31-Jul-2010 -- As we had just completed teaching at West Virginia University for a stellar group of K-12 educators on GIS and GPS as part of a new statewide ArcGIS site license, a confluence visit seemed like the perfect capstone. We departed the university campus in Morgantown in the late morning, stopping for an extremely pleasant three hour hike at Coopers Rock State Forest in West Virginia before heading to the Pittsburgh airport, our jumping off point in leaving the region. As the confluence was one more excuse to get out in the field, and as it was in one of my favorite settings--amidst a river valley and among old river towns--we set out to visit it on the way. Furthermore and perhaps most importantly, the fact that it was not just an ordinary confluence, but a 40 degree one at that, 40 North 80 West, it was a force to be reckoned with.
We departed Coopers Rock close to 2pm, and by 3:30 had journeyed north along the Monongohela River, had entered Pennsylvania, and had passed through the lovely towns of Port Marion and Carmichaels. As we reached Fredericktown, we could not help but notice the plethora of yard sales--just about one on every corner. Local folks were certainly out and about. Fredericktown, as we knew from studying the maps ahead of time, was really two distinct communities: One was flat, along the river floodplain, and one was west, built on the side of a steep hill. We turned left, or west, at the wonderful public library that fronted the river, and up Crawford Road, past the railroad tracks and west up the bluff. This section of town was about 4 blocks long and 4 blocks wide. We turned south on Bank Street with only a few hundred meters to go, and because we wanted to do a bit of walking, we parked at the end of Bank Street in a church parking lot a few hundred meters from the point.
Gathering supplies, including confluence sign, GPS, and camera, we walked up the wonderfully named "Welcome Street". At the corner of Welcome and Mulberry Street, found that this corner marked the 80th Meridian. We then had a very leisurely stroll up Mulberry, thinking about the Dr Seuss book, "And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street!" And to think the confluence could be on Mulberry Street! We passed a man loading water bottles and other supplies from the church into his van. At the corner of Mulberry and Potters Alley, we paused at the edge of a lawn. A few steps more and we would be at the confluence, but before we reached it, we thought we would do the proper thing and knock on the homeowner's door. Thus, we walked around to the front of the house and encountered many friendly signs of greetings, but found nobody home. We then walked back around to the side lawn, and stepped onto the confluence.
Hence, the confluence lies on planted lawn on a fairly steep slope, about 20 degrees facing south, with the house about 5 meters to the north. We had the best views of the town to the southeast and southweast, but no more than a few blocks in all directions. It was a very pleasant summer midafternoon, about 88 F (31 C) under partly cloudy skies. We saw birds but the only person we saw was the man, still loading his van. No cars passed us. As we were standing there, we remarked to each other "what a remarkable confluence this is." Indeed, the only others that seemed remotely as significant in terms of digits were when I was on the Prime Meridian, at 52 North 0, or possibly at 40 North 100 West. No, this seemed to top both of those. This was my third confluence point in Pennsylvania. I had visited the 40th Parallel several times, from California at 40 North 120 West in New Jersey. I had also visited the 80th Meridian several times, from Canada down to North Carolina. It would be difficult to top the magnitude of 40/80, aside from, say, jumping into the ocean at 0 latitude 0 longitude. We commented while on the site that this was no "child's play" or "laughing matter." This was serious business that we noted in our creation of photographs and video. However, it must be said that we enjoyed ourselves immensely.
After about 15 minutes on site, we walked to the man loading his van. He was a church volunteer and we told him that the congregation must feel very centered, worshipping not 50 meters from the confluence. We walked back the way we came in, taking a photograph of the Mulberry and Welcome street sign. We were on our way back to the vehicle when we decided to detour, and took photographs of the statue of Mary, which was about 30 meters to the south of the confluence. We then took a photograph of the front of the church framed by some magnificent clouds. Upon reaching the vehicle, someone who had been to mass at the church talked with us for a minute. She must have not noticed our Texas-plated car because she talked like we were locals. A very pleasant person, she was.
As we stood there, reluctant to leave, we noted the steep ravine that led down to the river, choked by vegetation and probably thorns and poison ivy. As I have commented on other confluence visits, it is remarkable how many of these points are easily accessed. This is one of the top 10 of the over 200 confluence points I have visited in terms of its accessibility. The only ones I can think of that are easier is one in the middle of the road in New York. Actually, the one in the road is a bit more hazardous than this one, because of the moderate speeds encountered. The 40/80 point on a serene lawn affords one with a "peaceful easy feeling" that is about as mellow as it gets.
We drove out the way we came in, noting that a band was playing down in the river section of the town. We drove north toward the Pittsburgh airport. The only thing that slightly marred the visit was a monstrous freeway extension that began a short distance north of Fredericktown. Given the hilly terrain, the only way to route the freeway in here was to level the hills and fill the valleys. I was reminded of John Denver's song about "tearing the mountains down to bring in a couple more." It seemed overkill and a violation of the landscape. But there I go again, thinking about geography. We put on some music by "Simple Truth" and felt much better. We made it to the PIT airport without incident and reflected on our wonderful trip together. This was indeed a wonderful way to cap off the West Virginia GIS-GPS institute.