Dividing the Carolinas

November 25, 2002
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Two teams partner to retrace the ridgeline boundary between the states.

Jim Davies uses a Trimble Pro XR to verify a monument.
“…Thence South 25? West 118 poles to the top of the ridge dividing the waters of the North Fork of Pacolet River from the waters of the North Fork of Saluda River, thence along the various courses of the said ridge…to the ridge that divides the Saluda waters from those of Green River, thence along various courses of this said ridge…to a stone set up where the said ridge joins the main ridge, which divides the eastern from the western waters,… thence along various courses of the said ridge…to a stone set up on that part of it which is intersected by the Cherokee Boundary line run in the year 1797.”

So begins the retracement of a portion of the boundary line between North Carolina and South Carolina. As part of a cooperative effort between North Carolina and South Carolina, the North Carolina Geodetic Survey (NCGS) tasked Concord Engineering and Surveying Inc. of Concord, N.C., with re-establishing and monumenting the western half of the part of the state line described above. The South Carolina Geodetic Survey (SCGS) selected Gosnell Professional Surveying Inc. of Tigerville, S.C., to survey the eastern half of the line. The North Carolina team met up with surveyors from South Carolina at the midpoint. This effort began in September of 2000 and is expected to be completed in February of 2003. Together, this completes the retracement of the approximately 54 miles of ridgeline boundary.

Jeff Stewart of CESI takes a sunshot from monument "Bear."

Historical Division of the States

As most observers can readily surmise, North Carolina and South Carolina were not always two separate states. The city of Charleston served as the capital of all of the Carolinas from 1691 to 1711. During this time, the governor of all of the Carolinas appointed a deputy governor for the northern province of the Carolinas, which was generally the area north and east of the Cape Fear River. Despite the existence of only one Carolina, there were some natural tendencies toward the separation of the two provinces early on, mostly related to the topography of the region. The Cape Fear River, as well as the Pee Dee River and the Santee/Wateree/Catawba River System served as natural geographic boundaries between the provinces. In addition, there were areas of heavy wilderness in the western portion of the Carolinas that also served as a natural boundary. Along with the geographic barriers, other factors including cultural, religious and economic issues combined to separate the Northern Province from the Southern Province. South Carolina was primarily an English settlement with ties to the Anglican Church; South Carolina was a more industrial province with a safe port in Charleston and a number of large estates. On the other hand, Scotch-Irish, Irish, Welsh and German immigrants primarily inhabited North Carolina. These settlers were mostly Protestant and distrustful of the Anglican establishment in South Carolina. Also, the dangerous coastline of North Carolina made trade and industrial development difficult. These divisions led to the establishment of North Carolina as a separate province with its own governor in 1712.

The provinces were eventually established as two separate royal colonies in 1729, and the governors of both provinces set out to establish a dividing line. As can be expected, there was much disagreement as to the location of the dividing line with each side attempting to obtain an advantage over the other. The colonies first mutually agreed on a boundary line in 1735 and began surveys in the eastern part of the state. Over the next 70 years, there were several attempts at reconciling the issue with surveys completed in 1735-1737, 1764 and 1772. These surveys established portions of the line in the eastern part of the colonies, although there continued to be differences of opinion between the colonies on the true location of the line.

Finally, on July 1, 1808, commissioners from both colonies, now states, met in Columbia, South Carolina, and agreed to terms describing the boundary between the two colonies. The commissioners accepted the previous surveys with only a slight modification to the 1764 survey. The revised 1764 line was surveyed in 1813. The final segment of the state line continued west from the end of the 1772 survey until it intersected the ridgeline dividing the Saluda and Pacolet River basins. The boundary was then to follow the ridgeline dividing the Saluda and Pacolet River basins to the Cherokee Indian boundary of 1797. From that point, the boundary was a straight line to Commissioner’s Rock at the 35th degree of latitude on the Chattooga River. Both states agreed on the line and appointed commissioners to survey and mark the last section of the line. The commissioners appointed M.R. Alexander, surveyor for North Carolina, and George Salmon, surveyor for South Carolina to complete the survey. They began the survey on Sept. 15, 1815, at a stone set up by the commissioners at the termination of the 1772 survey at a place called the Block House. The survey was completed on Oct. 25, 1815, at the Commissioner’s Rock in the Chatooga River. In addition to running and marking the line, the surveyors produced a map with bearings and distances with called-for monuments along the ridgeline to which the official description of the state line refers. This map serves as the basis of the retracement of the line undertaken this year.

Chris Foley of CESI turns angles on Sassafras Mountain, the highest point in South Carolina.

Retracement of the 1815 Survey

The first step in retracing the survey of 1815 was locating the original map. After the completion of the survey an original map was produced for each state. South Carolina’s original map was destroyed, but in July of 1861, South Carolina made a copy of North Carolina’s original map. This copy still exists in the South Carolina archives. North Carolina, however, has not been able to locate its original copy. After scouring state archives and university libraries, all that has been located are some notes and letters from the commissioners concerning the survey and the description of the line, which, of course, refers to the map. As such, both states are relying on South Carolina’s copy of the original map along with copies of field notes of George Salmon. Prior to finding the copy of the 1815 map, a member of the South Carolina Geodetic Survey found the existing monuments on each end of the line at the Block House and at the Chatooga River.

Having the copy of the 1815 map and the beginning and ending monuments was a great benefit. However, there were still many challenges in completing this survey. The original survey was completed using chains or poles and a magnetic compass in very mountainous and heavily forested areas of the states. Utilizing modern technology like total stations with EDM and GPS can greatly increase the precision of measurements but may not accurately reproduce the original survey. Most of the original monuments called for in the survey were trees. As one can imagine, the area of the survey has been heavily logged and the likelihood of finding a 200-year-old tree is very small. In addition, residents have developed some areas with roads and houses, which makes locating the original ridgeline difficult. In fact, there are several cases where people have leveled the ridge to build their houses on top of the mountain and thereby placed their houses in two states. Other challenges in this survey, which are common in all boundary surveys, include local opinion of the location of the line that may or may not agree with the 1815 survey, the possibility of blunders in the original survey, and the existence of more current surveys of the ridgeline that differ from the 1815 line. In confronting these challenges, we developed a great appreciation for the work completed by the original surveyors in identifying the watershed boundary and completing the survey without the benefit of detailed topographic or aerial maps.

Carolina surveyors needed all-weather equipment for accessing the remote areas of the project.

Retracement Challenges & Finds

With all the challenges ahead of us and the excitement of the opportunity to retrace an 1815 survey line, we began to gather preliminary information to conduct our survey. This information included the names and addresses of property owners along the line as well as deed information and recorded and unrecorded maps. After securing permission for access from the adjoining property owners, we began the initial reconnaissance. We “best fit” the 1815 survey map onto the ridgeline as shown on USGS quad maps and computed grid coordinates for the bend points. Then, using a Trimble Pathfinder ProXR GPS receiver (Trimble, Sunnyvale, Calif.), we walked the state line, comparing our rough coordinates to the shape of the ridgeline. During the initial reconnaissance we also located apparent bend points in the ridge and other items of interest such as property corners, stones, trees and stumps. We used this initial survey to better fit the 1815 line to the ridge and prepare for the conventional survey. We also looked for locations to set static GPS points for controlling the traverse. Since most of the area is heavily wooded, finding suitable GPS locations was a challenge. NCGS provided the GPS control for the western half of the project and SCGS provided the GPS control for the eastern half of the project. By running five-hour sessions with the leaves off the trees, we were able to set a GPS point approximately every one-half mile along the project. In a few cases, we set an azimuth point for the monuments by doing polaris observations, but in most cases, we closed our angles at each GPS point using a solar observation.

Two stones were found along the state line on either side of the old Wagon Road. One stone marks "NC" and the other marks "SC A.D. 1815."
After the control was in place, we began our conventional traverse, locating property corners and the ridgeline as well as any improvements along the line. At the westernmost end of the line where we began our survey, development has greatly altered the ridgeline. In addition to an existing road that runs basically along the ridge, there are houses and new construction for a mountain camp. In one case, we located the ridgeline during our initial reconnaissance. When we returned to complete our survey, the ridge had been completely wiped out and the elevation changed 50-70 feet. In retracing the footsteps of the original surveyors, we are reminded of the difficulty of the original tasks. Although the location of the state line was more difficult in developed areas, these areas had one advantage over the rest of the line: accessibility. Most of the line was accessible only by four-wheeler and in some cases, not even that. Along the ridge, there are sometimes footpaths that merely need widening with a bush ax and chainsaw. In other cases, there is extremely thick mountain laurel growing up steep faces, which can only be accessed by foot. When conducting initial reconnaissance up one such steep grade, we noticed that the 1815 survey called for a pine tree on the top of Mt. Misery. None of the mountains along the line are currently known by that name and we can only assume that the 1815 surveyors were feeling the same frustration we were.

In addition to difficult terrain, the weather provided additional hardships in completing the survey. To minimize the amount of clearing needed for traversing, we completed much of the survey in the winter. In addition to the usual problems encountered in the winter such as cold temperatures, fog and snow, access to the line in some cases became very treacherous. After one snowstorm, Sassafras Gap, a point on the line, became impassible and we had to skip that section until the snow melted. As can be expected in the mountains of North and South Carolina, we also came across poisonous snakes and evidence of black bear and wild boar. In fact, one tree we identified as a possible corner was hollowed out on one side and appeared to be a bear den.

In searching for evidence of the location of the state line, our primary monument was the existing ridgeline. In most cases, the 1815 survey matched fairly closely the ridgeline that we found. As far as other monuments, they were few and far between. However, we did find some original rocks along the line. Our greatest find was at one bend point that called for two rocks, one marked SC and the other marked NC. After computing coordinates for the rocks’ position by fitting the 1815 survey to the USGS quad map, we navigated to its approximate location. After searching the woods for approximately 30 minutes, we uncovered a large rock buried under 4-5 inches of forest undergrowth marked SC AD 1815. After frantic searching and more digging we found another rock marked NC. It was like finding buried treasure! As we continued in our survey of the line, this memory motivated us to keep going and to search diligently for more original monuments.

An End to a Means

When making our final determination of the location of the line, we had to balance several factors. It appears that portions of the line may have been surveyed by different crews and under different supervision. Some portions of the line have the ridgeline neatly broken down in segments as small as tens of feet. Other portions of the line have longer segments up to 3,000 feet with no bend points. Our primary consideration in completing the survey was to accurately determine the ridgeline so future surveyors will not have to break the ridgeline down any further. Our final survey has points set no more than a few hundred feet apart and the entire 54 mile segment references to state plane coordinates, which will greatly simplify retracement for future surveyors. The original agreement made by the commissioners in 1808 was to define the ridgeline that divided the Green and Pacolet River basins in North Carolina from the Saluda River basin in South Carolina. We followed the intent of the original agreement by using the ridge as the monument and the 1815 map as a guide to stay on the right ridge. In many cases, logging companies and other entities have previously surveyed the ridgeline, and this boundary has been accepted as the state line for many years. In these cases, if the boundary line follows the ridge and roughly agrees with the 1815 survey, we accepted the existing line. Sometimes the surveys deviated from either the 1815 line or the ridgeline; in those cases we let the ridgeline control. A joint NC/SC state boundary commission will determine the final location of the state boundary, which will then be approved by each state’s governing body. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another 100 years for the two state governments to agree.

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