Dots across the state of North Dakota. I plan to have photographed every town in North Dakota by the end of this summer. I’m currently in Jamestown, North Dakota, at a coffeeshop called Babb’s Coffee, “A Taste of Seattle”. There’s a 10-foot metal space needle in the corner, and the sandwiches are named after neighborhoods in Seattle. The coffee tastes like something I might have in Seattle, though not at Vivace.
I’ve spent hours driving to nearly unfindable places, like Three V Crossing, which somehow merits inclusion on the DeLorme map of North Dakota. Google Maps and MSN Maps both know where it is, but only MSN Maps actually bothers to give it a dot on the map.
The DeLorme North Dakota Atlas has become my official standard for defining “every dot on the North Dakota map”. If it’s on there, I will photograph it. The MSN maps are somehow even more detailed, but I don’t feel too bad about neglecting to photograph a place that’s too small for DeLorme or Google Maps. If I were feeling particularly meticulous, I’d also include data from my SPV railroad atlas. That, however, would probably double the time it would take me to finish this state. When finding all these tiny dots on maps, I’d originally assumed that they all came from the USGS place name database. What I’ve found, however, is that there doesn’t seem to be some master set — USGS might not have a place that MSN does, or vice-versa. Therefore, I get to look at five different places (DeLorme, Google Maps, MSN Maps, SPV railroad atlas, and the USGS database) if I really want to find every single dot.
Missing municipalities. Checking my map near Beach, North Dakota, I noticed that the usually 6-mile-square civil townships that blanket much of the Midwest and Ontario were larger than usual, ten to twelve miles square. Then I noticed that some counties appeared to be missing townships altogether. It made me wonder just how relevant the township is in an area with a rural population density of 0.8 people per square mile. As it turns out, many townships in North Dakota have disappeared. The US Census Population Estimates Boundary Changes reports dissolution of six township governments and one city from 2000-2006. Five cities and thirteen townships were dissolved in the 1990s.
Now today, I find out that the county I’m photographing in is experimenting with ‘voting centers’ for today’s primary election. Instead of voting in small town(ship) halls, people vote in the larger city or cities in the county. It appears that one of the last visible functions of townships may be disappearing in North Dakota. In some ways, this makes sense, since these buildings are small, often quite cold on the first Tuesday in November, and an expense to repair. On the other hand, driving 60 miles round-trip sounds a lot less appealing with $4/gallon gas.
Unincorporated dots. Nearly any dot on the map with more than a couple streets is an incorporated municipality, called a “city” by the state, regardless of size. I started wondering just how big a place could be and not be incorporated. One of the larger and better-maintained unincorporated communities is New Hradec. The town has a Catholic church, a Catholic school, and a Catholic workmen’s hall. It seems as though a large Catholic church ends up drawing enough people in to keep a tiny place surviving, as is also the case in Fried and Leo.