Monday, December 22, 2008

Greensburg, Kiowa County, Kansas . . . Gone with the Wind

In November, 2006, I visited and fell in love with Greensburg, Kansas, which I called "A near perfect small town." I posted a page of photos, descriptions and impressions of my visit to Greensburg and Kiowa County on my pages at Little did I, or anyone else, know that less than six months later Greensburg would be almost completely wiped from the map.

On May 4, 2007, Greensburg was devastated by an EF5 tornado that struck with little warning. At least 95 percent of the city was leveled and the remaining 5 percent was severely damanged. Eleven people were killed. Now Greensburg, with less than half it's former population, is in the process of rebuilding. Some say it will be a model town, and a "green" one at that.

It has been very gratifying that since that time, I have received numerous emails from folks thanking me for the photos and the rememberance of Greensburg as it used to be.

On my pages at I have re-posted the photos and descriptions. You can see them here:

Below is my introduction to the photo set.

A Near Perfect Small Town

Greensburg, Kansas, with a population of only 1,885 is an off-the-beaten-path community on the high plains of south-central Kansas. It is the seat of Kiowa County, named for the Kiowa Indians.

About 3,200 people live in the entire county. You can't get there by commercial airline, train or even bus. The town is not touched by an interstate highway. Most people have never heard of Greensburg and relatively few tourists come here. That's a crying shame, because Greensburg is about as perfect as a small town can get.

In Greensburg you won't find a Wal-Mart or a mall, but the downtown business district is alive and well. Crime is virtually non-existent, You'll meet friendly people with lots of community pride and spirit. There are many interesting things to see and do, lots of recreational opportunities, and an abundance of wide open spaces, fresh air and scenic vistas. An extra bonus is all the peace and quite you could possibly want.

If you ever wonder what it is that drives me try and visit every county in the United States in my lifetime, then take a look at Kiowa County and maybe you'll understand. How regrettable it would be to complete my earthly journey and never once have stepped foot in Greensburg, Kansas.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Interesting Finds in Unexpected Places

One of the fun things about county counting is that you never know what neat treasures you may find in the most unexpected places. "Tourist attractions" can be found just about anywhere.
This sculpture, named Silent Leather, stands in front of the Wheeler County Courthouse, Bartlett, Nebraska. It is by the noted "Cowboy Artist" Herb Mignery. Herb grew up on a working cattle ranch in Wheeler County.

With only 828 people in the entire county, Wheeler is one of the least populated counties in the United States. I stopped here October 12, 2007, while on a meandering road trip from Cincinnati/Loveland, Ohio to Denver, Colorado. I had breakfast at the local Sinclair station - the only business I saw open in the town - and chatted with a table of about six local senior citizens, who seemed to be proud of the fact that there's nothing much to do in Bartlett.
Why is it that I love visiting places like Bartlett, Nebraska? I guess you have to be a county counter to understand.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Smallest County

Smallest County
Originally uploaded by {.jerry-b.}
Here's an interesting item I ran across on which should be of interest to county counters.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Kalico Kitchen, Marion, Alabama

Although I've been rather negligent in making regular posts to my County Counting blog, I've been putting my travel photos up on for several months now. I love it because of the unique "geotag" feature Flickr offers, and also because of the feedback I'm getting from people who stumble across my entries there.

Anyway, this post is an experiment to see how the flicker entries come out on my blog. If I like the results, I'll be doing more.

BTW, this photo and entry was made in early December, 2004. On that road trip I completed visiting the last nine or ten of Alabama's 67 counties.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Counting Counties in Southern Illinois

Grand Rose Hotel, Elizabethtown, Illinois

This past weekend my wife and I made a three day trip to southern Illinois, picking up five new counties: Gallatin, Hardin, Pope, Saline and Hamilton. That brought my total number of Illinois counties visited to 101 of 102. I hope to pick up my final Illinois county later this year when I take a road trip to Missouri.

It was not the best time of year to visit Illinois. The area had just suffered a severe ice storm a couple of days before. Highways still had many patches of ice and snow, especially over the rural bridges, and much of the area was without electric power. Also, a couple of roads we wanted to take had been detoured because of flooding. A friend of mine who lives in Illinois had advised me that the best time to visit southern Illinois is in the summer when he said it is beautiful. But someone who is intent on visiting every county in the United States can't always wait for good weather. If I traveled only at the peak season for each county I would never complete the quest.

Garden of the Gods, Shawnee National Forest, Illinois
It is certainly possible to visit more than five counties in a weekend, but I've decided that's enough if a person wants to actually see something of those counties and not just go on a driving marathon. At five counties a weekend, 52 weeks a year, it would take more than 623 weeks, or a little longer than 12 years, to visit every county in the United States. This could be very easily done for the first many weeks. However, the more counties a person visits the further he must travel to reach new territory, so each trip becomes subsequently more difficult, more time consuming, and more expensive. If a person must be obsessed to stick to such a venture then surely I am obsessed. I find it to be a magnificent obsession - full of fun, adventure, and fascinating learning experiences.

Also, I should add that over the past several years I have averaged visiting just over 100 new counties per year - which comes out a little more than two coutnies per week. I hope to complete my quest in about four more years.

Our favorite experience of this past weekend was staying in the Grand Rose Hotel in Elizabethtown. This old riverboat era hotel the Ohio River was established in 1812, making it the oldest hotel in the state. It was amazing to learn that Elizabethtown, with a current population of 350, was once larger than the city of Chicago. Other things we saw included Cave-in-Rock State Park, a place where river pirates once hid out from the law, and Garden of the Gods - very picturesque rock formations - in the Shawnee National Forest. These are remnants of an ancient mountain range called the Shawnee Hills. In Pope County we discovered a sobering monument to the Trail of Tears, memorializing thousands of Cherokees who traveled this way - hundreds of them dying in Illinois - during their forced trek westward. Several other interesting sights of human and natural history, such as the Cave-in-Rock ferry and the oldest Baptist church in Illinois, made me very happy that I visited this off-the-beaten-path corner of Illinois. We found it to be a fascinating part of our great land that we would have never seen if it were not for counting counties.

Monday, February 11, 2008

FAQ: What is Your Favorite County?

When I talk with people about county counting they often ask the obvious question: "What is your favorite county?" That's not an easy question to answer because each county has its own unique appeal. I honestly have never been to any county about which I could not find something to like.

Karen on Lake Michigan in Door County, Wisconsin

This past summer when my wife and I camped for a week in Door County, Wisconsin, I was tempted to say that it was my favorite county. Door County, which is a peninsula jutting into Lake Michigan, has hundreds of miles of shoreline, rocky bluffs, sandy beaches, quaint villages, beautiful farms and orchards, several offshore islands, a dozen lighthouses, numerous historic sites and several state and county parks. It's definitely a county that's got a lot going for it.

But then, on second thought, I love mountains and Door County has no mountains at all. In addition, we saw no waterfalls in Door County, no covered bridges, no old grist mills, no exciting cities, no Amish buggies, no flowing rivers, no prairie, no desert, no national parks or monuments.... Come to think of it, there are lots of things that I love about other counties that can't be found in Door County, at all.

If the perfect county exists, I haven't been to it yet. But there is still hope. After all, I've only visited 2,654 counties to date, and have 487 counties to go. Maybe my favorite county will be one of them.

Superstition Wilderness, Maricopa County, Arizona

So when people ask me about my favorite county, I have finally come up with a stock answer:

"Every place on earth falls into either one of two categories. First, are the places I have not yet visited but would love to see. Second, are the places I have been and would like to return and explore more thoroughly. My favorites are those in the first category."

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Need Maps? Try These Links.

Every County Collector has his/her own way of recording the counties they have visited. I began by using a large county outline map of the entire United States, bought at The Map Store in Knoxville, Tennessee. However, after years of rolling and unrolling, marking, and coloring with felt tip pens, it disintegrated. I got another large map and had it laminated. I still use that map, although it is sometimes a bit unwieldy to carry on trips.

My favorite way of mapping my county travels is by using individual state county outline maps such as that of Missouri, pictured above. I not only color in the county, but also jot in the date of my first visit. Such maps can be found on the internet. One good source is the U.S. Census Bureau: The University of Texas offers the same maps but in a slightly different format:

A very attractive set of county outline maps may be found at this site – although it may take a bit of searching to locate them:

My wife and I actually have three sets of state maps in different three ring binders. They are labeled: Stephen's Counties, Karen's Counties, and Our Counties - our counties being those we have visited together.

We also record our travels at a couple of online county sites, the largest being Marty O'Brien's site: Carey Jensen also has a nice site where you can record your counties online:

Monday, January 28, 2008

Celebrating my 50th COUNTRY!

Karen and Stephen Conn Arrive in Belize

In Addition to counting counties I also collect countries. This past Wednesday, January 23, 2008, was a milestone in my country counting when my wife, Karen, and I visited Belize by cruise ship. Belize, once known as British Honduras, is the smallest of the seven countries of Central America. It has a population of around 295,000 and covers an area about the size of the state of Massachusetts. Belize is situated on the Caribbean Sea, bordered on the north by Mexico and on the west and south by Guatemala. It is the only Central American country where English is the official language, although Spanish and Creole are also widely spoken.

Having only one day in Belize did not allow us time to see much of the country, however we did manage to take a tour of downtown Belize City and also visited the ancient Mayan ruins of Altun Ha, a portion of which is pictured below.

On another website I am recording many of my travels, both inside and outside the United States. You can take a look at:

Friday, January 18, 2008

Leading Church Denominations in Every County

Here's a map which shows the leading church denomination in every county in the United States. I found it very interesting to study, and maybe you will too. Click the map for an enlarged view.

Friday, January 11, 2008

FAQ: What Counts in County Counting?

One of the most frequent questions I am asked from people who know I am a county counter is: "What do you have to do in a county for it to count?"

The answer is pretty simple - you just have to enter the county. Flying over it doesn't count, but if you cross a county line on the surface of the earth you can say you've been there. It doesn't matter if you are walking, on horseback, in a car, bus or train. If you or your means of transport is touching the ground in a county then it counts.

Suppose I step across a county line and one second later I am struck in the head by a meteorite and killed. Where will my obituary say I died? Of course, it will have died in the county I just entered. Maybe that's a bit morbid, but how can you die somewhere you've never been?

That said, county counting, or county collecting, is a very individualistic pursuit. Everyone who does it sets their own criteria. Most of the people who follow this hobby do so for their own personal reasons. For myself, I feel no need to prove to anyone that I've been in every county. If I cheat in my counting I cheat only myself. If I actually visited only 99% of the counties and said that I had been to them all, I would find no personal satisfaction in my faked

It's because that the pursuit is an individual one that many county collectors have different personal criteria and goals. I know of county counters who have their picture made in front of every county courthouse, others who try to mail themselves a postcard with a postmark from every county, and a few who even aspire to climb the highest point in every county. God bless them all. Each of us is doing it our own way and, hopefully, having fun in the process.

Personally, I try to never just cross a county line and turn around, or drive through a county on the Interstate without stopping to see anything. To do that would be missing the whole point of the pursuit. After all, I'm doing this because I want to see as much of our great country as possible and that means taking the time to do a little exploring along the way.

My rule of thumb is to visit at least one recognizable landmark in every county I enter. It might be a historical site, a natural feature, a unique building, a state or county park or whatever I might find.

The two pictures on this post illustrate just a couple of the thousands of interesting discoveries I've made - things I might never have seen in my entire lifetime if I were not a county counter. The top photo is the North Fork Falls of the Holly River in Holly River State Park, Webster County, West Virginia. This is a wonderful natural area, well off the beaten path. Every time I see this picture I remember the summer afternoon when I took the hike to this falls and two others in the park and was amazed at the beauty and serenity of this special place. The bottom photo is of Cherokee Square - Capitol of the Cherokee Nation in Cherokee County, Oklahoma. This was the western end of the infamous Trail of Tears, marking one of the saddest and most shameful episodes in American history. Visiting here was especially meaningful to me because I grew up in Bradley County, Tennessee, where Red Clay State Historic Site marks the beginning point of the Trail of Tears.

Every county has a story to tell - maybe even thousands of stories for those who take the time to search them out. And every time I step across a county line I feel a tinge of excitement at what I might discover.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Froggie's Place

Here's an interesting website of a fellow county counter. . .

Froggie's Place

In addition to his County Collection, Froggie has some other neat stuff on his website that is of interest to road trippers. These include Magnolia Meanderings, Highway Heaven and Highway Photography. You can click him up on the link below and read more: