Starting Points

On March 23, 2014 · 8 Comments

Preparing for a quick out-of-town jaunt to visit with friends living in the Twelve Mile Circle, the actual geographic quirk in Delaware for which this site was named, prompted me to plot a course designed to avoid the dreaded Delaware Border Tax. I succeeded in that goal by the way although that wasn’t germane to the story. Rather, this was more about the starting point (singular) although in actuality it became a matter of starting points (plural).

For some odd reason I won’t type my home address into any of the online mapping programs, harboring an unrealistic expectation that somehow those all-powerful corporate or government entities can’t find me or track my movements if I take that one simple step. I know. Fit me for a tinfoil hat. I realize it’s completely delusional and irrational from an intellectual standpoint even though that doesn’t change my behavior. That’s why I found myself dropping a rather generic "Washington, DC" into several mapping programs to research an optimal route and noticing that each site defined that simple starting point differently.

It reminded me of a day many years ago during the infancy of online mapping applications, if I can go down a tangent for a moment. I was taking a walk and noticed a woman driving through the neighborhood visibly lost. Finally she stopped to ask for directions after passing me three or four times. She wanted to find a very specific apartment building several miles away and had simply designated "Arlington, Virginia" in (I think it was) Mapquest which directed her to a point two blocks due north of my house. First, I thought, what kind of idiot would put the name of a 26 square mile county into a map site and expect it to bring her to the exact spot she needed; and second, hey it was pretty cool that I lived so close to the value the map returned. Don’t bother attempting that trick today. Mapquest changed its starting point for Arlington to the more logical county courthouse site years ago.

Back to the present, either intellectual curiosity or boredom — it could have been both — led me to examine Washington, DC as defined by several mapping sites.


OpenStreetMap’s Washington, DC Epicenter

OpenStreetMap specified a point on the northern edge of the Ellipse just across from the White House.

Zero Milestone Marker
My Own Photo

This was a spot that fell near if not directly atop the Zero Milestone marker. It was an excellent choice. The marker itself read, "Point for the measurement of distances from Washington on highways of the United States." It was hard to argue with that. Well done, OpenStreetMap. You get the Gold Star today.

Bing Maps

Bing Maps’ Washington, DC Epicenter

I’m not sure what made 14th & Madison, NW so special. It fell just outside of the Smithsonian’s American History museum, had a nice view of the Washington Monument, and provided easy access to the National Mall. That was a pretty location among hundreds of other pretty locations nearby. Nothing indicated why Bing chose that particular intersection as the starting point for Washington, DC.


Mapquest’s Washington, DC Epicenter

Ditto for Mapquest at 6th St. & Constitution Ave., NW. I love the National Gallery of Art, and the tip of Federal Triangle seemed like a slightly more logical starting point although the Zero Milestone would have been better.

Google Maps

Google Map’s Washington, DC Epicenter

And then there was the wackiness of Google Maps which selected Scott Circle for some inexplicable reason. It got weirder. I’m certain this little trick will only work for a short time. It will be eliminated once Google learns of the glitch so if someone reading this article in the future tries this trick and it doesn’t work, then understand the situation.

Type "Washington, DC" into (old) Google Maps. Use the slide bar to zoom-in to the extreme street level, then take the peg man and drop him onto the red marker. This will take you to the Secret Bunker under Scott Circle. I’ve provided a direct link too; I wanted to show you how it could be found manually so you didn’t think I was nuts.

Secret Bunker
Nathan Rhoades’ Secret Bunker, Washington, DC
via Google Street View, January 2014

I also took a screen shot in case it disappeared someday. It was a single room with typical Google 360° imagery, although one can only look around in a circle and not move anywhere. What a weird room, too. I see a couch, a chair, three flat-screen televisions, what appears to be a bottle of Kahlua atop a wooden crate, and a billiard table. Otherwise it was spartan, almost sterile. Maybe this is where the President of the United States will hide during the next disaster. I think Dick Cheney may have used it on 9/11. I’m kidding!

I enjoy a good conspiracy theory as much as anyone, however it appeared to be a user error. Nathan Rhoades, whoever he may be, must have accidentally specified Washington, DC as the location of his awesome rec room, and Google dutifully posted the file where its algorithms thought Washington, DC should be. One can click on Nathan’s name in the online version and it will jump to his gallery. This included an additional image of the same room, this time located at a house in Taunton, Massachusetts.

Nice man cave, Nathan!

Completely Unrelated

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with reddit over the years, often reserving praise for the underlying premise with a heaping plate of scorn (if you must know the gory details) reserved for its MapPorn subreddit.

This weekend was an exception. I noticed quite a number of new visitors because of a user on the MapPort subreddit who demonstrated courtesy by taking an extra step. Redditor "CupBeEmpty" handled this exactly as it should be done in my opinion, respecting intellectual property and copyright. He went out of his way to acknowledge ownership by posting a prominent link to the original 12MC article that described the "borderlocking" phenomenon. Thank you CupBeEmpty.

Odds and Ends 11

On February 25, 2014 · 0 Comments

The day I dreaded finally arrived. I was defaulted to the new version of Google Maps yesterday. I wasn’t favorably impressed when I first reviewed it last May and I always understood that the version I’ve used since the creation of Twelve Mile Circle would go away eventually. Sooner-or-later I was going to have to confront this issue.

Allow me to clear a backlog of some short topics with another installment of Odds and Ends while I try to figure out how to use the new version. Hopefully some of my earlier concerns have been addressed.

Mary Carson Breckinridge

Mary Breckinridge Park, Confluence, Kentucky

I noticed a little park in Kentucky as I searched for various places named Confluence while leading up to the Confluence of Confluences article. Mary Breckinridge Memorial Park, also known as the Confluence Recreation Area, caught my eye. Who was Mary Breckinridge and how did she earn a memorial park, I wondered?

It was a fascinating story that I’d hoped to turn into a full article, although I couldn’t figure out how to approach it. Mary Carson Breckinridge, as I learned was part of THE Breckinridge family:

the family has included six members of the United States House of Representatives, two United States Senators, a cabinet member, two Ambassadors, a Vice President of United States and an unsuccessful Presidential candidate. Breckinridges have served as college presidents, prominent ministers, soldiers, theologians and in important positions at state and local levels.

Breckenridge, Colorado and its famous ski resort? Yes, named for the same family, even if spelled slightly differently. The family name and its influence spread far-and-wide across the United States.

Mary Carson Breckinridge took a different path, leveraging her family prestige and pedigree towards public service. She grew up privileged. She was also educated by private tutors and in exclusive schools both in the United States and in Europe. After personal tragedies during her early adulthood, she turned to nursing, helping to comfort victims of the 1918 influenza pandemic and then

The following year she joined the American Committee for Devastated France and organized a visiting nurse program in France. The program was so successful that two years later her nurses and midwives were caring for children and pregnant women throughout France. When Breckinridge returned to the United States in 1921, she found that there were no schools of midwifery and planned to start one.

This evolved into the Frontier Nursing Service and the Frontier Nursing University, providing health care and educating nurse-midwives in an under-served corner of Appalachia. Hyden, Kentucky, the base of her operations and home of the current Mary Breckinridge Hospital, was just just down the road from Confluence and the little park named in her remembrance.

Tour de Odd

Woodrow Wilson Bridge

I’m thinking about organizing a casual bicycle ride between several Washington, DC area geo-oddities sometime this spring or summer. Sites would include stops at the American Meridian, various practical exclaves, an original boundary stone and the little chunk of Washington, DC crossed by the famous Beltway which is displayed in the photograph above (and see map).

Members of the 12MC audience who might be interested in joining me — the potential out and back is displayed above — should feel free to contact me offline. The route is nearly flat, almost at sea-level, and provides amazing panoramic views of the monuments. I’ll let anyone interested know more as I work out the details and the weather warms up.


Ontario, California, not Canada

Twitter user @colourcountry mentioned the interesting situation of Ontario, California which comes remarkably close (in name) to Ontario, Canada. The postal code for California is CA and the top-level Internet domain for Canada is ca. There’s all sort of potential for trouble or confusion going in either direction. He also noted a similar issue with Trinidad, Colorado (CO) and Trinidad, Colombia, Colombia (co). Are there other instances?

That also reminded me of how far I’ve fallen behind on user mail. My apologies to all of you who have sent story suggestions. I’ll try to get to them as soon as I can.

Accident, Maryland, USA

Speaking of user suggestions, reader Kevin mentioned his fascination with the town of Accident in Maryland. He noted that visitors would be accidental tourists, and that the town had a "South North street and a North South Street." It’s true!

How did Accident get its name? The Town of Accident said:

Mr. George Deakins was to receive 600 acres of land in Western Maryland as a payment of a debt from King George II of England. Mr. Deakins sent out two corps of engineers, each without knowledge of the other, to survey the best land in this area. Both crews returned and to their surprise, they had both marked the same Oak tree as their starting and returning points. Mr. Deakins chose this plot of ground and had it patented “The Accident Tract”. Now called, the Town of Accident!

Right. It sounds apocryphal to me too.

Follow the Letter

On December 12, 2013 · 10 Comments

Streets and roads appear frequently on Twelve Mile Circle. So do patterns. The two can be combined as seen with a logical street grid featuring either numbers or letters. I’ll focus on the latter. Lists of alphabetical patterns can be found elsewhere on the Intertubes so I sorted through a multitude of possibilities and selected a few of my favorites. This was not intended to be an exhaustive examination.

Notice the Address on the Sign in this Low-Quality Video I Took a Few Years Ago

My fascination probably originated with my longtime hometown, Arlington, Virginia. The north-south streets fell nicely into order for three complete alphabets plus the first letter of a fourth alphabet, as the county explained. The number of syllables represented alphabet sequences, so Arizona Street — four syllables — fell within the fourth alphabet and became the final street on the grid (map). This location was actually a triple-geo-oddity: (1) the only Arlington street in the 4th Alphabet; (2) a practical exclave separated by road from the rest of Arlington and approachable only through Fairfax Co. or the City of Falls Church; and (3) the location of the West Cornerstone of the original District of Columbia.

I was also quite familiar with the Washington, DC alphabet system for east-west streets, which went first with single letters of the alphabet, then two-syllable words, then three syllable words, and finally and somewhat enigmatically with flowers and trees. Greater Greater Washington provided the best concise explanation I’ve seen. The final District street all the way up next to the North Cornerstone was Verbena Street. I wasn’t familiar with Verbena although apparently it’s a flowering plant.

Before we proceed I’ll note that I found anomalies and exceptions on all of the grids so there’s no need to point them out unless something truly bizarre comes to light. For instance, Washington, DC doesn’t have a "J" Street, which is something already well known and cited frequently.

Tulsa, Oklahoma

Tulsa, OK: Alphabets begin on either side of Main Street

I think Tulsa might have been my favorite occurrence. North-South avenues located east of Main Street got alphabetic names of cities geographically east of Tulsa; those west of Main were named alphabetically for cities west of Tulsa. The pattern continued for quite a distance, too. Heading east it appeared to run for about two-and-a-half alphabets ending with Maplewood (map), which could represent a town in Minnesota or New Jersey.

Tulsa won a 12MC award for creativity.

Twin Cities, Minnesota

Brockton Lane, End of the Alphabets?

I stumbled upon a wonderful explanation and a detailed map that I can’t possibly improve upon at Streets.MN, which somehow snagged a Mongolian IP address that shares a common abbreviation with Minnesota (".mn"). Maybe I should grab a domain from Monaco so the 12MC website could become

"Applications for persons or informal groups are not accepted." Darn. So much for that idea.

The Twin Cities, Minneapolis and Saint Paul, and immediate environs developed an absolutely crazy number of alphabets. The website I referenced suggested a naming convention extending all the way to the second letter of the eighth alphabet, Brockton Lane. Another site with a very old school design explained the source of the names behind many of the streets in the grid’s first alphabet.

Denver–Aurora Metropolitan Area, Colorado

End of the Line. Calhoun-Byers Road

Denver and surrounding areas certainly rivaled and maybe exceeded the Twin Cities for alphabetical street naming wackiness. The alphabets went on-and-on even into distant rural areas in the vague hope that maybe someday the matrix would fill-in. The last one seemed to be Calhoun-Byers Road, a distance of 45 miles / 73 kilometres (map) from the grid’s baseline intersection at Ellsworth Ave. and Broadway!

New York City, New York

Avenue Q (Quentin) Where It Meets the Q Line Subway

A lot of 12MC readers live in New York City and I’m sure many were already wondering whether I’d mention Alphabet City in the East Village. The name derived from Avenues A, B, C and D, which ran through the neighborhood, the only single-letter avenues in Manhattan (map). That was nice and such, although it represented a measly four letters of the alphabet.

There were better alphabets in NYC. However one must leave Manhattan and enter Brooklyn to experience them. The Greenpoint neighborhood, just across the East River from Manhattan incorporated a partial alphabet from Ash through Quay with a couple of letters missing (map).

Travel farther into Brooklyn and one can experience Avenues A through Z (map). This might lead one to wonder — well, it lead ME to wonder — if the Sesame Street parody musical Avenue Q happened to be named for this particular alphabetic progression. It’s claimed that it was not:

The set of Avenue Q depicts several tenements on a rundown fictional street located “in an outer borough of New York City.” This fictional Avenue Q could be in the Midwood and Gravesend area of Brooklyn, where there are Avenues A through Z, with a few exceptions. One of those exceptions is Avenue Q. The street between Avenue P and Avenue R is known as Quentin Road, named for the youngest son of President Roosevelt. The Q subway train, whose symbol used to be a Q in an orange circle resembling the Avenue Q logo, travels through this neighborhood. However, the authors have stated that Avenue Q is fictional and is not related to this or any other particular street.

I’m not sure I necessarily believe that, though. Or maybe I don’t want to believe it.

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