Odds and Ends 12

On March 23, 2016 · 10 Comments

It’s been quite awhile since I posted one of the recurring Odds and Ends articles. I had a bunch of small items to share, so why not? People seemed to like them. I considered that #12 must have been special because it was twelfth in line and Twelve Mile Circle liked to celebrate all things twelve, although honestly the number really had no greater significance. Readers who wish to see the previous eleven articles can always find them in the Complete Index.

Even Lower Clearance

Low Clearance
Tunnel Under C&O Canal. My own photo.

I discovered a number of roads with particularly Low Clearances several years ago. Later I had the privilege of visiting one of those sites in person while traveling through western Tennessee, a road with an overpass only eight feet (2.4 metres) of clearance. I went several miles out of my way to chronicle the site. Obviously I had an affinity for such things.

Little did I know that an even lower overpass lurked practically in my back yard and I’d passed within eyesight of it at least a hundred times. One of my regular bicycling routes through Washington, DC took me down the Capital Crescent trail sandwiched between the Potomac River and the historic Chesapeake & Ohio Canal heading northwest out of Georgetown. Recently I’d noticed a parking lot at Fletcher’s Boathouse. Then, for some inexplicable reason, I began to wonder how cars got into it. The lot didn’t seem to have an obvious outlet to a road. I spotted the exit a few days ago, perhaps because the trees didn’t have leaves yet, and saw an amazing sign out of the corner of my eye: "Tunnel Clearance 7 Ft" (2.1 metres). A tunnel beneath the C&O Canal let an access road connect to Canal Road (map). That’s how cars got into the parking lot. It felt tight even on a bicycle.

Comments on that earlier article implied even lower clearances (perhaps as low as 2 metres / 6.5 feet), nonetheless the Fletcher’s Boathouse tunnel was now the lowest automotive clearance I’ve seen in person.


Disputanta, Virginia

I noticed a small settlement southeast of Petersburg, Virginia, oddly named Disputanta (map). There had to be a story. What kind of dispute would lead to Disputanta? I prepared to give it the full 12MC treatment as I rolled up my sleeves and started searching. The story seemed tantalizingly good as it emerged. William Mahone built the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad. He and his wife Otelia supposedly rode along the newly-opened tracks, naming stations in succession. She had been reading Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe and suggested placenames based on the book. William agreed and a string of stations became Wakefield, Windsor, Waverly, and [Mc]Ivor. Then they ran out of worthy candidates and it led to a bit of a disagreement. They memorialized their tiff with Disputanta. The story probably wasn’t true although it sounded good.

Then I stumbled upon an article in the Virginia Pilot, What’s in a name? — Disputanta. I’d been beaten by about four years and I couldn’t add anything to it. I hate it when that happens.

Coded Places

312 Urban Wheat Ale
312 Urban Wheat Ale by Frank Gruber on Flickr (cc)

Has anyone been following the great comments on the recent article called Mike? I mentioned that Milwaukee’s IATA airport code, MKE, was used as a surrogate for the city name in certain circumstances. Readers Philip Newton, Rhodent and John Wood pointed out other examples – PDX (Portland, OR), LAX (Los Angeles, CA), RDU (Raleigh-Durham, NC), and OKC (Oklahoma City, OK).

That also got me thinking about different abbreviations and codes used in a comparable manner, including those that I’ve referenced on 12MC before. For example, Chicago’s 312 telephone area code was adopted by the Goose Island brewery for its 312 Urban Wheat, sparking similar land grabs by other breweries in different cities as in More Geo-BREWities. I’d also referenced the postal Zip Code made famous by a 1990’s television series in 90210: Myth and Reality.

I wondered if there were other abbreviations or codes used in a similar fashion.

Iqaluit’s Road to Nowhere

iqaluit: road to nowhere
iqaluit: road to nowhere by Agent Magenta on Flickr (cc)

Iqaluit (or ᐃᖃᓗᐃᑦ in the Inuktitut language) was the largest settlement and capital of Canada’s Nunavut Territory, with nearly seven thousand residents. I grew more curious about the city as I researched Sawtooth Elsewhere. Iqaluit offered a What to Do page on its website that included a "Road to Nowhere." That was its actual name and the road truly led nowhere (map).

Every city has its most famous road and ours is the Road to Nowhere. Most tourists want a picture under the road sign. If you’d like to actually experience the Road to Nowhere, you can hike or walk it year-round, ski it in the winter or drive in the summer. This scenic route will take you just outside of town on a winding road that goes by lakes, rolling hills and tundra until it eventually ends, in the middle of nowhere!

I’d drive it if I ever visited Iqaluit. I did pretty much that exact same thing when I went "out the road" in Juneau, Alaska.

Capitol, Behind the Scenes

On March 13, 2016 · 0 Comments

I’ve lived in the Washington, DC area my entire life and it’s not very often that I get to see something in the city completely new. On Saturday the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon series made its annual stop in town, and offered a private tour of the Capitol building as one of its pre-race activities. Invitations came through a lottery system and my favorite runner somehow summonsed the requisite luck to win a spot.

I am not a runner so I felt a little guilty attending. I rationalized it by telling myself that I do support one — most recently traveling to the Center of the Nation — a fact I’ve mentioned several times previously on Twelve Mile Circle. Also, I do like to bike so maybe that was sufficient physical activity to qualify although my running has been limited to weekly 3-mile "fun runs" at a local brewpub. Still, winners were allowed to bring one other person so I accepted my "guest of" status on Friday afternoon and headed over to the Capitol.

United States Capitol

There were about twenty lucky winners and their guests who met at the Capitol South metro station entrance. A former Congressman led the tour, Jim Ryun who represented the 2nd District of Kansas from 1996 to 2007. Member of Congress wasn’t his only accomplishment, either. He was also a highly accomplished runner. Rep. Ryun first ran a sub-four minute mile while he was still in high school and later recorded a personal best at 3:51.1, the last time an American held a world record at that distance. He participated in three Summer Olympics, and won a silver medal for 1,500 metres at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968. He also captured a slew of other national and world records at various distances during a distinguished career.

For two hours, Rep. Ryun and his wife Anne graciously guided the group through various uncharted corners of the Capitol generally off-limits to tourists, all the while conveying their reverence and respect for this cornerstone of American democracy. It was a rare privilege that few visitors get to experience in person. I truly savored every moment, realizing I probably wouldn’t be lucky enough to experience something like this again.

United States Capitol

There once was a time not too many years ago when it was easy to get into the Capitol and we could pretty much wander around public areas as we pleased. It used to be a regular stop on my standard tour whenever I shepherded out-of-town visitors around the famous sites of the National Mall for the day. We’d start at the Capitol, maybe pop into one or two of the Smithsonian museums, meander over to the Washington Monument and wind our way down gradually to the Lincoln Memorial. Access to the Capitol became much more difficult after 9-11. Congress created the Capitol Visitor Center to restrict the flow. Anyone wanting to get into the Capitol building itself needed a reservation in advance and then had to stick to a highly regimented tour.

Our Friday afternoon tour wasn’t anything like that. People elected to Congress retained certain privileges for life; "once a member, always a member." Those included access to special entrances into the building and unfettered access to certain areas of the Capitol otherwise restricted to the public. Those privileges also extended to their guests. A simple flash of a badge was all it took to completely bypass the Capitol Visitor Center and its crowds, and walk directly through a side entrance without a line. We still had to pass through a security checkpoint with guards and a magnetometer although that barely took any time at all for our modest group.

The same badge led to several more corridors and rooms including some I’d never seen even during simpler times when security wasn’t as tight. We couldn’t take photographs in most of those places and in fact we had to leave our mobile phones on a table and pick them up later. Thus, even though we got onto the floor of the House of Representatives, sat in the actual seats used by Members of Congress, marveled at the architectural details and heard stories of political events that happened there, I didn’t have a single photo to prove it. I also learned of the existence of a small chapel tucked away in an obscure corner, a beautiful room used for quiet contemplation with a stained glass image of George Washington kneeling in prayer; and again, no photos (although I found one on the Intertubes)

However, we were allowed to use our cameras on the Speaker’s Balcony. The Speaker of the House had perhaps best view of any office in Washington, and his staff allowed our group onto the balcony for a brief moment. That’s the photo I’ve posted immediately above. Amazing.

United States Capitol

Of course we also toured through many of the standard Capitol passages including the Rotunda and Statuary Hall. I’ve seen those places many times before so I focused my attention on the geo-oddities of the situation after soaking in the noteworthy artistic and architectural aesthetics. The Rotunda was still under renovation during our visit, making it difficult to appreciate its true beauty through scaffolding and canvas catchments. Construction couldn’t obscure one important fact that I’d mentioned previously in More Oddities in Washington, DC: the point directly beneath the center of the Capitol dome stood atop the city’s divisions. I made sure I found the exact spot where my body would be split evenly between Washington’s Northwest, Northeast, Southwest and Southeast quadrants simultaneously.

United States Capitol

Who is that blurry man in the photo? Why, that’s Father Damien. Each state got space for two statues in the Capitol. Hawaii chose King Kamehameha and Father Damien. Hawaii recognized Father Damien, now elevated to Saint Damien of Molokai, for his ministry to lepers forced to live on a remote corner of the island in the Nineteenth Century. Eventually he contracted the disease and died there in 1889. That former leper colony became Kalawao County, famed amongst county counters as the smallest county in the United States. Someday I will go there.

Our private tour ended and we found ourselves back on the street. We hopped onto the subway and headed to dinner, grateful for being in a place where opportunities like these sometimes presented themselves.

My Speech

On February 28, 2016 · 0 Comments

On Wednesday evening I had the pleasure of presenting a speech about the Washington, DC Boundary Stones to the Stone Bridge Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Ashburn, Virginia. Since this was a group based in Northern Virginia, I placed a special emphasis on those markers on the Virginia side of the Potomac River.

Map of the District of Columbia, 1835
Washington, DC in 1835
via Wikimedia Commons (in the public domain)

An official with the Stone Bridge chapter found my Washington, DC Boundary Stones page and wondered if I might be interested in introducing the topic to the group at one of its monthly meetings. I’m one of those rare people who doesn’t fear public speaking, and in fact I quite enjoy it so of course I accepted the offer. That was the first time anyone had ever requested such a thing in the eight years I’ve written Twelve Mile Circle and the twenty years I’ve posted material related to my interests on the Intertubes so I knew I might never get another chance. I was also delighted to know that someone actually read and enjoyed one of the more obscure pages on my site that I’d tucked away in the attic, probably covered with cobwebs.

West Cornerstone – video by 12MC

I was slated for their February meeting which seemed like a lifetime away when we made arrangements last July. Time had a way of slipping away as it always does and February arrived before I knew it. Soon enough I found myself stepping up to the podium. I rambled on for about half an hour and I thought I did acceptably well, although one never truly knows. The speech allowed me to meander down a few geo-oddity tangents as well, like telling one of my favorite stories about the multi-jurisdictional Woodrow Wilson Bridge. I didn’t see much yawning in the audience and listeners asked a lot of pertinent questions that showed they were paying attention. I took those as good signs.

Washington DC Boundary - Stone SW4
Southwest Stone #4 – photo by 12MC

One question caught me a bit off-guard and I think it may have been the question I enjoyed the most. A member of the audience asked very simply if I had a favorite boundary stone. I’d never thought about that before. I liked all of them from a geo-geek perspective and they all look pretty much the same. However I wanted to frame a response that encouraged those in attendance to visit a marker that offered more than a simple stone enclosed within a wrought iron cage like the world’s smallest cemetery. I suggested the South Cornerstone for several reasons: it was the first stone placed and thus the most significant historically; it rested along a beautiful stretch of the Potomac River; the site included an old lighthouse; the surrounding park featured other amenities such as a bike trail and a basketball court; there was a large easily-accessible parking lot, and so on. However I thought of another marker on the drive home that evening that was much more meaningful to me personally.

Washington Boundary Stone Northeast 7
Northeast Stone #7 – photo by 12MC

It was lowly Northeast Stone #7 on the border between Washington, DC and the State of Maryland at Fort Lincoln Cemetery. It was an ugly stone, and looked like it had been through hard times as did the protective cage surrounding it. I wrote about my experience at the cemetery in 2011 after my 102-year-old grandmother passed away and was buried there next to my grandfather who I never met because he died several years before I was born. It’s hard to believe that my visit to Fort Lincoln happened nearly five years ago. I need to get back out there again soon.

Stone Bridge DAR
The Nice Gift Bag – thank you Stone Bridge DAR!

The Stone Bridge Chapter of DAR also gave me a nice gift bag, which was quite unexpected and much appreciated. And I got to stick around for the Chili Cook-Off competition. All-in-all it was a great evening and I thank the women of the Stone Bridge Chapter for the opportunity to share some of my obsession with local geography and history, hopefully without boring them too much.

I figured a few of you might be interested in what I discussed so I’ve presented my speaking outline below which I am offering under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) license should anyone else ever wish to use it. This was just a basic guide. I went off-script and down rabbit holes at several points as it suited me.


United States Constitution, Article 1 Section 8 (Article 1 deals with the Legislature)

"The Congress shall have Power… To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States…"



  • Articles of Confederation – Philadelphia was the capital; central government had little power
  • Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783
    • Continental Army soldiers in Philadelphia demanded payment for Revolutionary War service
    • Several hundred soldiers surrounded Independence Hall
    • Congress of Confederation made a request to governor of Pennsylvania to protect the federal government
    • The governor declined to intervene
    • Congress relocated to Princeton, New Jersey; capital moved several times thereafter
  • The framers of the new Constitution needed an independent capital



  • Constitution specified a maximum size for District (“ten Miles square” = 100 square miles), not a location
  • Northern and Southern interests
  • Compromise
    • Southern states would assume a portion of northern states’ Revolutionary War debts
    • The capital would be located in a southern area
  • The Residency Act allowed the President to choose the spot
  • George Washington wanted Alexandria to be within the District; the area would also include Georgetown
    • Alexandria was an important port city
    • Washington and his family/friends owned property around Alexandria
  • Compromise
    • Alexandria would be included in the District
    • All public buildings would be located on land formerly part of Maryland



  • Alexandria would anchor the southern tip of a "ten Miles square" diamond
  • Washington commissioned a survey team led by Andrew Ellicott (African American surveyor/astronomer Benjamin Banneker part of the crew)
  • Boundary would be designated by sandstone markers quarried at Aquia Creek in Virginia (also used for buildings in DC; e.g., original Capitol columns now at National Arboretum)
  • The effort took two years, 1791-1792
    • First stone — the South Cornerstone — placed at Jones Point at the confluence of the Potomac River and Hunting Creek
    • The crew then headed clockwise
    • Path 20 feet wide cleared on each side of marker
    • Forty mile perimeter — forty stones placed
      • Thirty Six still survive
      • Oldest Federally-placed monuments in the U.S.
  • Officially became District of Columbia in 1801



  • The District had two counties, Washington and Alexandria
  • Alexandria diminished in importance; viability threatened
    • Federal presence on other side of the Potomac
    • Georgetown on the C&O Canal
    • Reliance upon the slave trade
    • Undercurrents of Congressional involvement; abolitionist movement
    • All District residents disenfranchised
  • Alexandria appealed to Richmond; lobbied for return
  • Virginia would accept Alexandria’s return if U.S. Congress consented
  • Congress consented in 1846, subject to a referendum of Alexandria residents
  • Residents approved referendum; Congress issued a proclamation of transfer
  • Virginia approved the transfer in 1847 and its original lands returned
  • The Compromise of 1850 did indeed outlaw the slave trade in the District

The Supreme Court has never ruled on the constitutionality of the retrocession



  • The southwestern side of the ten Miles square now traverses Virginia land
    • Includes 14 markers (South & West Cornerstones; all southwest intermediate stones; first three northwest intermediate stones)
    • SW2 is a replacement stone
    • See boundarystones.org
  • Most of the original boundary stones are still there
    • They still form a boundary, principally for Arlington County, with Fairfax County and the City of Falls Church
    • Less so with the City of Alexandria
  • The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) placed iron fences around the markers in 1915
  • Otherwise they were neglected and largely forgotten
  • Finally getting renewed attention in the last couple of decades
  • Most of the markers on the Virginia side are very easy to visit



South Cornerstone

  • Jones Point Park
  • Large parking lot underneath the Woodrow Wilson Bridge
  • Trivia – Woodrow Wilson Bridge


Southwest Stone 9

  • Benjamin Banneker Park; 6620 N. 18th St., Arlington
  • Easy street parking in a quiet suburban location
  • The park has a lot more than just the boundary stone
  • Trivia – W&OD access


West Cornerstone

  • Andrew Ellicott Park at the West Cornerstone; 2824 N. Arizona St., Arlington
  • Easy street parking in a quiet suburban location
  • Trivia – Arlington, Fairfax, Falls Church tripoint (only 4th alphabet street in Arlington)

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