HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — Many of the centuries-old stone markers are weathered and difficult to decipher, but their importance to American history holds strong today just like the boundary line they represent.
This year marks the 250th anniversary of the completion of the famed Mason-Dixon Line, established as the remedy to a contentious boundary dispute between several British colonies in the 1760s.
The line still exists in the same form it did when it was completed in 1767 by surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, creating the borders of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware and, eventually, West Virginia.
Spanning roughly 45 miles, Washington County’s northern border — the longest of all Maryland counties along the line shared with Pennsylvania — still has 37 of the every-mile stone markers, although the conditions of them varies by location, according to data collected by the Mason & Dixon Line Preservation Partnership.
“They were a foot square and anywhere from 3 to 5 feet long, roughly 300 to 700 pounds each,” said Todd Babcock, a surveyor by trade and founding member of the citizen group established to help map, preserve, repair or even replace damaged or stolen markers.
Quarried in England, each stone was placed by Mason and Dixon and had an “M” on the side facing Maryland and a “P” on the side facing Pennsylvania. Every fifth mile they placed what’s known as a “crown stone,” featuring the coat of arms of the founding families — the Calverts of Maryland and the Penns of Pennsylvania.
“It was a way of permanently marking the boundary, so it was obvious where jurisdictions ended, whether it was government jurisdictions or taxing purposes,” Babcock said.
Anna Cueto, curator at the Washington County Historical Society, said the history of the line goes well beyond just a boundary between the two states, adding that it settled disputes between settlers that at times led to violence.
“It was really, really needed, especially in this area where the farmland was super important,” she said.
Stones in Washington County
According to an online inventory compiled by the partnership group, Washington County is home to 32 original stones that were set by Mason and Dixon between October and November in 1767.
The other five were replaced in 1902, the database shows, including the 100th-mile stone located in the front yard of a home on Marsh Road north of the Paramount-Longmeadow area.
The physical condition of several of the stones visited last week ranged dramatically from extremely weathered, damaged or indiscernible, to fairly chipped, slightly rounded or decently legible.
For example, the first stone found in the northeast corner of the county — the 250-year-old, 90th-mile crown stone, located along Pennersville Road near Cascade — shows considerable chipping and rounding over the top, and only a slight hint of a family crown can be seen on one side.
Meanwhile, another stone placed along State Line Road, or Md. 163, at Citicorp Drive appears to be in far better condition, clearly displaying the Pennsylvania-facing “P” on the north side of the marker.
The located and mapped stones in the county span from mile-marker 90 to 134, the latter of which is located off Buck Jump Lane northwest of Hancock.
In a description of the county’s westernmost stone compiled in 2008 and listed on the Mason & Dixon Line Preservation Partnership website, both “P” and “M” engravings are noted as in good condition, although a section on the northwest edge is missing “likely from farm machinery turning the corner from the field into the driveway.”
However, damage from vehicles or farming equipment seems to be a few-and-far-between occurrence, said Babcock, who added that a large number of stones across the county border are on private land and away from highly-traveled roads or heavy farming areas.
“Washington County probably has some of those that are best protected and also in the best condition because they haven’t been impacted as much,” he said.
The future of the stones, and who keeps track of them, is largely up in the air.
Many members of the preservation group, founded in 1990, have moved away or on to other priorities, and the group’s activity in monitoring and addressing issues with the stones has waned, Babcock said.
“It would be nice if someone would pick it up and go with it,” said Babcock, a former resident of Berks County, Pa., who now lives near the New York state line.
“If they had a commission that could make these decisions and maybe a small amount of funding that was available, could take care of it,” he said.
Luckily, the Maryland Geological Survey, a state agency that provided assistance to Babcock and his group over the years, is laying the groundwork for a continuation of the work that’s been done so far.
Richard Ortt Jr., director of the survey, said several Maryland agencies have been in contact with Pennsylvania and Delaware to begin discussions on future oversight models for the stones.
The first step would be to secure some funding to do a comprehensive survey of all the stones still in the ground, and then develop a plan for further preserving the markers and the line.
“They do officially mark the boundary of the states,” Ortt said. “They’re really of critical importance. Furthermore, it’s an amazing historical feat, what Mason and Dixon did.”
Ortt said the push to preserve the stone markers serves much more than just making sure the boundaries between the states remains intact.
“These stones are a mark of America,” he said. “It’s a mark of the frontier being built out west. It was a mark of the way Americans were able to accomplish great deeds. While they’re just a stone in the ground . they stand for a lot more than that.”
Information from: The Daily Times of Salisbury, Md., http://www.delmarvanow.com/
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