Question: How does the stone called for in the deed disappear? Answer: A surveyor turns it into a pipe.

All surveyors are not created equal. On a survey I recently performed, in the caption of the deed I saw the name of the surveyor responsible, and instantly prepared myself for the shock of deeds that would not close, the field evidence never set, and poor quality bearings and distances. This surveyor worked many years ago before I was born. During his era, a foot here and there did not mean much to some of his contemporaries.

When I plugged the deed into my computer, I was amazed that it closed on paper very well. After locating points found in the field, I however found that things lived up to my expectations: A foot here, a foot there, and some slightly different bearings based on monuments I found.

Although I was wishing to not find more field evidence, I walked to the rear of the wooded site with tall canopy trees and looked a foot away from a pipe I located. At that corner, a stone was called for in the deed. This was an angle point in the rear of my client’s property. Standing in the road and looking back, the right property corner was a similar pipe and the left rear was an old stone with a very nice drill hole on top. I liked them all, but the distance from the stone to the pipe was a foot long.

I kicked away the dirt where I expected the stone to be if it were at the deed distance from the stone with the drill hole. No stone existed. But I did find what at first looked like a large horizontal root with a lawn mower blaze and the root bark sliced off. It puzzled me it would be so far back in the woods, and how did it get that cut? So, I began to brush the dirt off to see it was actually a fancy stone and on its side. Upon further examination, I came to the opinion that it was once the stone called for and also probably a small stone for the corner of a funeral plot. It was 6 inches square and about a foot long. The one end was gnarled like the top had been torn off; the other end, which was flat, did not have any drill hole.

The Mystery Thickens

Now was the time for me to become an archeologist and examine my findings.

I believe the stone was obtained for free from a place that made gravestones or fine stonework for walls and building faces. It did not match the existing stone and was unlike any other I have seen in this area except for graveyards. Perhaps it had been stolen. The existing stone may be the other half of the horizontal stone.

I pulled the stone from its sideways position to get a better look at the sides. I did not see a place where it formerly stood up straight. Looking at the surrounding area, it appeared there had been a great deal of erosion and removed earth. On one side of the corner was a spring head and on the other was a small stream with a wide bottom. There was little ground cover due to the canopy blocking most of the sunlight. This lack of vegetation was allowing the earth to erode and left the stone sticking up; it likely had eventually fallen over. A subsequent surveyor found it and could not determine its original location, and so reset the corner with a pipe. In my opinion, the surveyor should have attempted to reset the stone.

Since another land surveyor set a new pipe (now an old pipe), I was not going to set the stone where his new point lay. I might rethink that and reset the stone myself, and on my plan note “stone set in place of existing pipe which was held for position.” I would not argue with the placement of pipe, but would like to get back to the deed call.

If I do return and place the stone where the pipe is, I will drive the pipe in alongside the stone as a witness post if it is long enough. I want to also mention that the adjoining property did not call for a pipe at the corner, so I would not be changing that deed call.

On the Road Again

Most land surveyors are pleased to find the original corner markers as called for in the deeds. In southeastern Pennsylvania where I work, you might find deed calls for a stone in the road. These will rarely be found, but may exist below the pavement. Were they spikes or pins, we could use metal locators and begin to dig with expectations of finding boundary evidence.

While working along a boundary line for a private school having hundreds of acres, the deed I read called for a stone at every corner, and all but one was in a road. I found plans for the tracts along the line and evidence to begin calculations and look for the one corner of the school that was not in the road but rather in deep woods, where the stone should be had it not been disturbed. I could judge this because of the large trees in the area. It was on a hillside, and one would think the surveyor set the stone leaving six inches of it out of the ground so it could be easily found.

On my first attempt at finding a monument, I found nothing. There were no old fences or rock walls to allow me to look in a smaller area and, with the grade change and working alone, I could not rough-tape a distance. So, I located the other monuments I found, entered the deeds for all the tracts along the line, and rotated my field points and prepared coordinates so I could stake out to the corner.

When I returned on my second attempt, as I was clearing the leaves away, the ground hornets said hello and I fled the scene so I could rub my wounds. Armed with a can of “bee bopper,” I sprayed them well. It would take another trip at a later date when the nest was empty.

On the third trip, I raked the hillside, literally, to remove the leaf cover and expose rocks and dirt. This produced a bare area having a diameter of about 25 feet. No stone was found. In my experience of retracing work by that particular surveyor, I have not found many of the monuments he claimed to have set.

On one survey of a large farm, a stone was called for in the Brandywine Creek. Since it was called to be in the creek in the deed text, I thought maybe it actually was set. I turned to where it ought to be in the creek, and the water depth was about three feet. I did look into the cold clear water and scanned the bottom for a stone but saw none. The river might have been dammed up farther down after the marker was placed and thus produced this pool, but with the lack of sediment and a gravel and stone bottom, I would have seen the stone sticking up. Even in winter, I could not have resisted wading in to take the shot if it had been there.

We Need to Remember

We all retrace old surveys. A great help in making decisions would be to know and understand the players who worked long ago. We all know there were the good, the bad and the ugly. In 1900, some surveyors performed very accurate surveys, and it was not the equipment alone. They were professionals, and accuracy and precision were important to them. That was long before there were survey licenses in Pennsylvania.

By understanding the mindset, the way surveyed properties were marked, and the work practices of former land surveyors, we can make better decisions about boundary issues today.