The headline on a July 18 Rome News-Tribune article about the demolition of the notorious “7-Up House” started a conversation about Rome’s geography both in the newsroom and on the RN-T Facebook page.

One person wondered if Rome was actually big enough, geographically speaking, to worry about directional designations. Folks in the Facebook comments expressed disbelief that East Rome could be confused with South Rome. One caller gave the newsroom a ring to make sure it was understood that the address was East Rome, not South Rome.

As a more or less lifelong Polk County resident who always approaches Rome from the south, it was perplexing that an area further south would be called East Rome.

According to Google Maps, the East 20th Street address of the “7-Up House” is about 2 miles south of Myrtle Hill, the gateway to South Rome from Broad Street. The whole of what is locally known as South Rome is further north than the address, according to the big maps that hang in the newsroom.

How did those names happen, then?

One possible answer lies in the layout of the Between the Rivers district, the city center at Rome’s founding in 1834. Look at it on a map and you’ll notice the streets running not from “true” or “map” north to map south, but map northeast to map southwest. In a “duh” moment, I remembered there’s a difference between map north and magnetic north.

After a visit with a few smartphone compass apps to Bailey Park, located at the base of the Clocktower, the results were, well, confusing. All four apps, when they agreed, indicated that magnetic north was in the direction of the Chatillon smokestacks. To find true north, however, you’d have to mark the declination, the difference in degrees between true and magnetic north, make sure you had the right kind of compass for your location, and ...

I knew I shoulda joined the Boy Scouts when I was a kid.

As it turns out, the magnetic north pole has moved a great deal since its initial discovery in 1831 by Sir James Clark Ross, slowly drifting since then across the Canadian Arctic towards Russia, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information.

So, if Broad Street was oriented not towards true north but magnetic north as it was located in 1834, that might be an explanation. And if you took Broad Street as pointing north and south (which it doesn’t), South Rome would then be south and North Rome would be north of Broad.

There are other possibilities, of course. According to Between the Rivers’ National Register of Historic Places nomination form, “at the time of the initial settlement of Rome, the streets in this area were laid out in a grid pattern with only slight modifications in regularity for the topography.”

Perhaps, then, the topography of this hilly peninsula, added to the natural barriers created by the Etowah, Coosa and Oostanaula rivers, necessitated orienting the streets at the present angles, and the tradition of orienting towards true or map north led to the parts of Rome bearing their current names. Either way, drawing a line through Between the Rivers along North Broad Street to Broad and towards South Rome makes the east and south designations make sense.

Now, I’m no fool. People are definitely going to disagree with the above explanations.

Debates of this kind are common in cities large and small. For example, in Los Angeles, a city of cities, it’s not unusual to hear people debate where one city ends and another begins.

Locally it’s heard as, “Where exactly does East Rome end and West Rome begin?” Diverse opinions abound, but usually the line is drawn somewhere around Shorter Hill. Yours truly suspects the line is Division Street, a little west of the hill. Some say Horseleg Creek Road’s terminus at Shorter Avenue is the true start of West Rome. Others would shake their heads, saying that East Rome ends well before you ever get to anything in the neighborhood of Shorter.

Maybe the downtown area and the city center should be called “Rome proper”? There is probably an official city map that demystifies these designations, but would we all agree with what was laid out there?

Growing up in Polk, mentions of Armuchee were rare, but always produced the same question from at least one person involved in the conversation.

“Armuchee? Where’s that?”

“Oh, you know, it’s right past the mall on 27.”

So, where does Armuchee really begin? Search on Google Maps and you’ll see that the spot marked “Armuchee” is actually over 6 miles northwest of Mount Berry Mall on U.S. 27, but in my mind the intersection of 27 and Old Dalton Road, right past the mall, marks the end of Rome, even if that’s technically incorrect.

RN-T’s Tona Deaton recalled that people used to say, “Armuchee starts where the road goes from four lanes to two.”

So, despite the official designations for Rome’s and Floyd County’s neighborhoods and communities, there’s something stronger that pervades our thoughts and conversations about where things lie in this small city.

Every group, family and individual navigates a little differently, their internal map structured by where they grew up, the way their family speaks and what they care about, along with a million other little things.

Call it Rome’s colloquial geography. It’s a way of making sense of day-to-day movement that has no doubt stirred many a (hopefully) good-natured argument about how it all fits together.

Ross Rogers is a newsroom assistant and staff writer at the Rome News-Tribune. He may be contacted at JRogers@RN-T.com.