The setup might take a little explanation. I wanted to find the lowest county highpoint in each of the fifty United States. There would only be one per state based upon a series of lists provided by Peakbagger.com. That might lead to speculation that a better solution would involve examining all county highpoints regardless of state and rank them accordingly. I’d consider that fair criticism and maybe I’ll draft a Part 2 where I do that someday. However, just for today, I found it a lot easier to deal with a sample of 50 data points rather than 3,142 because I had to transcribe everything by hand. That was the real explanation.
I’ve shared the resulting Google spreadsheet with the 12MC audience, featuring one single lowest county highpoint per state. Can you guess which states had the lowest county highpoints? I knew most of them although the order surprised me.
060314-A-5177B-035 by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk District, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
Virginia provided the overall lowest county highpoint with the independent city of Poquoson (map), which was considered a "county equivalent" for census and other statistical purposes. Poquoson’s peak elevation hit only 10 feet (3 metres) in several different places, just a storm surge away from complete nonexistence. It certainly seemed flat enough judging by the image published by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from Plum Tree Island. Those holes might be bomb craters by the way. The Corps explained that Plum Tree served as a bombing and artillery range before it became a wildlife refuge.
I agree, a "county equivalent" with only 15 square miles (40 square kilometres) of dry land felt like cheating. Virginia and its wacky independent cities always seemed to throw a monkey wrench into county comparisons. Looking solely at Virginia COUNTIES, the lowest highpoint would be Accomack on the eastern shore with a summit of 60 ft. (18 m.). That exalted elevation would knock Virginia several notches down the list.
road to cocodrie, la by Gerald McCollam, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license
No state suffered more from my arbitrary set of rules than Louisiana. I don’t think any other state had anywhere near the sheer number of low-elevation counties than Louisiana, where of course they were called parishes. I counted 25 parishes with a peak elevation of 100 ft. (30 m.) or less, including 7 parishes at 20 ft. (6 m.) or less. Louisiana’s issues with erosion were well understood. The southern end of the state continued to wash into the Gulf of Mexico as each big storm passed.
Terrebonne Parish climbed to only 13 ft. (4 m.), and barely resembled dry land at all with its endemic pockmarks clawed by hurricanes (map). Jefferson Parish, a west bank suburb of New Orleans, ranked a close second at 15 ft. (5 m.). One of my family members lived in Jefferson Parish during Hurricane Katrina and the elevation was just high enough to keep the house from flooding.
Potato plants in a Gum Neck field by Tony Pelliccio, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
Conventional wisdom led me to believe that the lowest county highpoint of North Carolina would be found on the sandy barrier islands and ridges of the Outer Banks. That would be wrong. I should have remembered that the Wright Brothers chose Kill Devil Hill on the Outer Banks for gliding experiments prior to the first airplane flight precisely because it was a hill.
The actual lowest county highpoint triangulated to a spot on the mainland nearby in Tyrrell County, a place without sand dunes (map). Tyrrell’s highest summit hit 17 ft. (5 m.).
Other Notable Highpoints
Brooklyn – Green-wood Cemetery: Minerva and the Altar to Liberty by Wally Gobetz, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
I’ll mention a few more locations briefly.
Perhaps I could be excused for thinking Monroe County, Florida — the county of the Florida Keys — would have been the winner. It wasn’t. Monroe County had a highpoint on Lignumvitae Key at 19 ft. (6 m.), the site of Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park. It wasn’t accessible by road so maybe that’s why I never noticed it during my many drives along the Keys.
Much farther down the list, New York featured Battle Hill (map) as its lowest county highpoint. That was in Kings County, a place known better as Brooklyn. It led me to wonder about the namesake battle of said hill. Fighting took place on the hill at the site of the current Green-Wood Cemetery during the early phase of American Revolutionary War, August 1776, a part of the larger Battle of Long Island. American forces inflicted heavy losses on British troops who attempted and failed to capture the hill. Shortly thereafter, George Washington evacuated all of his troops from New York City anyway because he was badly outmatched.
A final nod should go to Utah with the highest of lowest county highpoints. That was a rather impressive 9,255 ft. (2,821 m.) at Rich County’s Bridger Peak (map).
Completely Different Topic: Welcome Manaus!
Twelve Mile Circle seems to have attracted a regular reader from Manaus, in the Amazonas state of Brazil. I first noticed the anomaly during the World Cup when the United States played in Manuas and I figured it was an US reader who traveled down for the game (even mentioned it on the 12MC Twitter). However I continue to notice hits from Manaus at a regular pace. This counts as my official welcome. Thank you for coming to the site!
Twelve Mile Circle published a very rare guest post in March 2011 discussing Geo-Oddities of Portland, Oregon. It featured several unusual items including the famous Mill Ends Park (map). Readers might have been familiar with the spot because it garnered a lot of attention from mainstream sources over the years and has become a stopping point for tourists interested in such things. It might be the world’s smallest municipal park although naysayers questioned whether something the size of a flowerpot could truly qualify as a "park."
Mill Ends Park by Adam Lederer, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
Regardless, the city of Portland considered Mill Ends a park:
In 1946, Dick Fagan returned from World War II to resume his journalistic career with the Oregon Journal. His office, on the second floor above Front Street (now Naito Parkway), gave him a view of not only the busy street, but also an unused hole in the median where a light pole was to be placed. When no pole arrived to fill in this hole, weeds took over the space. Fagan decided to take matters into his own hands and to plant flowers. Fagan wrote a popular column called Mill Ends (rough, irregular pieces of lumber left over at lumber mills). He used this column to describe the park and the various "events" that occurred there. Fagan billed the space as the "World’s Smallest Park."
That was good enough for me. It was a park.
I thought about Mill Ends park from time-to-time for no obvious reason other than this type of minutiae sticks in my mind. I wondered what the smallest park in my community might be, the most diminutive public space in the smallest self-governing county of the United States, Arlington County, Virginia. This overall quest also connected with one of the very earliest concepts discussed on 12MC, Unusual Goes Very Local from June 2008, the simple notion that geo-oddities existed everywhere.
This park idea remained on my notoriously every-growing spreadsheet of potential 12MC topics for several years and I never did anything with it, and never had the heart to delete it either. Then I stumbled upon a sliver of land a couple of weeks ago as I pursued my quixotic Bike Every Street in Arlington project.
Arlington County actually considered this triangle bound by residential streets (map) a park, then covered the mound with attractive landscaping and declared it Nauck Garden. I’d discovered my smallest park, or so I thought, although I didn’t want to celebrate too quickly until I could confirm it. Going online, I learned the county published a Public Spaces Inventory with associated acreage. Unfortunately the file lacked a certain precision for my purpose although it helped me define the possibilities. It listed several sites including Nauck Garden as 0.1 acres.
This narrowed the candidates to:
- 18th Street North and North Lincoln Street Park
- 23rd Street South and South Eads Street Park
- Arlington View Park
- Belvedere Park
- Cleveland Park
- Nauck Garden
- Oakland Street Park
Arlington provided great real estate maps with precise parcel sizes for every privately-owned piece of property. It did not do the same, however, for public lands. Then I turned to the Arlington Parks maps and I did my best to transfer approximations of the seven candidate park boundaries to a mapping application that measured acreage within a polygon. I would have preferred greater precision. That wasn’t available so I made do with what I had at hand. Nonetheless this crude approximation was good enough to demonstrate that Nauck Garden was in fact not the smallest park in Arlington. My renderings pointed to the rectangle known as 23rd Street South and South Eads Street Park (map), roughly calculated to ~0.069 acres (e.g., ~3,000 square feet or ~280 square metres).
Screenprint from Arlington County maps gallery, Parks Map
I used to drive straight down 23rd Street twice each workday for nearly six years when I worked in Crystal City, and yet I had no memory of ever seeing that park. Naturally it became a great excuse to hop on my bike this morning and check it out.
My photo didn’t differ materially from what was available on Street View although now I could say I’d visited Arlington’s smallest park and that was important too. Go ahead and push the arrows on the image to see other pictures I took.
The tiny public space featured a couple of trees, a weird multicolor swirly design on concrete, a trashcan, two metallic tables with matching toadstool chairs complete with evidence that vagrants had been drinking there recently, and an inexplicable mailbox with graffiti. After visiting in person and comparing the space to the Arlington Parks Map, I believe it probably also included the sidewalk plus the landscaping behind the mailbox in order for it to equal 3,000 square feet.
Second place went to Oakland Street Park which was a blocked segment of roadway neatly landscaped and designed to prevent cut-through traffic (map).
Excluding 12MC readers from Portland, Oregon, does anyone have a bona fide public park any smaller than mine?
I’m not sure why I began to think about the birthplaces of every President of the United States. Maybe this might interest people, I considered. I wasn’t fooling myself though — I did it for me. Theoretically I could pass through one of these areas someday in the future and I might want to stop if it were close enough to my intended track. So I created a map.
View Presidential Birthplaces in a larger map
I gathered all of the locations in a shared spreadsheet. Twelve Mile Circle readers should feel free to consult the spreadsheet for exact latitude/longitude coordinates and links to additional information about each site. This could be a handy little reference for anyone wishing to visit these birthplaces — and there are people who do that! I don’t know why I’m surprised. After all, it’s not that much different from my county counting.
Trends began to reveal themselves as I plotted each location. For instance, notice the concentration of sites in the eastern half of the United States, particularly the northeast. That would be expected to a degree because of population and settlement patterns. However I didn’t expect it to be quite that stark. Nixon and Obama(¹) stood far apart as obvious outliers, considerably removed from everyone else.
The Adams Family
John Adams' Birthplace by James Walsh, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license
The original father-son presidential duo, John Adams and John Quincy Adams should win an award for proximity. They were born in adjacent houses (map) in the north precinct of Braintree, now Quincy, Massachusetts. Both are open the public as part of the Adams National Historical Park. That would be an easy visit.
The National Park Service estimated the distance between birthplaces at 75 feet (23 metres).
James Monroe Birthplace, Monroe Hall, Westmoreland Co., Virginia
I noticed a couple of particularly tight birthplace clusters, one in Virginia and one in Ohio. These two states dominated presidential politics during different eras, creating opportunities for statistical anomalies. The Virginia cluster occurred on the Northern Neck with the births of some of the earliest presidents and "founding fathers," George Washington, James Madison and James Monroe.
Ohio dominated the presidency in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with a string of Republican victories. As explained by the Columbus Dispatch,
Ohio’s dominance of the presidency around the time the 19th century became the 20th was no accident: Ohio was the third-largest state, behind New York and Pennsylvania, and it was the economic engine of America. Ohioans were the inventors and operators of the industrial age. With economic might came political power, including dominant influence in the political parties, especially the GOP, from whence seven of Ohio’s eight presidents came.
A particularly remarkable clustering centered near Cincinnati, with the birthplaces of Ulysses Grant, Benjamin Harrison and William Taft.
Close to the Border
Chester Alan Arthur State Historic Site – Vermont by Doug Kerr, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license
The Chester Arthur birthplace in Fairfield, Vermont fell remarkably close to Canada, about 20 miles (32 kilometres) from the border (map). His father immigrated from Ireland to Canada, settling in Dunham, Lower Canada, which is now part of Québec. His mother was an American born in Vermont. The couple wed in Canada and their first child was born in Canada. Arthur was born in the United States. The family moved regularly as Chester’s father taught at various schools and later served as a minister of the Free Will Baptist church.
Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution of the United States said,
No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President
Arthur’s political opponents conducted a smear campaign focused on the Constitution’s natural-born-citizen clause. His father’s immigration to Canada, his birth near the border, and his family’s frequent relocation were all used as "evidence" of non-citizenship in an attempt to disqualify Arthur from office.
Bill Clinton Birthplace, Hope, Arkansas
Most presidential birthplaces earned landmark status. Many can be visited by the public. That might not be possible for future presidents. Increasingly, the more recent presidents traced their births to hospitals. Jimmy Carter came first, then Bill Clinton, then George W. Bush and most recently Barack Obama.
Bill Clinton provided a case in point in Hope Arkansas. The Julia Chester Hospital of his birth no longer existed. It was torn down. The Brazzel-Oakcrest Funeral Home occupies its former site. In commemoration the funeral home placed a flagpole and a marker to signify Clinton’s birthplace. Street View provided decent coverage although a view from inside of the funeral home actually offered a better image. In addition his childhood home became a museum. Likely, that’s what will happen in the future. The hospital might deserve a simple plaque while the president’s initial home will replace the typical "birthplace" museum of the past.
Odd Men Out
I won’t bother to discuss all of the presidential birth sites. Maybe I’ll provide more information if I ever visit them. I’ll wrap this up with two more examples.
Andrew Jackson’s birthplace remained an historical mystery. It was somewhere in the Waxhaws Region:
Andrew Jackson, Sr., died in late February, 1767. Betty traveled south to the Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church to bury her husband. On the return trip, she gave birth to Andrew Jackson, the future president of the United States. Although stories abound as to the events surrounding the birth, as of yet no definitive evidence has arisen to authenticate the exact location of Andrew Jackson’s birth on March 15, 1767.
He may have been born in North Carolina. He may have been born in South Carolina. Both have claimed him.
Finally, pity poor Warren Harding. Many historians considered Harding the worst or amongst the worst of all U.S. presidents. Nobody built a Warren Harding Birthplace museum. He barely earned a marker.
Watch @TheReal12MC Twitter account over the next few days and you might be able to figure out the topic of several upcoming articles
(¹) I’ve listed Obama’s birthplace as Kapi’olani Maternity & Gynecological Hospital, Honolulu, Hawaii. I don’t put much credence in Birther conspiracies. I don’t think Donald Trump reads 12MC so we’re probably fine.