Borders are tricky: while official laws dictate what they are, they may be contested by the people they divide. Formed by geography, history, and politics, borders are essentially dictated by somewhat arbitrary rules. Perhaps this divide is felt to a lesser extent between states than they may be between countries, where physical walls and checkpoints are oft erected to regulate the flow of not only goods and people, but culture as well. As examples, here are four American towns that have defied their borders to grow past them.
Bristol, VA, and Bristol, TN
Bristol, Virginia, and Bristol, Tennessee, are legally considered to be separate towns, but the area’s history may suggest otherwise: in 1856, two separate railroad depots served Bristol, Tennessee, and Goodson, Virginia, two towns on the border separating the two states. However, the depot located in Goodson continued to be referred to as Bristol, Virginia. In 1890, the Virginia town took the name Bristol.
Over the years, both towns grew. Now, the state line divides the metropolitan area into two halves, and the downtown area surrounds the line. Visitors often look for and are confused by the division of the town. Plaques and markers are placed throughout the center of the street (called State Street) indicating the Virginia and Tennessee sides.
Though both sides of Bristol have rivaling high school sports teams, together, they are known as the birthplace of country music, a title that was made official by the United States Congress in 1998. They also jointly host the city’s annual music festival, Rhythm & Roots Reunion.
Essentially, the boundary is so inconsequential to locals that, while there is in fact a Bristol, Virginia, and a Bristol, Tennessee, both are considered to be the same city.
Texarkana, Texas, and Texarkana, Arkansas are technically twin cities on the Texas-Arkansas border. The cities' name is also the name of the metropolitan area often referred to when talking about the area as a whole. The Texarkana metropolitan area was first defined in 1960, and the name is a portmanteau of TEXas, ARKansas, and nearby LouisiANA (there are multiple versions of local lore that tell the story of the name’s origin).
Both places could easily be confused as one city: many federal buildings straddle the state line, including the post office. In regards to the law, Arkansas residents whose permanent residence is within the city limits of Texarkana, Arkansas, are exempt from the state’s individual income taxes.
Bluefield, West Virginia, and Bluefield, Virginia, have a tense history: the Virginia town used to be named Graham until 1924, when it decided to rename itself as Bluefield to try to unite the two towns, that had been feuding since before the Civil War. Now, the two cities are at peace, and even have joint statistical data as the Bluefield Metropolitan Area. Isn’t it amazing what renaming can accomplish?
Copperhill, TN, and McCaysville, GA
Unlike the other places on this list, Copperhill, Tennessee, and McCaysville, Georgia, are not named the same on either side of the border, but if you’re visiting, you may notice that the border may not even matter. Differences in name aside, they appear to be one city simply divided by a state line, which is made obvious by blue stripes painted diagonally across Ocoee Street. However, these lines don’t just run up the street, they also intersect the sidewalk and run and up the walls of buildings and houses. A church is even split by the border!
The differences in names are well marked in other places other than the border: at the state line, both the main road and the nearby river change their names from Ocoee (Tennessee) to Toccoa (Georgia).