Over the years, a number of fans have suggested that 99% Invisible cover a series of strange concrete arrows found scattered across the American countryside. They date back to the 1920s and were used to help guide airmail planes across the nation.
While in use, the arrows were painted bright yellow and were accompanied by towers that illuminated them by night. These things are really neat (and fun to find on maps) but, ultimately, there is not much more to the story — not enough around which to build an entire episode.
We come across ideas like this all of the time—great little potential anecdotes and seeds of stories that just don’t warrant a complete audio production. So for this episode, we have compiled some of these shorter stories into a series of conversations between Roman Mars and the show’s producers. Each one also comes with its own little origin tale—the place it was found, person who suggested it and/or reason it made sense to include as a mini-story.
The Squaring of Circleville by Sam Greenspan
While researching the story that would become the episode The Plat of Zion, producer Sam Greenspan was digging through academic databases at the University of California at Berkeley’s Environmental Design Library when he came across a curious citation in an article. In “The Mormon Village, Genesis and Antecedents of the City of Zion Plan” (1977), author Richard H. Jackson writes that most towns built west of Appalachia all developed fairly similarly—with the lone exception of Circleville, Ohio. That led Sam to another journal article from 1955, entitled “Redevelopment in the 19th Century: The Squaring of Circleville.”
Circleville, Ohio was established in 1810 by a local power broker named Daniel Driesbach. Driesbach decided to build on land that had two Native American earthworks—one in the shape of a square, one in a circle. Dreisbach took inspiration from the shapes of the low earthen walls, and decided that they would be the framework for his city.
He decided to build a circular grid.
The result was an urban layout that looked less like graph paper and more like the steering wheel of a pirate ship—spokes sticking out in all directions from a central plaza, with a concentric ring road wrapping around the plaza, and another ring road around that. Hence: Circleville.
To the dismay of the Dreisbach, however, the Circlevillians hated it. People complained that the round streets forced everyone to build on oddly-shaped lots. Eventually, they appealed to the state government, and in 1837 the Ohio State Assembly decided to ditch the circular grid.
The Circleville Squaring Company was deputized to de-circle Circleville.
It took nearly two decades but it worked. All that is left of the original circular plan are a few rounded buildings, the name of the town, and the city’s municipal seal.