Ten years ago today, June 12, 2007, I mailed my first county seat postcard. Naturally, I began in Columbus, Ohio, my current hometown. At the time, I had only been back in Columbus for about a year, having spent the last decade living in various suburbs of Seattle. Prior to moving out west, I had lived here for 20 years, and upon returning, I realized that although I had spent about half my life in the Buckeye state, there were parts I had never visited. Here’s what my map of Ohio looked like 10 years ago. I’d been in a little over a third the county seats (represented in green) and driven through almost half the other counties (colored teal). The 11 counties in white (out of 88) were ones I had never visited.
For an explanation on why I chose to mail postcards documenting my travels in this digital age, a little family history is in order. Between 1946 and 1976, my grandfather visited every county seat in the United States and mailed a postcard from each one. I reasoned that if he could do that for the entire country over 30 years (he completed 75% in about 10 years), I could do the same for the state of Ohio over a period of a few months, traveling just on my days off and ending back home every night, as even the farthest Ohio county seat was no more than about three hours away.
Most days I visited between 6 and 10 counties, driving around the state about every other week. When I began, I had no intention of extending this project across the entire country. During these day trips, I considered that someday I might wish to collect the rest of the country, and as part of visiting all 88 counties in Ohio, I did mail a few postcards from counties in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Indiana when reaching the county seats in those border counties wouldn’t significantly add to my driving time. I figured, that if I ever wanted to attempt states beyond Ohio, this would give me a modest head start. I wasn’t particularly aggressive about the project, so it wasn't until just before Thanksgiving, I collected my final county in the state.
Despite the additional 7 counties in neighboring states, it would be almost four years before I committed to collecting all the counties in every state. In 2008 and 2009, I didn’t add any postcards to my collection at all, but in 2010 during a road trip to New Orleans and back, I added 18. I was still not exactly dedicated to the task. If I happened to be in a county seat and could find a postcard, I’d mail one. I probably could have added 3 to 4 times as many had I been more focused, and by the end of 2010, my collection had only grown from 95 to 113.
I dabbled a bit more in Indiana and West Virginia in the first half of 2011, increasing my count to 136 by the end of summer. That’s about the time I decided I would get serious about visiting every county seat in the country. This is also when I joined Marriott Rewards. Coincidence? During a four-day trip in late September to visit my uncle in Iowa, I added 41 counties, and by the end of year, I reached 201. From this point on, much of my travel has been focused on visiting new counties. Occasionally, I’ll combine county collecting with a regular vacation, as I did twice in Hawaii, though in general, trips devoted to county collecting involve a lot of driving, so I’ve found it better to separate vacations from my county travels. Here’s what the map looks like today.
While it might not be completely accurate to say I’ve been collecting counties for ten years, I can correctly say that I started this unusual hobby 10 years ago, though I’ve only been serious about it for about the last 6 years. I expect to cross the 2,000 county mark over the summer (currently at 1,989), and should end the year having visited more than 2/3 of the counties in the USA. It’s hard to guess exactly how much longer it will take to accomplish my goal of visiting all of them. It may be more than 5 years away, given that many of the counties out west will take a bit of effort to reach. I expect I will be done before another decade passes. As with any long-term goal, the only way to reach it is to keep making incremental progress.
Unless something comes up sooner, my next county trip will take me to western Iowa and eastern Nebraska in mid-August. I also plan to collect my first counties in South Dakota, a state I have not visited since the summer of 1997. I'll have to see what else I can fit in this year.