Maryland holds the dubious distinction of being the First Candidate for the state with the most “Awkward Geography.” (Hawaii, a collection of islands, doesn’t count.) A spindly, sickly state, Maryland cants heavily to the east—despite Delaware’s rude surgery and squared corner in Wicomoco County. West Virginia bit a huge chunk out its western regions and Virginia eviscerated the center. Even the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., self-aggrandized with bloviators, gnawed a square-edged, thumbnail-sized chunk out of Maryland’s gut.
Map Courtesy of Digital-Topo-Maps.com
Furthermore, the Chesapeake Bay cleaves the east into two cruelly misshapen legs. Some oceanfront beaches tantalize crowds with promise of crabs galore, but sadly, Virginia in a mad coastal land grab truncated Worcester County’s coastline to the south, leaving poor Maryland with a measly 31 miles of ocean coastline.(1)
Then there’s Baltimore, another square-edged nibble into Maryland’s land. To clarify, I mean Baltimore City, not to be confused Baltimore County of which Baltimore City is not a part.(2) Confused yet? I am.
Nicely delineated states like Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico (except the ruffled border with Texas), have beautifully-drawn borders, ruler-straight, and comprehensible. Semi-natural states rely upon natural boundaries such as rivers to define their territory. Iowa, bordered by the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, and having horizontal northern and southern borders, pleasantly represents this category.
Poor Maryland. Awkwardly drawn, ripped apart by waterways. It’s a wonder it hasn’t melded with the surrounding states. It suffers from lack of orientation. Is it an east-west state? Or a north-south state? From my perspective, it’s leaning: head at NNW and foot at SSE (as much as a state so oddly shaped can have a head and a foot). It’s like a traffic barrier between the North and the South, hastily erected and somewhat malleable. Here, take another chunk of me.
The Fall Line cleaves eastern Maryland further. To its north and west is the Piedmont region, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and Pennsylvania. To its east and south is the Coastal Plain. Baltimore, the jewel, sits on the Fall Line. Then the Chesapeake Bay coastline drips down down down to St. Mary’s County and terminates at the scruffy little islands off Somerset County’s western shore. Awkward. Messy.
Probably the most awkward portion of the geography, Assateague Island is a finger in the ocean. Not even wholly owned by Maryland, this narrow barrier island was amputated by Virginia’s claim. It’s embarrassing enough that Ocean City, that rollicking vacation destination, shares real estate with Delaware. But Delaware is not the bully that Virginia is. For shame, Maryland, for shame.
No. I’m wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. I spoke too early about border islands being the most awkward feature. I nearly forgot Maryland’s “waist,” a 1-mile wide portion of land in the panhandle. It’s been called a geographic anomaly.(3) With Pennsylvania and the Mason-Dixon line to the north, and the Potomac River to the south, the “waist” claims the town of Hancock and the intersections of Interstates 68 and 70. Awkward 3-state views can be seen from there.
Do you agree? Place your nominations for Most Awkward Geography in the comments. Alas, there is no prize. It is, however, a whimsical diversion on a sunny afternoon in Maryland.
1. Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report for Congress. “U.S. International Borders: Brief Facts,” November 9, 2006. ↩
2. Baltimore City is the largest independent city (i.e., not belonging to any particular county) in the United States.↩
3. Maryland’s Waist: Narrow Strip is Geographic Anomaly, L.A. Times, October 8, 1987 [accessed April 17, 2016]↩