What were the odds of seeing Twelve Mile Circle visitors from George, South Africa and George, Washington, USA on the same day? I found the coincidence fascinating. The city of George in Washington was, of course, named for George Washington. That other George in South Africa’s Western Cape Province, I suspected, must have been named for one of the several King Georges who ruled Great Britain. Which one though? There were six such kings over a span of more than two centuries. That led me to wonder if I could find a geographic place named for each one of them. I uncovered more than I expected so I had to split the topic into two articles. This post will cover George I, II and III. The next one will discuss George IV, V and VI.
George didn’t become King until he was well into his 50’s upon the death of Queen Anne. He’d been born in Hanover and spent his time as Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg growing up. There were numerous members of the extended royal family more closely related to Anne that George, however they were all Catholic so they didn’t qualify to succeed her. Being of Protestant faith, the throne came to George, the first king of the House of Hanover. His age pretty much guaranteed that he wouldn’t reign long and it limited the opportunity for places to be named in his honor.
A section of Richmond County in Virginia (referenced in Not the City) became King George County (map) in 1720. The county website confirmed that it was named for George I. That would make sense because its founding happened right in the middle of his reign.
Not much happened in King George County although a future President of the United States, James Madison was born there in 1751. That was impressive although I discovered another person born in the county that interested me even more, a man with the unusual nickname William "Extra Billy" Smith. He had quite a distinguished career, serving in the United States Congress, the Confederate State Congress, the Governor of Virginia both for the United States and for the Confederacy, and as a Major General in the Confederate Army. He tried his luck in California during the Gold Rush and he operated a postal service that ran from Virginia to Georgia. The postal operation earned him his unusual nickname. It seemed that he created a bunch of unnecessary side routes to collect additional fees. Friends and foes alike began to call him "Extra Billy" after authorities discovered his scheme, a name that followed him for life.
Next came George II, son of George I, who ruled for a much longer period. A longer reign equaled more opportunities for places named for him, and that’s exactly what I found. The state of Georgia (map) in the United States may have been the most significant. James Oglethorpe founded the Georgia colony in 1733 under a royal charter issued by George II, and it was always a good idea to flatter one’s patron. A beautiful lake in the Adirondacks of New York, sometimes called the Queen of American Lakes, also took his name: Lake George (map). The lake got its name during the era of the French and Indian War when Sir William Johnson occupied the territory and won the Battle of Lake George. The Georgetown neighborhood (map) of Washington, DC, however, may or may may not have been named for George II. It’s founding certainly dated to his reign. Nonetheless the founders and primary land owners were George Beall and George Gordon so those could have inspired the named too.
George II also had a war named for him: King George’s War, (1744–48), the North American campaign of the War of the Austrian Succession.
George II’s son Frederick died before him so the succession went to his grandson, George III who was only 22 years old. George III also lived a very long time. He reigned for nearly sixty years so his name got affixed to lots of places although few of them existed in the United States. He was viewed as an oppressor when the nation fought for its independence so his name may have been expunged. I couldn’t find a single instance although I’m sure some must have survived somewhere.
Elsewhere, however, his named flourished in places across the British Empire. George, the South African city referenced previously was a shining example. George became quite a lovely tourist destination in the Garden Route, wedged between the Outeniqua Mountains and the Indian Ocean. More unlikely was George Town (map), the capital city of the state of Penang in Malaysia. The naming traced to Captain Francis Light who founded a settlement there in 1786 on behalf of the British East India Company.
Other places named for George III included: George Town, Tasmania, Australia; South Georgia Island; Prince George, British Columbia, Canada; Georgetown, Guyana, and undoubtedly many other places too numerous to mention.
I knew I needed to create my own fun when I chose to drive through an area that didn’t cater much to outsiders. The people of Appalachia were friendly and always seemed welcoming, so that wasn’t the issue. Tourism wasn’t a major preoccupation. It didn’t help that my adventure happened at a quiet time of year. Activities focused on the mountains, and I came at mid-March; too late for skiing and too early for hiking, rafting or fishing. I found a backup plan, though. Twelve Mile Circle featured thousands of individual oddities over the years so I turned to my Complete Index for some ideas. I knew I’d enjoy visiting spots that I’d only written about before. This was a golden opportunity. I noticed my path would take me directly past several of them.
The whole concept of Big Ugly delighted me as I described these places recently. It created a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario as I prepared my plans. I knew nothing of Big Ugly until I started investigating my Appalachian trip, which led to the article and the marker on my map, which then led me to an in-person visit. Thus, the mark on the map created an incentive for my visit although it never would have appeared on the map if I hadn’t started planning the route. What a Big Ugly situation!
In that earlier article I’d noted, "Big Ugly had been around for a long time. Internet book searches found results going back to the 1840’s, when West Virginia was still part of Virginia. This wasn’t simply a big ugly creek, it was an old ugly." I’d encountered and failed to penetrate its shrouded history, concluding that "We will probably never know exactly what might have been considered big or ugly to early Nineteenth Century settlers."
It was an amusing situation although not enough for me to adjust my path. I didn’t get to see the Big Ugly Wildlife Management Area or the Big Ugly Community Center at the former site of the Big Ugly Elementary School. Stopping at the sign for Big Ugly Creek Road on U.S. Route 119 (map) was good enough for me. The kids got a good laugh and I got a photo.
Crazy Border Road
Route 119 served as the optimal path between Charleston, West Virginia and Pikeville, Kentucky. A section near Williamson, West Virginia had been high on my list of places to visit ever since I wrote Bridge in a Haystack several years ago. A random search query suggested an anomaly and I uncovered it after many hours of squinting at maps, for more hours than I’d care to admit. The truth was even more interesting than the original query. It began simply as, "only ky bridge that leaves one state, crosses a river, comes back into the same state." In reality — and in a distance of only three miles (five kilometres) — heading south from West Virginia, the road crossed into Kentucky, then into West Virginia, then into Kentucky, back into West Virginia and finally into Kentucky. That was an astounding FIVE border crossings on a single short stretch of road (with four of them occurring in the first two miles).
It was the path of least resistance and it made perfect sense. The Tug Fork, constricted on both sides by mountains, followed a wildly crooked riverbed. The highway, designed for high-speed traffic, needed to follow a straighter route. That forced it to cross the river at various points. The river marked the boundary between the two states, creating multiple border crossings.
Photographs wouldn’t illustrate the point adequately so I reverted to video, a medium I hadn’t tried on 12MC in quite awhile. My videography skills hadn’t improved in the meantime either. I owned a dashboard camera mount and of course I forgot it, leaving it safely at home. I cruised down the highway with a steering wheel in my left hand, a camera in my right, viewing the GPS from the corner of my eye so I could see when I crossed a border, announcing each state as I proceeded, all while driving as safely as possible. I noticed that the video sometimes showed the GPS. It said I was speeding. Just a little bit. Nothing egregious. I knew I’d better confess before someone mentioned it in the comments.
I’ve now visited nearly every geo-oddity listed in that article.
Woodrow Wilson Birthplace
It might have been a stretch to place the Presidential Birthplaces article on the same list as the others because every single presidential birthplace appeared in it. That created forty-three distinct possibilities, with several of them in Virginia alone. Nonetheless, one of those happened to fall along our direct route, the house in Staunton where Woodrow Wilson was born in 1856 (map). His father served as a Presbyterian minister and the family moved whenever he accepted a new position every few years. In actuality Woodrow Wilson lived in Staunton for a single year before the family moved to Augusta, Georgia. Still, that was enough for Virginia to claim Wilson as a native son deserving a Presidential Library and a Museum. Actually I’ve made his connection to Virginia sound overly tenuous. He did retain longtime connections to the commonwealth even as the family moved, attending Law School at the University of Virginia, and visited Staunton regularly over the years. This was as good a town as any for his library and museum.
I’ve seen other presidential libraries. This one was smaller than the those for more resent presidents although it was well done and certainly worth a visit.
Bath County appeared in Taking a Bath. I didn’t have anything more to say about it because we didn’t stop until we hit the border as we left. The path involved a long day of driving and I wanted to keep moving. We drove past The Homestead mentioned in that earlier article (map), waved, and pressed onward.
Mount Jackson Water Tower
I’d driven past the water tower rising next to Interstate 81 at Mount Jackson many times. I’d always been fascinated by its larger-than-life basket of apples hoisted high above the highway (map). It appeared in my article devoted entirely to Eric Henn Murals.
Some artists preferred oil on canvas as their medium. Not Eric Henn. He specialized in marine paint on outdoor structures, creating lifelike designs on water towers, petroleum storage tanks, the sides of brick buildings and anything with a flat vertical surface. Mount Jackson’s apple basked was an Eric Henn creation, painted by hand and replacing a weather-worn vinyl sticker someone else had affixed years earlier. This water tower, Meems Bottom Bridge, and Shenandoah Caverns all fell within a few miles of each other, making it easy to experience all three sites with minimal effort.
I already mentioned that reader Andy recommended several places for me to visit during the Appalachian Loop, and I made it to two of them: the Pikeville Overlook and Breaks Interstate Park. I hadn’t known about either one of them ahead of time and likely wouldn’t have discovered them on my own, so the suggestions were greatly appreciated. I brought that up to encourage readers to continue posting ideas for my 2016 Travel Plans. I still have trips coming up in the New England states in May and Michigan in July. There’s a good chance that some of your great ideas will make it onto the pages of Twelve Mile Circle!
It was about six months ago that I went on a fifty mile biking adventure on a bright, late-summer morning in Maryland, describing the Bridges of Frederick County that I’d encountered. The lack of reader response didn’t deter me from my emerging fascination, though. It seemed I had a thing for bridges, covered ones in particular, although structures unprotected from the elements too if they embodied peculiar features. I choose topics for Twelve Mile Circle so the audience should feel free to skip this post and wait for the series’ conclusion later this week, or scroll through some pretty pictures of bridges, or even keep reading if you like. I’m fine with whatever you prefer. This one’s for me.
I’d been left with a quandary. My research found plenty of interesting options for the drive through West Virginia and Kentucky. However the entire premise of my road trip involved my relentless need to capture five Virginia counties so I could say I’d been to every county and independent city in the Commonwealth. It was all about bragging rights. Unfortunately I hadn’t been to most of the remaining counties for a reason; there were precious few excuses to go out of my way to see them. Oddly enough I stumbled upon a page from the Virginia Department of Transportation and actually found it useful. People from Virginia would understand my perplexed reaction. VDOT was responsible for road maintenance and drivers’ licenses and functions like that. When I thought of VDOT, my mind went reflexively to endless, bureaucratic lines once every few years so I could renew my license and keep driving. And yet, VDOT had a nice, helpful page on Covered Bridges in Virginia. My route would take me past something like half of the remaining covered bridges in the Old Dominion.
Sinking Creek Bridge
We drove from southwest to northeast so I’ll discuss the covered bridges we encountered in that same order. First came Sinking Creek Bridge, sometimes called the Clover Hollow Bridge, in Giles County (map). It felt remote although the spot was only about ten miles (16 kilometres) from Blacksburg, home of Virginia Tech, so I imagined it must get all kinds of touristy attention on the weekends. Consider all of the University lovebirds who wanted a romantic spot for a picnic lunch in the country, and Sinking Creek would seem to fit the definition. Nobody was there when we visited and that was all that mattered to me. I could get some photographs without any actual humans in the background.
The bridge spanned about seventy feet across Sinking Creek, thus the name, constructed of modified Howe trusses. I had no idea what distinguished "modified Howe trusses" from any other trusses although the intertubes helped as usual and I went on my merry way.
Traffic hadn’t crossed the bridge for a long time, and in fact it’s lifespan was pretty short. The bridge first spanned Sinking Creek in 1916 and it was replaced by another bridge in 1949. The landowner had the foresight to consider covered bridges attractive and left it in place after its obsolescence. Thank you, random farmer person.
Humpback Bridge was the most well-known and visited of Virginia’s remaining covered bridges. It was easy to see why. The bridge was situated in a beautiful park-like setting along a scenic stretch of river and it had that unusual humpback shape. Few covered bridges ever featured a hump where the middle sat higher than either end, and fewer still survived intact into the present. The hump actually performed a function. Designers thought a bulge might make it less vulnerable to washing away in a flood after that same fate befell several earlier bridges at the site. This one had stood since 1857 so the builders got it right. Humps, apparently, were good.
Humpback Bridge spanned about a hundred feet as it crosses Dunlap Creek, a tributary of the Cowpasture River that flowed to the James and onward into Chesapeake Bay. It fell into disrepair after a steel truss bridge replaced it in 1929. Several sites stated that a local farmer even used it as a makeshift hay barn before preservationists noted its quaintness and pushed for preservation. While located in rural Alleghany County, Humpback Bridge was just outside of the independent city of Covington and an easy 5-minute detour from Interstate 64 (map). There were even tourists there during our mid-week off-season stop. I imagined it must get pretty busy on summer weekends.
Meems Bottom Bridge
The bridge at Meems Bottom was considerably farther north than the other two, way up Interstate 81 in Shenandoah County. It was actually only a couple of miles from Shenandoah Caverns (which we also visited) and anyone traveling to see the cave could easily combine it with a visit to the bridge as we did. I’d recommend it.
The bridge offered something the others did not; it was still operational. Wissler Road ran directly across its deck so that was a fun experience, driving an automobile through a wooden tunnel over the North Fork of the Shenandoah River (map). Meems Bottom Bridge spanned about two hundred feet so it was considerably longer than the other two we’d visited the previous day, too.
This wasn’t the original Meems Bottom Bridge. Vandals burned the circa 1894 structure sometime in the 1970’s. Local officials salvaged what they could and rebuilt the bridge to its original specifications. I think they did a fine job. It looked attractive and my car didn’t fall through the floorboards and into the river so it performed its stated function flawlessly.
Nolan Toll Bridge
I had a story from earlier in the trip along the Tug Fork, on the border of West Virginia and Kentucky. It involved a rather unattractive concrete bridge instead of a covered bridge, although it was still a bridge so I felt I could shoehorn it into the article. I noticed that our path would take us very close to Martin County, Kentucky so I could capture it with just a tiny jog along our route. That seemed entirely feasible. The Nolan Toll Bridge (map) crossed the Tug Fork at Nolan, WV and from there Martin was maybe a half-mile away.
However, in Satellite Mode, the bridge looked dubious. I’m glad my intuition led me to examine the situation closer. Some quick research uncovered a March 2015 article in the Mingo Messenger, "Searching for answers at Nolan." The bridge had been built as a private toll bridge in 1963 and fell into disrepair after the owner retired and moved from the area. However, neither West Virginia nor Kentucky wanted to assume ownership because it needed renovation. It remained open, an "at your own risk" situation neither prohibited nor sanctioned, and people continued to drive across the bridge because it offered a convenient shortcut.
Then someone had to come along and ruin the whole arrangement in late 2012. The driver of a tractor-trailer decided to cross the bridge — and based on my quick in-person examination I’d say that he demonstrated extremely poor judgment — whereupon he got stuck on the railroad crossing at the far end of the bridge. No surprise, a train struck the truck. Nobody was hurt although that was enough for authorities to shut the bridge down. I noticed that someone had taken a backhoe and carved a chasm through the asphalt leading up to the bridge on the West Virginia side. They were serious about it. None shall pass.
Fortunately I figured this all out before I arrived because Google thought the bridge was still passable more than three years after it closed. Of course I had to stop and take photos before detouring to the longer route down at the next bridge and doubling-back, to capture Martin County. I actually considered jogging across and capturing Martin on foot (to make it a true "footloose" visit) and decided it was unsafe — not the bridge, rather the road on the other side. It lacked a shoulder and I didn’t want to become roadkill.
By the way, if the embedded map above ever shows a longer route to 12MC readers of the distant future, it means that Google finally figured out that the Nolan Toll Bridge doesn’t carry traffic anymore.
There was a nice display about the New River Gorge Bridge at the West Virginia State Museum in Charleston. I liked my in-person visit better, though. Oh, and I supposed I could also count the little bridge near where Asa Harmon McCoy died. Indeed, there were plenty of bridges along this journey.