A Dividing Line Brings Us Together

A 2.945Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

Oh, the lines. The shortest distance between two points? A line pulled to ring a bell? A colonial boundary between two long forgotten counties? Lines of dialog in a television documentary? The lines marked of legal secession from an illegally seceded state? Soup lines during the depression? A line connecting a hook to a stick? A plumb line suspended from a 20-foot tripod? Lines of fellowship awaiting a sumptuous meal? Well, yeah. That would be correct.

Returning to the woods in the spirit of long forgotten summer camps, members of the Surveyors Historical Society once again celebrated in another memorable Rendezvous. In the latter part of September 2009, we gathered at Camp Caesar in central West Virginia. The group spent a relaxing three days studying subjects ranging from colonial era lines on the ground to websites displaying the moons of Jupiter on a laptop screen. While doing all of this, we enjoyed all of the best we all longingly remember of our days as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts or 4-H’ers.

Our 2009 hosts were SHS Board member Don Teter and the West Virginia Society of Professional Surveyors. The general subjects of study were an obscure line bisecting the state and surveying with the Civilian Conservation Corps. The atmosphere was laid back, the speakers were all exceptional, and the subject matter proved to be most interesting.

Before the formal opening of the meetings, on the evening folks were arriving (Wednesday, September 23), we were all pleasantly feted by Virginia surveyor, Dave Ingram. Dave put together the entire feast and to use the word `feast’ is an understatement. Great food, and more important, great fellowship, once again seeing the colleagues you’ve not seen for an entire year. I believe it has been decided that a happening like this will become a standard feature at all future rendezvous.

Bunk time. Reporting to the headquarters cabin, sheets and pillows were issued. Camp Caesar’s numerous buildings are a menagerie of shapes and sizes. The one thing each has in common is the Spartan nature of furniture (none), save the old military style metal bunk beds. The cabin we stayed in had approximately 24 bunks, meaning 48 beds. Besides a State Congressman, our cabin consisted of about 10 other friends, both old and brand new.

Early Thursday morning, the "BongBong" of a dinner bell. Nothing competed with that bell, be it deep sleep or a long-winded lecturer. It became a sound we all learned to appreciate and found comfort in hearing. By its second ringing of the stay, an entire group of 60 to 80 surveyors was turned into the Professor Pavlov’s pack of salivating dogs. We all grew to love the sound of that bell.

Following a hearty breakfast, we eager students received our official welcome from Betsy Morris­the efficient, friendly and gracious Director of Camp Caesar­ and from Richard Leu, President of the Surveyors Historical Society. The next fellow introduced was the main fellow to blame for our gathering. Through his curiosity and persistence, Marshall Robinson has partially resolved a West Virginia surveying mystery. Mentions of the "County Line" and "Dividing Line" appeared periodically in descriptions for properties all the way across the State of West Virginia. What counties and why?

What do all of the people in all of Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and parts of Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia have in common? They were all part of one common Virginia County, called Augusta, in the early 18th century. All of Kentucky eventually became Fincastle County (1772). Much like the children in an estate cutting up Granddaddy’s farm, these huge counties became subdivided into smaller and yet smaller entities. Running North 55 degrees West, a line was begun in 1785 to divide Greenbriar County and the much diminished Augusta County. This line began in the Blue Ridge Mountains of present Virginia and proceeded northwesterly to the Ohio River. Originally, the line was intended to terminate at the Mississippi River. On the Ohio, the property to the northeast side of the line was a 2,314 acre tract belonging to George Washington. Another landowner in the vicinity was another fellow surveyor, Albert Gallatin.

One of the early surveyors of the line, Thomas Douglas was once fined for not attending petit jury duty. His unsuccessful pleading was he was running the line as ordered by the same court. The court fined him and then paid him for carrying out his surveying duties. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Surveyors of the time were appointed by William and Mary College. The college received 1/6th of the surveyor’s fees.

As happened in much of the eastern portion of the colonial United States (prior to the rectangular system), because of unprecedented growth and unsophisticated equipment, many quick, inaccurate and rushed surveys were performed. The laps, gaps, gores, headaches and surprises revealed by Marshall involving the dividing line were mind-boggling. To complicate the issue, other counties were established during the course of running the dividing line. Some of these counties overlapped the line. We’ll all benefit the day Marshall publishes the results of his endeavors.

Three young learned West Virginia students followed up on Marshall’s and Don’s presentation. Isaac Emric, a PhD candidate filled us in on the native American tribes that resided in the general region, from mound builders to Monetons. Ben Scharff followed up with the nasty property line dispute between Virginia and Pennsylvania just after the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years War). Eric McLaughlin wrapped it all up bringing us up from Indian ownership/occupation through early settlement of western Virginia (not legal by order of the King beginning in 1763) through the expansion of the area during the Revolutionary War. The lunch bell rang, and my notes say "Let’s go fishing."

Dave Ingram had put together little packets containing some string and four hooks to use in a fishing tournament, primitive style. Bass Masters should be ashamed for being so presumptuous. Supplied with only the line and hooks, participants were required to supply poles, bait etc. A lazy afternoon was then spent picnicking and fishing. Anglers vied for prizes while eaters angled for chow. While this was going on, Steve Oakuley from Ohio helped me erect the tripod apparatus necessary to determine declination using colonial astronomic methods. Unfortunately, like ants at any picnic, the clouds moved in. Once again, a damper was placed on star gazing.

When we tired of fishing and eating, an evening class was held that originally was going to set the background for the evening’s astronomy lessons. I led a discussion on the methodology used for determining variation or declination using a line suspended from a tall tripod and a single sight vane mounted on a board. Mr. Ingram then gave a most fascinating talk and demonstration on the colonial method of setting a chronometer using the occultations of the moons of Jupiter. Dave had his laptop hooked up to a projector on which he showed photographs he had made observing Jupiter and its orbiting moons. Two items gleaned from his great presentation: 1) go to http://indigo.ie/~gnugent/JupSat95/ and you will be amazed viewing the moons of Jupiter in real time, and 2) to perform the same observations as our predecessors did (fighting the weather and equipment problems) is just this side of impossible.

conference brochure promised an "Allegheny Outback". We found out what it was at the evening’s festivities held at the Council Fire, a silo-shaped building with benches built around the round walls. When you have a Moneton brave blowing an Australian didgeridoo (future Dr. Emric from the morning’s lectures) to the accompaniment of Kentuckian Ralph Paris and the West Virginia Mountain Survey Boys, you call that Allegheny Outback. Picking, singing, back slapping, elbow bending and story swapping are a great way to spend any evening the stars aren’t visible.

The bell rings once again, signaling breakfast, followed by a presentation on the Civilian Conservation Corps. Begun in the first 100 days of Franklin Roosevelt’s first administration, the Corps provided jobs and hope for countless rural youth during the depression. Presentations were delivered by videographer Robert C. Whetsell, host Don Teter, and first hand CCC participant Richard Lowndes. Over the course of its existence, the CCC employed nearly three million young men. You can’t hardly swing a cat in any of our National Parks without hitting something constructed by the CCC. Long before procurement policies and vendors’ tickets, these innovative fellows built various structures from the natural materials within their reach. Nearly all of them within our camp carried the unique touch of the earthy architecture of the CCC. These fellows on average gained 15 pounds in weight the first three months in the Corps from hard work and regular meals. They were all single; married folks were in the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Their primary duties were tree planting and basic conservation. Their efforts resulted in a huge reduction in land lost to soil erosion and forest fires and improved our national playgrounds. From 1933 to 1942, our national forests doubled in land area.

Teter told us of the various subjects of instructions available to the "CC Boys". One subject of the fifteen offered was surveying. The course was broken down into two parts, one basic and the next more complex. They boys were taught anything from plane surveying and stadia surveying to public land surveys and running circular curves. Mr. Lowndes related stories of his youth spent on CCC camps while his father, employed by the Forest Service, instructed the youths. Following the outbreak of World War II, many of the camps in east Tennessee were converted into Prisoner of War camps. A portion of Mr. Lowndes’ youth was spent befriending homesick German lads. Dick told of one Christmas where they had placed a pack of cigarettes under each prisoner’s dinner plate.

On a related note, Mr. Lowndes related a story about an elliptical line he had been involved with in 1968. Dick had worked for TRW in Houston on the guidance and control systems for the Apollo missions. On Christmas Eve, while preparing to attend church services, the Lowndes’ phone rang. It was Mission Control in Houston. A problem had developed with the path of the orbit of the command module. Mr. Lowndes had been the last person to sign off on the project. While correcting the problem, he also enjoyed a great conversation with the astronauts on board. After wrapping up the glitch, Dick and his wife walked out to the car that cold winter evening, looked up, and saw a huge full moon. That is one good memory to have.

Following the CC Boys, Dr. Stephen McBride and Dr. Kim McBride shared with us their adventures in finding and excavating Anglo fort sites in the area. Mix a farmer’s field, a backhoe and two curious archaeologists and you end up with some pretty interesting history. They map their findings and immediately cover them up. Anyone wondering through would never know of the history beneath their feet.

The bell once again signaled lunch and the Swap Meet. While many of the SHS members proudly displayed sightvane compasses, transits, literature and odd, unusual surveying paraphernalia in the dry, the group of West Virginia surveyors gave talks and demonstrations in a driving rain to busload after busload of wet but enthusiastic school kids. Both the West Virginia boys and the kids proved to be real troopers.

During all of the festivities, a film crew had been lurking in the background filming and interviewing. A fine friendly bunch of folks out of Bethesda, Maryland comprise Half Yard Productions. They are currently involved in a project for the History Channel. Mark Stein’s recent book, How the States Got Their Shapes is the subject of a documentary series due out next summer. During the afternoon, the film crew recruited a period survey crew in order to film period surveying techniques and scenes. Let me tell you, acting ain’t easy.

The final "Bong-Bong" signaled the banquet. Sporting their finest period haberdashery, members mingled from century to century over a fabulous meal. Dave passed out the bragging rights to the lucky fisher folks of the previous day. A fishing lie or two was told. We then journeyed over to the annual auction and fund raiser. Again Chas Langelan and Dave were able to extract blood from us many turnips in the crowd. The success of the auction put a great cap on such a wonderful gathering.

But things weren’t quite over. Necessity called for yet another evening with Ralph and the Boys at the Council Fire. Eventually as the night grew on, we all returned to our metal bunk beds, reflecting on the great fun, fellowship and scholarship we had all shared over the previous three days. The breakfast bell was the signal of our inevitable parting. Leaving, I couldn’t help but chuckle thinking of when leaving on a bus the previous day, some kid yelled out the window to Don Teter, "See you, Old Dude!"

So now it’s time to get back in line for next fall’s Rendezvous. We’ll be on the Delta Queen steamboat in Chattanooga, Tennessee on the weekend of the 147th anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga. Our topics will be Civil War mapping and TVA’s contributions to cartography. Get in line and get on board.

Bart Crattie holds a BFA degree from Murray State University and is a licensed surveyor in Georgia and Tennessee. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Surveyors Historical Society.

A 2.945Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE