Quirky Border Towns of North America

Wednesday, 31st August 2011 by

Have you ever walked through the front door of a building in one country and walked out the back door in another? How about driving along on the actual border line between two states? Check out our collection of the quirkiest border towns in North America.

Derby Line, USA

The small American village of Derby Line, Vermont actually lies north of the 45th parallel, which is the border between the United States and Canada. The village was first settled back in 1795, when surveying techniques were crude at best1, resulting in a nearly quarter of a mile error. When the borders were finally adjusted south to their proper locations in the mid-1800′s, Derby Line was reduced to a tiny geographic size of 0.7 square miles (1.8 km2).

Concerned about illegal immigration, the U.S. Border Patrol has tried to close streets which have historically run together with those of neighbouring Stanstead, but they have so far remained open.

If residents cross the border to either country, they’re required to report their citizenship and pay their duties upon their return. Frequent questioning and searches are a normal way of life. Some houses even sit directly on the border itself!

The Haskell Free Library and Opera House was purposely built on the border back in 1904. It was intended for use in both countries, but with today’s heightened border security library guests are required to park on their respective sides of the building (in their country) and sometimes have to report to customs before even entering.

There is a thick black line on the floor that represents the border between the two countries. A note on the library’s website offers this bit of friendly advice for folks who don’t take the line seriously,

“First time visitors and old friends of the Haskell Free Library and Opera House must be aware that the border between Canada and the United States that runs through our building is real and it is enforced.”

According to the picture, it’s entirely possible to read one side of your book in the United States, and the other side in Canada.

© Copyright Haskell Free Library and Opera House and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Bristol, USA

The state line between Virginia and Tennessee often gets lost between the cities of Bristol and Bristol. That’s right; two cities with the same name share the same border in two different states! To be honest, these two cities can really be thought of as one with two governments. In fact, they both share the same downtown district without very many signs that show the actual border along the way.

The cities of Bristol are divided by State Street, which happens to be the border for most of the town. On one side of the road you’re in Virginia, and the other side you’re in Tennessee!

There are some signs located around town to indicate the border between the two states, including this one over State Street which lists the two states on the bottom corners.

The Tennessee side of Bristol is also the home to Bristol Motor Speedway, a 1/2 mile racetrack that is home to numerous NASCAR events throughout the year. The facility is known for being one of the few that routinely sells out all 160,000 seats in advance each year. No wonder it looks more like a stadium than racetrack.

Bristol also claims to be the “Birthplace of Country Music” since it was where the first recordings of country music were made. Maybe that explains the huge guitar we found on the side of the road?

Calexico, USA and Mexicali, Mexico

Being quirky doesn’t always mean dealing with the border itself; sometimes you can just split the name like they did in Calexico and Mexicali!

The Mexican city of Mexicali (MEXIco+CALIfornia… get it?) is the northernmost city in Latin America and the border opposite of Calexico, California (CALifornia+mEXICO… we know you got that one!). As you can see from the satellite imagery, the much larger Mexicali is home to over 900,000 people, and its little sister Calexico just thrives on being across the border from such a large population.

This whole area is supposed to be the Baja desert, but in the early 1900s the sand was converted to farmland with the help of new canals made by both Mexicans and Chinese labourers. Some of the canals are connected to the nearby Salton Sea.

From above, Mexicali looks every bit as busy as it is on the ground. One of the most famous features has to be this roundabout known locally (and translated to English) as the “Circle of Death“. The name comes from the fact that, at best, traffic laws are only very loosely followed.

As with any typical U.S./Mexico border town, security is taken very seriously. Take a look at this long straight wall that marks the border between the two countries.

While this post focuses on North America, there are hundreds more quirky border anomalies around the world. Where’s your favourite?


  1. This TIME article also reports that the surveyor may also have been drunk!