast & Geodetic Survey effort to set the arc boundary definitively with newer techniques. Stone 17 is supposedly one of the best preserved and most easily accessible of the 46 stones placed during this survey. I’ll vouch that it was both legible and easy to find.

I drove down a private road through the trailer park just over the Pennsylvania border, and parked in the small lot next to the stone. No, it’s not a parking lot just for the stone. Only a few oddballs such as myself care about such things. The lot’s actually for the trailer park office — housed in the old, historic Ebright home — but the marker was right there no more than a few feet away next to a picnic table. Nobody was stirring at that time of the morning so I got lots of photos devoid of humans in the background. The best fun fact here is that the Delaware/Pennsylvania border seems to split right through the Ebright home. I’d love to live in a house like that. Eat dinner in Pennsylvania, sleep in Delaware, and that kind of thing.

Interestingly there was also a geological survey control marker maybe another twenty feet away. Some of the waypoints I’ve seen marked on various Internet sites apparently confuse this with the Delaware highpoint but clearly it’s across the border in Pennsylvania if only by a few paces.

Arc Meets Wedge
Where the arc meets the wedge

I was quite pleased with my efforts but it turned out I wasn’t quite done. We arrived at our friends’ house and I relayed my adventures. That’s when I was given a copy of the newspaper article freshly pulled from the recycling bin. The husband said he’d been mountain biking along the trails in Walter Carpenter State Park (within the Wedge) and he’d noticed a marker maybe five feet tall and wanted to know if I’d like to see it. It was only five minutes away as is everything in the constricted northern reaches of Delaware, so it would be an easy trip. Well, duh, of course I wanted to see it! Soon we were on the way back to the wedge, leaving the rest of my family behind with his wife, who frankly, were all quite grateful to avoid this opportunity.

We cut down a narrow, winding asphalt track called Hopkins Bridge Road and kept our eyes open for a stone shaft set in a clearing in the woods. We worried we might get hit from behind if we pulled over so this might need to be a quick dash-and-shoot. However, when we arrived we noticed a small pullout on the other side of the road just large enough for a single car. I’m sure this was provided purposely and thanks should go to the State of Pennsylvania since we’d just crossed their border. From there it was a simple walk a few yards into the woods.

Three remarkable geographic oddities on four sites with minimal effort. My Delaware visit went much better than I’d ever imagined.

The Twelve Mile Circle, Part II

The most visible manifestation of the so-called Twelve Mile Circle is an arc-shaped portion of the border between Delaware and Pennsylvania, as noted in the previous entry. However it’s not the only impact discernible. The oddity also effects albeit less visibly, the DelawareNew Jersey boundary.

Refer back to the map again and let’s reacquaint ourselves with the layout:

Delaware & Pennsylvania Twelve Mile Circle
SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons, which notes that the map was obtained from an edition of the National Atlas of the United States, which is in the public domain.

Imagine in your mind’s eye a complete circle and notice where it crosses the Delaware River on the north side and on the south. Delaware’s territory extends right up to the mean low tide mark on the eastern riverbank within the circle. In contrast, Delaware and New Jersey split ownership of the river using the thalweg method outside of the circle. I have a previous entry that describes various methods of splitting river borders so go there if you’d like a more detailed explanation. As unusual as it sounds, the two states have a different basis for dividing their river boundary depending on whether one is inside or outside of the 12-mile circle.

Other than being a geographic curiosity and a great trivia question, does it really matter? Indeed it does, and it comes with a lot of implications. First, Delaware owns all of river islands within the circle.

Fort Delaware

Pea Patch Island is one of those islands and today it’s the site of Fort Delaware State Park. I have an interest in coastal defenses and fortification and I was fortunate enough to visit here a few years ago. Pea Patch Island emerged as a mud bank in the 18th Century. By the early 19th it had grown large enough for the U.S. Military to construct a fort on the site. It was designed to help defend the river and the approach to important commercial centers such as Wilmington and Philadelphia. It never saw action but it did serve as a prison for captured Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. Pea Patch Island increased further in size when the Army Corps of Engineers dredged a shipping channel nearby and used it as a convenient resting place for fill dirt. More germane to our topic though, and since Pea Patch Island falls within the circle, all 288 acres automatically belong to Delaware.

There are even portions of Delaware on the "wrong" side of the river, accessible by land only from New Jersey. Here’s one such instance:

View Larger Map

Notice where the border cleaves through the National Wildlife Refuge at Finns Point. The Delaware River silted-in was backfilled (perhaps by the Corps of Engineers) along this curve after the establishment of the original boundary. Today it provides vital wetlands for migratory birds within an otherwise developed area. Logically it would seem that the entirety of Finns Point should belong to New Jersey. After all, the boundary was supposed to be the mean low tide mark. However, as we’ve seen time and again, a state will not willingly cede territory just because a river changes (Carter Lake, Iowa and Kaskaskia, Illinois being but two fairly prominent examples). Therefore it remains part of Delaware. As an interesting tangent for those of you who collect state extremities, take note that Finns Point is the westernmost spot in New Jersey so strange geography abounds here.

The place where the 12 Mile Circle crosses the Delaware River on the south side presents another interesting anomaly:

View Larger Map

The arc departs from the low tide mark along the New Jersey shore and once again becomes a state border out to the river’s thalweg, clipping through the tip of a small peninsula which falls into Delaware territory. Good luck trying to get to that spot by land, though. Just to the south (and viewable in the satellite image) are the Salem and Hope Creek nuclear power plants, and the only road that seems to head towards the peninsula goes right through those sensitive, high-security areas. Boat might be a better option but my guess is that it might still be within a sensitive area. Tread lightly here.

Amazingly the border still causes friction between the two states. In the United States, the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over disputes between individual states, and there have been three separate cases dealing with the border in recent decades, all titled New Jersey v. Delaware. All three Supreme Court decisions uphold the existing boundary. The latest case was decided only quite recently, on March 31, 2008. The energy company BP wished to construct a liquified natural gas pipeline and loading facility within the Delaware River that would terminate at a storage and processing plant on the New Jersey side. Delaware denied BP’s petition as a violation of its Coastal Zone Act because the project would require dredging of Delaware land below the river. New Jersey stood to profit handsomely from the facility so they field suit against Delaware. Delaware prevailed in a 6-2 decision and the border still stands unchanged in its current configuration. This is covered in much greater detail in Wikipedia.

We’re likely to have this wacky river boundary — with different ownership rules inside and outside the circle — for some time to come.