Almost Halfway

On January 20, 2011 · 4 Comments

Regular readers know that I find frequent inspiration from one-time visitors who drop onto the site by random search engine queries, who presumably find what they need and then along. Earlier this week the query captured in my website traffic log read "45th parallel near haines oregon along highway 30."

I’m a big fan of that particular circle of latitude. I’ve gone out of my way to immortalize my personal crossings of 45° North on a number of occasions. Remember my visit to the 45X90 Spot?

45th Parallel of Latitude

That got me thinking. I wondered if I could pull together a brief post with Street View images of 45th parallel road signs. I discovered quickly that somebody had already done something like that with results far superior to anything I’d ever complete. I hate it when that happens. Still, I tip my hat to the Wurlington Brothers.

That left me without a subject. Then I spotted Halfway, a little further to the east of Haines.

View Larger Map

How incredibly cool, I thought. The town founders recognized their fortunate choice of latitude, numerically half way between the Equator and the North Pole. I attempted to plot the parallel as it bisected Halfway, Oregon and learned… it doesn’t touch any part of Halfway. Rather, it crosses a few miles to the north in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. That’s disappointing.

There’s also a bit of uncertainty about the halfway that Halfway represents. Speculation seems to center on the establishment of a late-19th Century post office at the midpoint of two flea-spec towns that no longer exist. The current Halfway isn’t even located at the site of the original post office, which moved into the town after it was platted. Apparently it’s halfway to nothing and it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the 45th parallel either. That’s doubly disappointing.

Nonetheless, I still like Halfway but for a completely different reason. It may not qualify as a geo-oddity but it deserves stature as an oddity of a more general nature: Halfway became during the height of the dot-com boom. In 1999, CNET News reported,

Despite the fact that is based in Philadelphia, it has persuaded the City Council in Halfway, Ore., to rename the 360-person town after the e-commerce site, which will officially launch next year. After abandoning thoughts of trying to strike a partnership with towns such as Half Moon Bay, Calif.–which is bigger, closer to Silicon Valley and home to a famous pumpkin festival– got a bite from Halfway. Town officials hope their new ".com" name will draw tourists and small businesses to Halfway. For its part, just needs some publicity… But the town, which isn’t legally changing its name, doesn’t see the move as much of a risk.

Halfway got some cash and a few computers for the local school, and posted road signs with their name (see Flickr) at town entrances. eBay purchased a few months later and the arrangement began to unravel almost immediately. The rest of the story can be seen at an article I discovered during my search, What Ever Happened to, Oregon?.

I started with a random geography query that dropped onto my lap from a search engine, and I found myself immersed in dot-com nostalgia. I could never have predicted where this thread would lead me as I tugged it.

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