Reader Mailbag

On September 5, 2013 · 3 Comments

This is a rather special edition in a long series of intermittent Odds and Ends articles that I will call Reader Mailbag. This one was inspired entirely by comments, emails and tweets from Twelve Mile Circle readers. These topics were all completely unknown to me previously. I’ve put a little context and perhaps some modest research around them, however, their true inspiration came directly from the 12MC audience.

German Rest stop on a Dutch Motorway

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Greg went to the TheReal12MC Twitter Account with news of a rest area on the German side of the border on a stretch of highway within the Netherlands. He sent further information to me by email:

The shoulder of the road here hugs the border with Germany, so travelers exit the Netherlands as soon as they pull off. Street View shows a change in pavement and road markings right where the border would be, so it looks like Germany maintains this rest area. The gas station in Germany is also a different company from the partner stop in the Netherlands.

He concluded, and I agree, that this must have been a border control station in the pre-Schengen era. The infrastructure was already in place so it could have become a rest area with minimal effort. I noticed, as I wandered around vicariously in Street View, that a pedestrian overpass crossed between the two rest areas (image). I wonder if other purely pedestrian overpasses span between nations?

As a bonus, Greg also found a canal that flowed above a river in Ontario in two separate places (here and here). I did some quick checking and believe that this was the old Welland Canal that connected Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, bypassing Niagara Falls. It included aqueducts just like the ones Greg discovered at various points. The Welland Canal made an earlier appearance in 12MC too for another reason.

A Water Sphere Fan Site

Union Water Tower
Union Water Tower by NJ Tech Teacher, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

Peter pointed out an unusual fan site devoted to a single water tower in Union, New Jersey map. The 212 ft (65 m) structure received abundant adoration at It even spawned its own acronym on the site, WTWS!

…the old style water spheres are no longer built and are a dwindling piece of American history. Today water spheroids are the more popular water tower, and the old “sphere atop a mast” style are no longer built.

Can I confirm that this is truly the tallest water sphere? Of course not. However I certainly tip my hat to the author who has maintained an active site with regular updates on an incredibly specific topic since October 2005. That’s two years longer than I’ve been publishing 12MC! That’s devotion.

A Weird European Capital Crescent

Capitals Curve by Will T.

I’m not sure what to make of this interesting discovery made by Will T., who was kind enough to reproduce it on a map for us. Somehow the capital cities of six European nations line up in an unusually smooth curve, like they were positioned that way intentionally. Who can come up with the best conspiracy theory? I’ll throw out a couple of the more obvious ones: it’s a sign of extraterrestrial intelligence and confirmation of ancient alien encounters; or it’s an Islamic crescent that’s part of a secret plot to dominate the West. What else?

The Cincinnati Arm

Sayler-Park-Cincinnati-map on Wikimedia Commons
via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Andy has been reading slowly through the 12MC archives and provided a number of comments by email for articles that I’ve closed. Unfortunately had to take that drastic step for articles more than a year old as a means to limit bot spam. I’d mentioned Denver’s freaky appendage back in 2010 and Andy countered with Cincinnati’s funky tendril (map).

The neighborhood is known as Sayler Park. There’s a lot of speculation that it became part of Cincinnati because it was an industrial center located conveniently along the Ohio River. The tendril apparently started as three separate communities: Delhi on the Ohio; Home City; and Fernbank, tracing back to the mid 1800’s. Cincinnati annexed the land in 1911. Look closely and one will see that there is still a Home City Avenue (map) and a Fernbank Avenue (map) in Sayler Park today.

Andy also noted that Sayler Park was hit by an F5 tornado during the Super Outbreak of April 3–4, 1974. The Saylor Park tornado was the only tornado of the bunch to cross into three states. The damage was extensive.

Thanks for the great discoveries, everyone. Keep them coming!

Overwhelming Union

On August 27, 2013 · 5 Comments

I thought Disunion Averted would be straightforward. Union City, Indiana was on one side of a state boundary and Union City, Ohio was on the other. Fortunately I could search on the Indiana location because the town in Ohio kept generating false positives. Search engines wanted to point me towards the City of Union instead.

Union City or City of Union, and just 36 miles (58 kilometres) between them. Don’t forget about Union County either, about 90 miles (145 km) to the east. I started getting a headache. My older son, when he was younger and not quite in command of the English language, would have said "I’m so infused!" Yes, I agree, this is a very infusing confusing situation.

The Unions of Ohio

Ohio seemed to be a unifying place. I wondered whether her borders nurtured other unions. A quick trip to the USGS Geographic Names Information System confirmed my theory. Union City wasn’t to be confused with the City of Union or Union County or Uniontown or Unionville or West Union for that matter. They were all distinctly different places.

I eyeballed an optimal route and figured a determined individual could probably hit all six major Unions in under ten hours. This could also form the basis of a great Traveling Salesman Problem exercise like The Full Grassley. Maybe someday I’ll revisit the issue and examine it from that perspective, and calculate an optimal round trip. Maybe not.

I still wanted to make sure I could separate each of the Ohio Unions in my mind, though. I examined them in a little more detail.

Union City (1849). I talked about that one already. "Union" means a joining together, and in this case a village arose where five railroads converged.

The Dayton and Union railroad, coming from the east, reached its destination Christmas day 1852, and was the very first railroad to reach this location in the wilderness. A few days later, the Bee Line from Indianapolis reached the state line from the west… The east part of the Bee Line coming from Bellefontaine, reached here in perhaps July, 1853… The Panhandle (now Pennsylvania Railroad) from Columbus to the state line was finished in 1856. The part from here to Logansport… was pushed to completion in 1867 under the title of Union and Logansport.

That’s a lot of union.

City of Union (1816). The City of Union was shortened simply to Union for general purposes, as if it were the only Union that mattered. I discovered the names of the individuals who named Union upon its establishment — Daniel Razor and David Hoover — although I never learned why they did it nor what they hoped to unify.

Union County Courthouse (Ohio)
Union County Courthouse (Ohio) by fusionpanda, on Flickr
via Creative CommonsAttribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

Union County (1820). Union County, on the other hand, provided an easier explanation. The Ohio Legislature cobbled the county together from parts of several other counties. From the History of Union County, page 95:

Be it enacted, etc., that so much of the counties of Delaware, Franklin, Madison and Logan, and also so much of the territory within the limits of this state laying north of the old Indian boundary line as comes within the following boundaries, be and the same is hereby erected into a separate and distinct county, which shall be known by the name of the county of Union.

Uniontown. Well, I couldn’t find anything about Uniontown other than it’s part of the Canton–Massillon Metropolitan Statistical Area. I’m sure someone in the 12MC audience could find a better answer.

Unionville, Ohio
Unionville, Ohio by Dougtone, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license

Unionville (1798). This one may have been the most significant, historically. Connecticut relinquished much of its western holdings to the Federal government, and in return the Federal government assumed the state’s American Revolutionary War debt. However Connecticut held onto a chunk that now forms a portion of northeastern Ohio. In 1796 they sold title to their Western Reserve lands to the Connecticut Land Company, and ceded control to the Federal government in 1800.

Unionville was being settled at that time, circa 1798, and the Connecticut Land Company opened their land office there. Unionville became a gateway to the Connecticut Western Reserve.

The Old Tavern in Unionville (pictured above) dated to that same time period. An historical organization is currently attempting to preserve it. The tavern was named one of "Ohio’s Most Endangered Historic Sites for 2013 by Preservation Ohio which noted,

Established in 1798, the tavern served as a focal point for travelers to the Western Reserve. It remains the oldest tavern in Northeast Ohio and possibly the oldest in the state. In the 1820s the tavern served as a "station" on the Underground Railroad, with ties to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

No, I couldn’t figure out why it was named Unionville, either.

Water Tower
Water Tower by J. Stephen Conn, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

West Union (1804). Go ahead and check out their website. It’s like a time capsule back to 1995. Remember frames? More to the point, West Union is the seat of government for Adams County. Ohio History Central said:

West Union grew very slowly. Several miles away from the Ohio River, the main transportation source during the early 1800s, people bypassed the village. West Union remained isolated even after the advent of the railroad in the 1840s. The community was the only county seat in Ohio to never be connected to a railroad.

That was a neat piece of trivia! — the only county seat in Ohio to never be connected to a railroad. Feel free to use that one the next time you’re at a cocktail party and need to make small talk.

I never did figure why it was West Union. It’s located southeast of Union (the city) and south of Union (the county). It wasn’t west of any of the other Ohio Unions. I guess it’s kind of west of the Unions in West Virginia and Pennsylvania although I couldn’t establish a direct connection to any of those locations. It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Western Union either.

This might be a great roadtrip opportunity for the 12MC audience in Ohio.

An Obscure Gettysburg

On February 7, 2013 · 5 Comments

This is the story of John Kennedy. No, not that John Kennedy! I’m referring to John Wright Kennedy who I guarantee you know nothing about, nor should you. It’s about how a formative event in his life resulting in the naming of a town twenty years later. He was a farmer who underwent a harrowing ordeal, lived to tell about it, who went back to a quiet agrarian life and survived to a ripe old age.

Tangentially, I suppose it’s also about the huge paper trails we leave behind since every bit of information I discovered for this story I found online in less than an hour. If I could learn this much about someone who passed away nearly a century ago, imagine how much people will find out about you and I a hundred years from now in our digital wakes.

Mr. Kennedy was born in Stamford, New York (map), on April 18, 1838, a child of Scottish immigrants as the census records describe it. This put him at a prefect age to serve in the military when the U.S. Civil War broke out in 1861. Stamford straddled the line between Delaware and Schoharie Counties, and he joined many of his neighbors when they enrolled in the Union Army in nearby Schenectady to form Co. F of the 134th New York Infantry on August 22, 1862. He mustered in as a Private and worked his way up to Sergeant, then was commissioned as a Lieutenant and eventually gained a promotion to Captain.

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The regiment was attached to XI Corps of Army of the Potomac, a corps best remembered for its role in the Battles of Chancellorsville in Virginia and Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, in mid-1863, and in not an entirely flattering light. The Eleventh Corps was caught unprepared at Chancellorsville and was routed on the first day of Gettysburg, retreating through the streets of the town before reaching the high ground of Cemetery Hill. They redeemed themselves somewhat on the second day with a valiant defense of the hill, although XI Corps never truly recovered its reputation and was later dismantled and spread amongst other units. The 134th New York was in the thick of the battle at Gettysburg and lost 42 killed 141 wounded and 59 missing. This put 242 of the regiment’s 400 soldiers out of action in a single battle.

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The 134th New York monument at Gettysburg in the distance. See photo.

John Kennedy never make it to Cemetery Hill. He became one of the 59 missing on July 1, 1863. It turned out he was captured by the Confederate army on the first day at Gettysburg. He became a prisoner of war and was moved to Richmond, Virginia. The story didn’t end there, however. Kennedy escaped imprisonment and rejoined his unit in Savannah, Georgia in December 1864. He then served in the Union army for the remainder of the war, finally mustering out with his company on June 10, 1865.

He relocated to South Dakota sometime after the war, establishing a home and a farm in Potter County. Others moved to the area and it was time to form a town. They needed a name for their new settlement. As Genealogy Trails explains,

The group [of Civil War veterans] sought to name the new town Meade in honor of General Meade, renowned for his leadership in the Battle of Gettysburg. When the Post Office rejected that name because it was already too popular, Captain John W. Kennedy, a member of Gen. Howard’s 11th Corps during the Battle of Gettysburg, submitted the name Gettysburg instead. That was accepted.

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Gettysburg, South Dakota has more than 1,100 residents today and is the seat of government for Potter County. In 1991, the two Gettysburg towns became "sister cities." Kennedy passed away on February 13, 1918, in Gettysburg — the one in South Dakota — and was buried there. His tombstone noted that he fought at Gettysburg.

I can’t think of any other town named explicitly to commemorate a battle, by a veteran of the battle. I hope I can discover others.

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