Surveying History / Surveying & Mapping Education

Surveyors Rendezvous Set to Celebrate Mason-Dixon Line

Group will dedicate memorial at Charles Mason’s burial site at annual event in Philadelphia

History weighs on Chas Langelan.

It weighs on his mind as Langelan believes surveyors need to know their profession’s past to succeed today. It weighs on his body as he has carried a famous 500-pound boundary stone around the country. Add it all up, and history comes full circle for Langelan later in August at the Surveyors Rendezvous 2013 in Philadelphia.

 “I became a much, much better licensed surveyor when I learned the history,” says Langelan, the vice chairman of the Surveyors Historical Society, which helps sponsor the 17th annual national event.

Langelan promises an extra-special Rendezvous, which takes place from Aug. 28-31. He says approximately 200 people already have registered for the event,

Chas Langelan
Chas Langelan kneels in front of an authentic 1766 Mason-Dixon Stone, which will be dedicated as a memorial to Charles Mason at a ceremony during the Surveyors Rendezvous 2013 in Philadelphia.

which will feature three ceremonies, including the dedication of a memorial stone for Charles Mason at his burial site near Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Mason and colleague Jeremiah Dixon began surveying the Mason-Dixon Line—which set part of the borders for Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware—250 years ago in 1763.

To spread the word about the special event, Langelan has lugged around an original 1766 Mason-Dixon Stone to show it at surveyors’ association meetings. The heavy stone—Langelan says it weighs about 500 pounds—once marked the Mason-Dixon Line, and, by the end of August, it will serve as a monument at Mason’s burial site.

Mason, who died in 1786, was buried in an unmarked grave at the Christ Church Burial Ground at the corner of 5th and Arch Streets in Philadelphia. The cemetery does not know the exact location of Mason’s grave, so the stone will serve as a memorial and not an actual tombstone.

For Langelan, who has more than 40 years of experience as a surveyor, the dedication and the Surveyors Rendezvous hold special significance. He says knowledge of surveying’s history is an essential part of the job.

“It’s not until you understand the history that you really get it,” Langelan says. “If you’re retracing a survey from 1908, you have to know what those guys were dealing with.”

He realized this firsthand while working in Washington, D.C., in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol. Langelan says that although the district is relatively small in area, it has different rules for surveying in different parts of the city. When he understood the reasons and the history behind those rules, he became a better surveyor.

“When you learn the history, you learn the why,” Langelan says.

So Langelan will help spread the word at the Surveyors Rendezvous. In addition to the dedication of the memorial at the cemetery, Langelan will give a presentation on Mason’s life after the Mason-Dixon survey. The Rendezvous also will include at least eight other presentations on topics such as colonial surveying, astronomy, and the portrayal of surveyors in movies and television. (Some of the presentations are good for continuing education credits.)

Also, two other ceremonies will take place during the Rendezvous. The first will mark the spot of Mason and Dixon’s Astronomical Observatory in Chester County, Pa., on Thursday, Aug. 29. The next day the Rendezvous will hold a dedication of a Pennsylvania historical marker on South Street, near the 1760s “official” southernmost point of Philadelphia, where Mason and Dixon began their work.

Finally, the Rendezvous will culminate with the dedication of the memorial to Mason on Saturday, Aug. 31. Langelan says he dropped off the stone at the cemetery last week, and he looks forward to the ceremony. For him, history is a weighty matter.

“You have to know the limitations they faced and the textbooks they learned from,” Langelan said. “It’s almost like studying Scripture.”

The Surveyors Rendezvous 2013 will take place Aug. 28-31 in Philadelphia. Sponsors are the Surveyors Historical Society, the Mason-Dixon Line Preservation Partnership, Pennsylvania Society of Land Surveyors, District of Columbia Association of Land Surveyors, Maryland Society of Surveyors and New Jersey Society of Professional Surveyors. Online registration to the Surveyors Rendezvous is available at the event’s official website. Special hotel rates are available through Aug. 2.

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