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A Decade of County Collecting – Part 1

The start of a nationwide quest

Since travel is still not generally advisable, perhaps now might a good time to look back over the last decade of travel. A majority of my trips during the 2010s were devoted to my ongoing quest to visit every county seat in the USA and document each stop by mailing a postcard to myself with the relevant details of those stops—name of town/city, name of county, date, and time (plus a few thoughts from the road). For those curious why I chose mailing postcards as my means of keeping track of my progress, please read my earlier blog post County Collecting Basics.

Mid-February 2021 marks 10 years since I got serious about making this a project that would encompass the entire county. While I collected all 88 counties in Ohio in 2007, I did not intend at the time to make this a nationwide project. Between 2007 and the beginning of 2011, I mailed few postcards home, but the idea that I would someday expand my goal to cover all 50 states was not something I seriously considered. All that changed on February 15, 2011.

On an otherwise normal business trip to Indianapolis, I opted to visit a few county seats both on my way there and on my way home. While only able to add 4 counties to my total, it was the real beginning of reaching beyond the boundaries of my home state of Ohio. As mentioned above, I had stopped in a few county seats here and there over the previous few years, but as the map below shows, I had made only a halfhearted attempt to do much outside of Ohio. Here’s my progress as of January 1, 2011.
For those familiar with my color scheme, feel free to skip ahead. The dark blue color denotes counties where I have visited the county seat and documented that visit by mailing a postcard home. Green is for counties where I’ve been to the county seat, but haven’t documented it (most of the ones on the map above represents county seats I visited in years prior to beginning this project). The cyan (light blue) marks counties in which I have visited or traveled through without stopping in the county seat. Again, many of these I would have visited prior to 2007. As a side note, anyone familiar with the Interstate highway system in the US, may be able to pick out some of the major freeways I used to crisscross the country.

At the start of the year 2011, my county count (the blue ones) was at 113 out of the more than 3000 across the country. By the end of the year, that number had had only grown a little. I finished the year with 201 counties collected. Most of my travels that year were in the Midwest most notably a trip to Iowa in early fall, though I did manage to add Key West and Miami as well as the two southernmost counties in California when I was visiting those areas on family vacations.
The progress continued in 2012 with more drives to neighboring states, plus a few longer road trips. One of those included my first ever visit to Delaware where I was able to visit all three of the state’s counties in a single day. There was also a weeklong trip to eastern Georgia and South Carolina which added 97 more counties to my list. This was the first time I chose to fly somewhere and rent a car with the primary purpose of collecting counties. By the end of that year, my total had jumped to 563. A careful eye will note a few green counties completely surrounded by blue ones. This isn’t case of skipping over those places. Occasionally the US Postal Service fails to deliver one of the postcard I mailed, meaning I don’t have the documented proof of my visit. In such cases, I mark the county green and put it on my list to visit again. Over the course of the years, it’s happened about a dozen times.
2013 marked my first foray into the Southwest. From the starting point in El Paso, a weeklong trip covering almost 5000 miles allowed me to collect all of Arizona, most of New Mexico, and much of southwest Texas. I also made my first visit to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Actually, in 2013 I visited the far northern part of Michigan twice, once coming across the Mackinac Bridge in July, the other as part of a trip in Wisconsin a month later. By the end of 2013, the number of blue counties had grown to 795, though only 3 states had been fully filled in—Ohio, Delaware, and Arizona.
The following year, South Carolina, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Maryland, and West Virginia moved into the completed column. In terms of overall progress, 2014 marked my best year as I added 472 counties to my tally, ending the year at 1,267.
By 2015 it was becoming increasingly difficult to collect counties in my own vehicle. By this time, virtually all the places still to visit were more than a day’s drive from home. Around this time it started making more sense to fly somewhere and rent a car. While I had done that once or twice a year since 2011, after 2015 it became my default method. Perhaps the best trip of this year was to Hawaii, where I was able to collect 3 counties. As one might guess, this was as part of a vacation to the Aloha state and not solely a county collecting trip. I’m not sure I could justify the cost just to fly there and back only to mail a few postcards, but a 2 week trip to 3 different islands that just happened to coincide with visiting the county seats is a different story. By the time the year had ended, the number of collected counties stood at 1,582 approximately half of all the counties in the county.
That’s probably enough for now. I’ll add another entry soon covering the second half of the decade which will bring things up to current. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I’ll be back on the road again adding more postcards to my collecting. While it’s nice to look back from time to time, I always enjoy getting out and visiting new places. I can’t wait to do that again.

Until then…

Happy Travels

Posted by countycollector 16:26 Archived in USA Tagged county_collecting

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I will always admire your passion and persistence. I pray we will all be travelling with abandon again soon. Like you, I can't wait to get back at it. Looking forward to your continued updates Brian.

by MsAnnMcD

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