Wednesday, August 12, 2020

SearchResearch Challenge (9/12/20): Why are some state boundaries so ... odd?


Why is the US/Canada border so complicated and strange?  

There's a lot of discussion about the border between the US and Canada. At the moment, the border is technically closed to US citizens because of COVID, and because of that, there's a certain amount of tension as people from the US try to (and sometimes succeed) at sneaking into Canada. 

Naturally, that made me curious about the US/Canada border, so I started looking at it, trying to understand how it came to be.  And, naturally, one obvious question is "what's the northernmost point of the contiguous United States?"  A quick search tells me that it's here, at Angle Inlet, Minnesota.  

The border is mostly a long straight line from Vancouver to the middle of Minnesota, and it follows a jagged line when it snakes around islands in the Great Lakes. But then it gets weird in the middle.  The borderline takes a sharp left turn due north in the middle of Minnesota, turns left at Angle Inlet, and then meanders back down to to Wheeler's Point and follows the Rainy River, etc etc. 

The odd border between Canada and US at Minnesota

That seems pretty weird to me.  In general, there are some oddities in states boundaries that demand their backstories.  And that's the theme for this week's Challenges:  Why are some state boundaries so odd? 

1.  Why does the US/Canada border take a sudden left turn after passing eastward of Buffalo Point?  What's the story there? 

2.  Similarly, the place where the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri meet is also complicated.  There's an enclave of Kentucky that's completely surrounded by Missouri and/or Tennessee.  How did this little island of Kentucky come to be?  (Extra credit: Earthquakes here??)  

A small island (enclave) of Kentucky is surrounded by Tennessee and Missouri.  Why?

3.  The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is another oddity.  Any rational drawing of the map would have this part  of Michigan be part of Wisconsin.  How is it that this peninsula came to be part of Michigan?  (Big hint: Toledo turns out to play a part in this story!)  

As usual, let us know HOW you find out the answers!  I'll be curious to see what you discover.  

The Comments are open! 

Search on! 


  1. I started SRS with [ United States border Minnesota]

    Northwest Angle

    "It is the only place in the contiguous United States north of the 49th parallel,...Benjamin Franklin..."There noticed "practical exclaves. And Dr. Russell's Challenge also mention it so I read it.

    Enclave and exclave

    "The Kentucky Bend exists because of a meander of the Mississippi River...." It is an Exclave. I clicked in the link to the bend and also mentions with Ctrl-F "Earthquakes" that in 1812 New Madrid had a series of Earthquakes that are the most powerful felt in the United States.

    On related questions: Is Alaska an exclave?

    Today, enclaves and exclaves. The University of Houston's College of Engineering presents this series about the machines that make our civilization run and the people whose ingenuity created them.

    [Kentucky Bend Earthquakes] and [Kentucky Bend Earthquakes USGS]

    Summary of 1811-1812 New Madrid Earthquakes Sequence

    Google also answered when was the last one: October 31, 1895

    The New Madrid Seismic Zone

    [Michigan Upper Peninsula History]

    11 Little-Known Facts about Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

    Upper Peninsula of Michigan

    " was granted to the newly formed state of Michigan as part of the settlement of a dispute with Ohio over the city of Toledo..."

    [Upper Peninsula Michigan over Ohio]

    From Wikipedia: The Toledo War (1835–36), also known as the Great Toledo War, the Michigan-Ohio War.

    Good question to solve question is : How did Michigan end up with the upper peninsula? that Google suggested

    History Channel While the Toledo War is now remembered as the most ferocious conflict in Ohio-Michigan history, it wasn’t the last time to the two states clashed over their border...1965,the old rivals fixed a plaque with the words “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” to a boundary marker on the state line.

    1. I was thinking about Mexico and borders and searched [ Mexican border oddities]

      Border irregularities of the United States Ctrl-f "Mexico"

      Texas and Mexico.

      Then tried [list of border oddities]

      Geographic Oddities

      There are other results. Including other list and videos to visit

    2. This morning I was reading the news and timelines and found this:

      Carta Corográfica del Distrito Federal, 1880 It is not borders but some way related.

      I didn't know what Corográfica is, so searched for it:

      Wikipedia: Chorography

      Back to SRS Challenge [fronteras México curiosidades]

      5 curiosidades que quizá no sabías sobre la frontera entre Estados Unidos y Canadá 8,000 hitos (landmarks) and The Vista were the most interesting for me

  2. 1. |canada usa border history| finds


    GooEarth shows the border to be a lot more wiggly than I had thought. The left turn mentioned is from the earliest days and is referenced in the first article above. The northwesternmost point of Lake of the Woods was to be the starting point going west - hence the bumpout - then along 49th parallel. Apparently no indigenous people were consulted.

  3. 2. |kentucky border new madrid earthquake| finds finds
    In 1811 and 1812, a series of the most violent earthquakes in the history of the eastern United States hit the region of New Madrid, on the Mississippi River right where Missouri, Tennessee, and Kentucky meet today.

    One result of all the shaking was a new meander in the Mississippi River that later confounded surveyors trying to draw the Kentucky–Tennessee border through the region.

  4. 3. |upper peninsula of michigan history|

    In June 1836, an act of Congress would allow Michigan into the Union, providing it accepted the Upper Peninsula — more than 16,000 square miles of land that was later found to have abundant iron ore and timber — instead of the Toledo Strip. The strip really was a tiny sliver on border with Ohio near Toledo that was argued over for years.

    These are really interesting and fun to suss out. jon tU

  5. There must be a million stories about borders worldwide. j

  6. I puttered around with the 3rd question because I remembered from my Ohio History class in junior high (~55 years ago) that Ohio and Michigan fought over Toledo. Ohio won Toledo but a compromise gave Michigan the UP, taking it from Wisconsin which didn't have any power since it was still just a territory.

    I started with the search [why is the upper peninsula not part of wisconsin], which auto-filled in when I was partway through typing it.

    The Wikipedia article about the UP,, gave basically the history that I remembered. But it didn't give any reasoning about why the war between Ohio and Michigan happened in the first place.

    Looking further in the search results under the provocative question "Why does Michigan hate Ohio," I found a quirky article from a university in Ohio, . This article adds a lot of detail about the dispute over the Toledo strip, clarifying that it arose from a map error about the southern end of Lake Michigan, and that ownership of this strip became important when the Erie Canal opened and Toledo became even more valuable as a port city. The article connects that old dispute to the modern super-rivalry between the University of Michigan and Ohio State University.

    I haven't done the homework to verify the details of the Case story, but the overall outline about the Toledo War leading to the UP going to Michigan seems pretty solid. There are loads of articles in the search results about this.