Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


LIZ ALDERMAN’S STORY in The New York Times, August 8, 2016, is titled “Put One Foot Wrong in This Town and You’ve Left the Country.” She was writing about Baarle, 65 miles south of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and 55 miles northeast of Brussels, Belgium.

Which country is it in? Both.


Image by Cari Vander Yacht/The New York Times, August 8, 2016.

Belgium seceded from the Netherlands in 1830, and established its monarchy on July 21, 1831. Nevertheless, noble rivals dating from the 12th century onward had deeded land this way and that. What exists today has two separate place names, Baarle-Nassau, the Netherlands, and Baarle-Hertog, Belgium. Each country contains enclaves of the other in a bewilderingly complex border, often defined by iron pins or stripes on the street. Eight Dutch enclaves are in Belgium, 22 Belgian enclaves are in the Netherlands.

The New York Times author Alderman writes, “Addresses go by the voordeurregel, or front-door rule: If it opens on the Belgian side of the street, you live in Belgium, wherever the rest of the house may lie. (For easy identification, the national flag is usually painted next to the house number.)”


At left, the Belgian flag. At right, flag of the Netherlands.

You could enter a shop through one door in Belgium and leave through another door into the Netherlands. Notes Alderman, “When closing times differed in the two countries, divided restaurants would move their tables to the Belgian side of the room when last call came on the Dutch side.”

Some of the enclaves are plots of farmland allotted ages ago by one nobleman or another, with ownership challenged over the years. For instance, the nationality of the De Wit Hagen enclave had been moot between 1830 until 1995. It’s now part of Baarle-Hertog (Belgium), but surrounded by Barrle-Nassau (the Netherlands).

De Wit Hagen isn’t very large: about 0.65 acre. Good trivia: A U.S. football field, complete with end zones, is about twice this, 1.32 acres.

Reading Alderman’s article reminded me of Derby Line, Vermont, and its adjacent Stanstead, Quebec. And I mean adjacent. Because of a surveyor’s error in the 1700s, Derby Line was established in 1791 by Americans, though it’s actually a bit north of the 45th parallel, generally the U.S.-Canadian border thereabouts.

Today, some houses on one side of the street are in Derby Line, and hence American residences; those across the street are in Stanstead, Quebec. The two villages even share a building, the Haskell Free Library and Opera House. It was opened in 1904 and deliberately constructed on the international border.


The Haskell Free Library and Opera House, Derby Line, Vermont. Image by Gridlock Joe.

There’s a sweet story here: The building’s donors were binational: Carlos F. Haskell was American; his wife, Martha Stewart Haskell, Canadian.

The two villages cooperate in exemplary ways. Drinking water for both is pumped from a Canadian well, stored in a U.S. reservoir and distributed through a system maintained by Canadians. Emergency crews on both sides of the border respond to calls on either side.

This is in marked contrast to “54 40 or Fight,” which was a U.S. political slogan in 1844. James K. Polk used the slogan—and the public’s general apathy of Henry Clay—to win that year’s presidential election. Polk then threatened war with England and blustered that the western U.S.-Canadian border should stretch north to a latitude of 54 degrees 40 minutes, right up to what was then Russian Alaska.


Oregon Country had been joint U.S.-British land until “54 40 or Fight!” Image from

There was neither a fight nor “54 40.” The London Convention of 1818 had already established the 49th parallel for the U.S.-Canadian border from the Midwest to the Continental Divide. It was merely extended to the west coast.

As I noted in “Tech Tidbits,” December 2011 R&T, otherwise the Vancouver Canucks would be a U.S. hockey team. Maybe with Polk as a mascot. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2016

6 comments on “FRIENDLY BORDERS

  1. Mike B
    August 12, 2016

    Oh boy, a map-exploring day! Fire up Google and peer around…

    Other examples of enclaves along the US/Canadian border are in Point Roberts, WA and the Northwest Angle of MN. Both places, if you want to get there other than by helicopter or water, you have to drive through Canada.

    Of course, then there’s St. Regis, Quebec, that is the other way around (S. side of the St. Lawrence River across from Cornwall) – though it looks in Google like it’s in Mohawk tribal country so they may not care much about lines on a map like a national border.

    Many spots along the border in VT seem to be anything but formal about it (Stansted/Derby Line as you described seems to be very relaxed), though little white buildings do show up regularly along the line in Google photos. A little ways east there’s the Club De Golf Du Lac Lyster, where a couple of holes right along the border give special meaning to “out of bounds” for wayward drives…

  2. simanaitissays
    August 12, 2016

    Good for you, Mike.
    Wikipedia has an item on convoluted borders, many defined by rivers. For instance, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, is adjacent to Brazzaville, Republic of Congo.
    I recall the latter is where Rick and his pal Renault were headed once Ilsa and her husband flew off to Lisbon.

  3. sabresoftware
    August 13, 2016

    I was going to comment on Point Roberts, but was beaten to the punch by Mike above.

    There is a case within Canada of a city that straddles a provincial border. Lloydminster, AB/SK. Lower Provincial income taxes in Alberta in the past resulted in most of the growth occurring on the Alberta side, so that approx 80% of the population is on that side. There are several anomalies, particularly on the Saskatchewan side. Saskatchewan does not use daylight savings time, but I believe that they do within Lloydminster so as not to have a time difference across the city. Similarly higher Saskatchewan provincial fuel taxes are not fully charged within Lloydminster, and I am not sure about provincial sales taxes, as Saskatchewan has them, and Alberta doesn’t.

    As a closing teaser, how can you travel a distance of less than 50 miles leaving Canada and arriving in France?

  4. simanaitissays
    August 13, 2016

    A good one. I know this one, but won’t give it away. There’s another similar one, U.S. to France, with slightly longer mileage not far from where I used to live.

  5. Mike B
    August 13, 2016

    Ste. Pierre et Miquelon.

    Where you used to live … Virgin Islands? Yes, longer distance … and you can’t drive. That might be part of St. Martin & St. Barthelemey that are France. I though Martinique at first but that’s too far away. It’s also a fairly short commute from VI to the Netherlands in the same area.

    • sabresoftware
      August 18, 2016

      Sint Maarten on the south half of the island occupied by St. Marten is part of the Netherlands. Although the French islands, both St. Marten and St, Piere et al are basically administrative department within France, and island citizens are considered to be part of the EU.

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