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• Try to remember the name of the waterway that separates Delaware from New Jersey. Can’t recall. Go to atlas. (It’s the Delaware River/Delaware Bay, by the way. You’re welcome.)

• Spend fifteen minutes or so with atlas. Dang, those things are addictive.

• Notice that the atlas appears to show a tiny bit of Delaware on the east side of the river. Can that be right? Head for the computer.

• Sure enough, there are not one but two pieces of Delaware on the New Jersey side of the river! Oooo, time for Wikipedia.

• Wikipedia gives me the names – Killcohook and Artificial Island – but that can’t be the whole story. Time for more searching.

• Aha! Great stories! Killcohook is known by locals in Salem County, N.J., as “the Baja,” and it’s where teenagers go to drink, criminals go to dump cars (and once in a while, a body), and hunters go to shoot out of season. Because the local authorities can’t touch them! They’re legally entitled to, but it’s a roadless, mucky area, and their patrol cars get stuck. And it’s an hour by road from the rest of Delaware.

• But why is it in Delaware in the first place? Ahhh…..a better story! During Colonial days, a British court ruled that the entire riverbed within a twelve-mile radius of New Castle, Delaware, belonged to Delaware, up to the low-water mark of the river. Not a big deal until the 1920s, when the Army Corps of Engineers began dredging the river channel and dumping the silt on the New Jersey side. The manmade island that was created at Killcohook was part of Delaware, but eventually merged with New Jersey although the old low-water-mark boundary remained. As for the poetically named Artificial Island, it was created when fill dirt from the creation of a nuclear power plant crossed over that magical twelve-mile radius from New Castle, thus creating a little piece of Delaware where none had existed before.

• Learned that the geographical term for these odd bits of territory is “exclave” (as opposed to “enclave”). Nice word. Gotta remember that. Kaskaskia, Illinois, is the nearest example that comes to mind, along with the “Kentucky Bend,” a chunk of Kentucky that is separated from the rest of the state by a bend in the Mississippi River. The biggest exclave I can think of worldwide would be East Prussia when it was separated from the rest of Germany, but maybe there are others that don’t come to mind immediately.

• But what’s up with that “twelve-mile radius“? Back to Wikipedia. Turns out that the circular top of Delaware is part of that twelve-mile circle, which was specified in 1682 when the Duke of York granted the land to William Penn (although it wasn’t until 1750 that the center of the circle was definitively established as the cupola of the courthouse in New Castle.) That weird border delineation led to court fights that lasted until 2007 involving Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, and Delaware at various times. In 2008 the Delaware House of Representatives considered a symbolic bill to call out the National Guard to defend its interests against encroachment by New Jersey.

• Now wouldn’t a war between Delaware and New Jersey be something to behold? I don’t know about you, but to me this was a heck of a successful hour.

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