DC boundaries preserved by DAR

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DC boundaries preserved by DAR

October 17, 1996 
by Pamela Cressey

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Diagram of the lettering on the mile and corner stones for the District of Columbia, erected in 1791 and 1792. The markers were carved from sandstone quarried in Aquia, Virginia. Credit: National Capital Planning Commission Bicentennial Report, 1976.

The federal district boundaries were marked by stones at the four corners and at every mile between corners from 1791 to 1792. Such formality was not usually followed for most land surveys, but the new nation’s capital was special. The district was carved out of two states, and it was important to mark this distinct government area.

The corner and mile marker stones had standard wording, including magnetic compass reading, the date the stone was set in place, and facing respective directions--"Jurisdiction of the United States"--and either Virginia or Maryland. Mile marker stones also included the mile number from the cornerstone moving in a clockwise direction beginning at the Jones Point southern corner stone, the first to be erected.. It is interesting that none of the stones are lettered with the name of the new nation’s capital. Apparently the exact name had not been decided, so the lead surveyor Andrew Ellicott used a generic term, "jurisdiction of."

In 1976, all but one of the 40 boundary stones were still standing. However, three or more had been moved from their original locations. At least one stone had been replaced, and one ( in Silver Spring) was completely missing. Thirteen markers, including the one at Jones Point, were noted to need immediate attention. It is remarkable that given their small size, that any of the stones survived the 19th century, much less this century’s suburban boom.

And now for last week’s question: Is the Jones Point marker the original one placed in 1791? The 1976 National Capital Planning Commission report says yes; however, Silvio Bedini writes that the first marker placed at the south corner with great ceremony was only a temporary one. Thomas Freeman, assistant surveyor, replaced it on June 21, 1794, with a permanent stone lettered "The beginning of the Territory of Columbia."

How did it get inside the seawall? The answer comes from Mike Miller’s article Jones Point-Haven of History. C. H. Sinclair of the U.S. Corps of Engineers wrote in 1884 that the wall was built over the stone in 1861. The lighthouse keeper, Mr. Greenwood, remembered that the stone was 12 inches on a side and 15 inches above ground. A "finger" was cut in the wall to locate the center of the boundary stone. No one saw the stone for 51 years until 1912, when the U.S. Engineer Corp broke open the 1861 wall. The Corps built a cage with a concrete cover around the marker. Mysteriously, the stone now measured 11 by 14 inches and was 22 inches above ground.

The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) became active in the protection of all the district boundary markers through the efforts of the D.C. chapter in 1915. They located all the markers and protected them with iron fences, each with a brass plaques noting the DAR chapter responsible. In 1926, the Department of Commerce granted the Mt. Vernon Chapter of the DAR stewardship of the Jones Point boundary marker and the lighthouse. Each marker is similarly the responsibility of a specific DAR chapter. It is due to the DAR’s diligence that the stones have survived through the 20th century with only environmental damage and are noticed by their distinct iron fences. Next week we will look at the other boundary markers in Alexandria as symbols of our time within the District of Columbia as we move toward the 1996 federal elections.