Tendril of Fairmont

On July 30, 2017 · 1 Comments

Last October I took a trip through various parts of northern West Virginia to count some counties. This included a stopover in Morgantown, home of the state’s flagship West Virginia University. I had to bypassed this area a number of times previously so I enjoyed being able to stop for once.


Fairmont
Fairmont, West Virginia
via Google Maps

Research at the time brought my attention to the nearby town of Fairmont. I noticed that Fairmont included a long tendril with a bulb on its southern end. It almost looked like an umbilical cord, literally just the width of a road for a couple of miles. What could possibly be so important that the town had to reach out like that and make sure this acreage fell within its borders? I should have been tipped-off by my numerous drives up and down I-79 over the years. I’d noticed an office park with huge satellite dishes by the side of the highway.


I-79 Technology Park


DSC_4119
Dedicating New, Innovative North Central Advanced Technology Center.
Photo by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin on Flickr (cc)

Sure enough, those dishes appeared within the confines of the I-79 Technology Park. This served as West Virginia’s answer to North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park. WVU, a major research university, sat just twenty minutes up the road and offered a solid anchor. The facility contained 750,000 square feet (70,000 square metres) of building space. These housed data centers and offices for 30 businesses, where 1,500 people worked (map). Many of those jobs were solid, high-paying scientific an engineering positions too. No wonder Fairmont claimed it.

The government also maintained a visible presence there. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration operated its Independent Verification and Validation program on the campus. There it tested all of its mission critical software, a program created as a result of the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ran a supercomputer center there too.

These facilities should help dispel the myth that everyone in West Virginia works in a coal mine. Mystery solved, I could go ahead and end this article, right?


Captain James Booth



Captain James Booth Memorial

Well, maybe not so quickly. The tendril — Industrial Park Road — bisected a large grassy area just as it entered I-79 Technology Park. My curiosity got the best of me so I drilled down to check it out. There I noticed the Captain James Booth Memorial. I’d never heard of Captain James Booth and I didn’t know why he warranted a memorial. The memorial itself fell just outside of Fairmont’s borders although I considered it close enough for my purposes.

Obviously this high-tech corridor with its data centers and satellite dishes didn’t always exist in this manner. The area was on the wild edge of the American colonial frontier two hundred and fifty years ago. James Booth, an officer who served under George Washington before the United States declared independence, settled in the Monogahela Valley in 1772. He was the first person of European ancestry to live there permanently. Nobody knew much about his earlier life, though. Historians couldn’t even agree on his parents or his place of birth. However he earned a minor historical footnote for the Boothsville settlement he founded in the valley, a few miles south of current Fairmont.

Five years later, Native Americans believed to be from the Shawnee tribe ambushed Booth and his party. He took an arrow to the chest and died. His memorial marked the spot of his death as well as his grave.


Some More Parks


Wheaties/Mary Lou Retton 2.15.12
Wheaties/Mary Lou Retton. Image provided by General Mills on Flickr (cc)

I noticed a small, less dramatic tendril on the eastern side of Fairmont too. The connecting feature went by a more interesting name, Pinch Gut Hollow Road. This road tethered Morris Park into the town boundaries. It seemed like a nice gesture for them to include a park although nothing made it particularly special. The 112 acre property featured nature trails, picnic pavilions, courts for basketball and tennis, and such. Again, nothing remarkable.

However, Fairmont bisected another park just where the tendril to I-79 Technology Park began. It recognized someone I’d certainly heard of before; Mary Lou Retton (map). She was one of the most memorable names from the U.S. Olympic team in 1984. Her gold medal began the United States’ dominance of women’s gymnastics. However, that didn’t really show why a park in Fairmont, West Virginia reflected her name. Well, that was her home town, so that explained it. She lived in Fairmont up until she started getting ready for the Olympics. The town should go ahead and annex the rest of the park while they’re at it.

That tendril to the I-79 Technology Park packed a lot into it. Mary Lou Retton anchored one end of it, Captain James Booth anchored the other, and of course the technology park itself formed a nice bulb for an exclamation point at the end.

Duck

On July 20, 2017 · 1 Comments

Several years ago, and I don’t recall exactly when, I wrote an entire Twelve Mile Circle article without using a single Google tool. I found it incredibly frustrating, nearly impossible. The article got buried somewhere in the archive and I don’t remember the title. Just trust me. I didn’t enjoy it. Apparently I didn’t learn my lesson that first time so I decided to try it again.

I don’t mind Google in general and I’m not trying to bash it. However, my 12MC investigations do produce some rather mistargeted advertisements because of my unusual search patterns. As an example, I’m currently getting lots of ads for "Official Detroit Red Wings Apparel," no doubt because of King Boring and the Detroit Gems. I’ll never purchase any of that stuff. Those advertisements are completely wasted on me. Google’s all-knowing algorithm thinks differently.

Well, as I considered the situation further, the DuckDuckGo search engine seemed to be improving. It also famously didn’t track its users. Maybe I could repeat my "Google avoidance" experiment. Let’s give it a try, shall we?

Duck


Duck, North Carolina - 2010 - 09
Duck, North Carolina – 2010. Photo by sugargliding on Flickr (cc)

The Town of Duck in North Carolina sat at the northern end of the Outer Banks, snuggled up against Virginia (map). Lots of people I know owned vacation homes there. Middle class people could afford these homes by renting them out for most of the summer. They’d enjoyed their beach homes for a couple of weeks during prime season and then anytime at all during the off-season. That model didn’t really work for me though. I liked to wander and count counties. Even so I drove to the Outer Banks in 2012 and enjoyed it just fine. I could see why people might want a second home in Duck if they preferred to relax on a beach.

Duck didn’t have much of a history because it’s only existed as a town since 2002. Prior to that it wasn’t much more than a strand of houses along the ocean. The population ebbed and flowed in the predictable manner too. A few hundred people lived there year round, to be joined by twenty thousand other folks between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Some of us living on the eastern side of the United States might have heard about Duck for another reason. A little shop called Duck Donuts began there and has been spreading regionally. It’s always funny to see a Duck Donuts shop when it’s disconnected from the geographic source of its name. I imagined a donut literally made from a duck. Nonetheless, the shop simply carried the name of its hometown on the Outer Banks as it expanded.


Duck


Duck, West Virginia 25063
Duck, West Virginia 25063. Photo by Jimmy Emerson, DVM on Flickr (cc)

Duck also existed considerably inland, in the rugged interior of West Virginia (map). Wikipedia considered the origin of the name "obscure." Come on, someone saw a duck and named the town. Mystery solved.

Whoever founded the hamlet chose a scenic spot along the Elk River on the border between Clay and Braxton Counties. In this place, "rugged, laurel-covered hollows dart back from the narrow river valley, and level land is at a premium." It didn’t have much else in the way of significance although it qualified for its own post office. That counted for something. The Elk River continued onward past Duck on its way to the Kanawha River, then into the Ohio and Mississippi, towards the Gulf of Mexico. Elk and Duck. They liked animals and they kept it simple.

Duck had a better name than another community nearby called Booger Hole. On the other hand, Booger Hole had a better story, considering the murder spree that happened there about a hundred years ago.


Go



Go, Ghana

I found only a single Go, a small village in Ghana. GeoNames provided its exact location and offered multiple name variations: "Go, Gogo, Goo Abokobisi." The spot fell at the very northern extreme of Ghana, nearly all the way up to Burkina Faso. Other than that, Go seemed to leave behind few digital traces anywhere on the Intertubes. I ran it through DuckDuckGo and the first two recommendations involved the band Goo Goo Dolls. It also suggested its rival, Google. D’oh!

Vietnam provided some possibilities albeit not for Go as a standalone name. Go appeared frequently either as a prefix or as a suffix, with various accent marks above the letter "o." None of them seemed particularly remarkable.


Panaji, Goa , India
Panaji, Goa, India. Photo by Dan Searle on Flickr (cc)

Results improved dramatically with the addition of a single letter, creating Goa (map). Nearly 1.5 million people lived in this smallest and wealthiest of Indian states. The Portuguese ruled Goa for four and a half centuries. Then an independent India siezed Goa with force in 1961. Later Goa became its own Indian state in 1987. Its economy depended on tourism, especially for its Portuguese influences and its amazing beaches on the Arabian Sea.


The Verdict

I found it a lot easier to research a 12MC article without using Google this time. DuckDuckGo could probably substitute for Google’s search capabilities. It came surprisingly close to replicating its functionality. However I found it difficult to replace many of Google’s other services. There were parts of this article where I desperately wanted to turn to Google Maps, Books, and Translate. Google’s YouTube video capability would have come in handy too.

I guess I’ll live with Detroit Red Wing advertisements for awhile longer.

Ladylike Places

On April 13, 2017 · 2 Comments

The recent Manly Places dealt with U.S. locations that swung wildly towards an overabundance of men. Naturally I also wanted to examine the opposite condition. The inverse of manly seemed as if it should be something like ladylike so that’s what I called the followup article. This one required more effort. Women lived longer than men naturally and the ratios reflected that. Fluctuations didn’t hit the same extremes either.

Women did seem to congregate in larger numbers in major northeastern cities, such as Boston, New York and Washington: "Nine of the 10 metros with the highest ratio of women to men are in the East: Oakland is the only exception." However, fluctuations occurred even within those metropolitan areas. The most women in New York City could be found in the 10021 ZIP Code. In the suburbs of Washington, DC, in Bethesda-Rockville-Frederick, Maryland specifically, 1.2 women lived alone for every man in a similar situation.

Prisons


Alderson Federal Prison
Alderson Federal Prison. Photo by Aaron Bauer on Flickr (cc)

I found some bad news and some good news about women and prisons. Incarcerated women skewed the populations of lightly populated rural counties and towns just like their male counterparts. However, at least within the Federal Bureau of Prisons, women accounted for only 7% of the inmates. Still, where women’s prisons existed, anomalies could occur. No county had a greater imbalance than Summers County, West Virginia, the home of Federal Prison Camp Alderson. This minimum security facility housed nearly a thousand women (map). That created an imbalance in Summers County of 1.23 women to every man.

Some well-known criminals served time there, too. I remembered Lynette Fromme mostly because of her nickname, "Squeaky." She became a follower of Charles Manson and later tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford. Her sentence could have kept her confined for the remainder of her life although she earned parole in 2009 after serving 34 years. She spent many of her years at Alderson, helping to skew the population ratio of Summers County except for the couple of days in 1987 when she escaped briefly.

Things really got wacky at the town level. The greatest imbalance occurred in tiny Raoul, Georgia, population 2,500. Four out of five residents were women. There, the Lee Arrendale State Prison of the Georgia Department of Corrections created the anomaly. The largest town on the list of Top 100 cities with the most women, Chowchilla, California made space for two prisons for women. However one of them, Valley State Prison, became a men’s facility in 2012. It will likely drop from the list after the next Census.


Colleges and Universities


Mary Lyon Hall
Mary Lyon Hall. Photo by Mount Holyoke College (cc)

My intuition failed me once again. I figured colleges and universities would skew ratios more than prisons. I didn’t get things completely wrong, though. One of the largest towns to crack the Top 100 list reflected that category. Mount Holyoke College fell within the boundaries of South Hadley, Massachusetts (map). This institution dated to 1837, beginning as the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. It’s 2,500 students comprised a sizable chunk of the town’s population of 17,000; enough to contribute mightily to a favorable ratio of women to men.

A lot of colleges for women either closed or became coeducational institutions as the Twentieth century progressed. About sixty still remained in the United States. That limited the number of chances to dramatically impact populations.


International


Saipan Hyatt Sunset
Saipan Hyatt Sunset. Photo by drufisher on Flickr (cc)

I looked a little beyond the United States this time. Sort of. Wikipedia had a nice list of countries by sex ratio that I consulted. After I sorted the list it showed that the Northern Mariana Islands had the greatest abundance of women. It contained about 1.4 women for every man. Of course the Northern Mariana Islands actually belonged to the United States in a commonwealth arrangement (map), even though it appeared separately on the list.

This anomaly occurred because of legal loopholes and deplorable exploitation of female garment workers brought to the islands primarily from China. The Northern Marianas fell within something of a gray area. Products coming from there could claim that they were "Made in the USA" and avoid tariffs. However, a lot of wage and fair labor laws applicable on the mainland United States did not apply to them. A large garment industry started operating in the Northern Marianas around 1984 to take advantage of the situation. That’s why women so outnumbered men. They toiled in factories twelve or more hours a day without breaks for poverty wages. Once exposed, the U.S. Congress began to pass laws that eventually restricted the loopholes. The last of the factories closed in 2012 and the population of Saipan dropped by nearly a third.

Estonia may top the list after the next Census takes place in the Northern Marianas. I examined the ratios within Estonia by different age categories. It seemed after a quick glance that Estonian men simply began to die in droves once they hit their 60’s.

Purpose
12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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