A World-Famous Boundary Line Ends its Arduous Journey at the Edge of Greene County
By Pete Zapadka
When it comes to taking its place in American history, Greene County is unparalleled.
And it’s because of a parallel of latitude that Pennsylvania’s southwestern-most county stands above all others. The famous Mason-Dixon Line, run from 1763-67 by British astronomers and surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, ends its journey at the edge of Greene County. Mason and Dixon were hired to settle a border dispute between the property of the Penn family of Pennsylvania and the Calvert family of Maryland. Each party had been presented in the 1600s overlapping claims by different kings of England.
While Mason and Dixon started their work in November 1763, in Philadelphia, their survey ended four years later on the border of Greene County. But why would a settlement between Pennsylvania and Maryland reach this far west? Mason and Dixon were charged with surveying their line to a total of 5 degrees in longitude from the Delaware River, the land presented by the English crown to the Penns.
Mason and Dixon continued their survey through 1764, ’65 and ’66, crossing the rugged Appalachians and reaching the end of Maryland on Aug. 14, 1767, thereby starting the border of Pennsylvania with modern-day West Virginia.
The team stopped about 3 miles southwest of Mount Morris after they had crossed a warpath, a point at which their Native American companions said they would not go one step farther westward. Hostile tribes were said to inhabit those lands, so Mason and Dixon halted their work 21 miles, 769.1 feet short of their goal. That 5 degrees in longitude is the present-day southwest corner of Pennsylvania and, of course, Greene County. The corner finally was set on Nov. 18, 1784, by Andrew Ellicott, David Rittenhouse and others.
The marker set atop Brown’s Hill in October, 1767 has been luring stargazers, history buffs, reenactors and nature lovers to mount its steep, half-mile hike up the M-D Marker trail to the site of the survey’s western end point. Surveyors from as far away as Sweden have come to pay professional respects to a line that defined history and maintained accuracy that professionals recognize as brilliant considering the technology and mathematics available at the time of its establishment.
In the 21st century, it’s easy to walk in the footsteps of history, but not all of the Mason-Dixon Line along Greene County is accessible. Much of it lies away from road and trails, and a large portion is on private land.
Still, experiencing this sort of substantial history is worth the effort.
It’s a pleasant drive south along Power Plant Road south of the Point Marion Bridge. Visitors will pass the Point Marion Lock and Dam on the Monongahela River. Just beyond the dam and after the railroad tracks are on the right, the road crosses the Mason-Dixon Line. The only indication is a stone marker at the edge of the railroad tracks with each state’s name. However, this is the spot where Mason and Dixon crossed the Monongahela River on Sept. 30, 1767. They wrote in their journal that the river was running low, about 5 yards wide and 6 inches deep.
Highly recommended is a drive along Buckeye Road from Mount Morris, where after about 2 miles the lovely Dunkard Creek lies on the right and the Mason-Dixon Line is evident, marked by signs from both states. Upon entering West Virginia, a private dirt road climbs to the left. On the far side of that ridge lies the location of the warpath that caused the Native Americans with Mason and Dixon to refuse to proceed.
But another mile on Buckeye Road brings visitors to the gem of our share of this famous survey: Mason-Dixon Historical Park.
The 295-acre Mason-Dixon Historical Park is owned by Monongalia County, WV, and Greene County, PA. Approximately half of the park’s land lies in each county, but main access is located at the Red Barn off Buckeye Road on the West Virginia side. Reaching the Greene County side is an easy, relaxing walk along beautiful Dunkard Creek. That area, called the South Bottom, is an open grassland that is a wonderful location for camping and hiking.
As visitors walk along the peaceful stream, they’ll cross a new culvert over a tributary right next to a new addition to the park: the Third Crossing of Dunkard Creek Recreation Area. The site was completed in 2017 in time for the 250th anniversary celebration of the ending of the Mason-Dixon Line survey. It is the one spot in the region where visitors can stand on The Line with a foot in each state, making it a great photo opportunity. In the center of a row of stones is a unique marker – the base of an original Mason-Dixon Line stone that was placed last year by local surveyors. The stone originally was part of a Mason-Dixon Line marker that had been placed by Mason and Dixon near Gettysburg, PA.
The park is a great place for hiking, and hearty souls will want to climb Brown’s Hill and see for themselves the final marker of the historic survey. The monument that stands today on that exact location was set in 1883 by Cephas H. Sinclair.
In the spring, the waters of Dunkard Creek rise to a level suitable for kayaking or canoeing downstream. Children especially enjoy the fairy trail during this time of year, when wildflowers begin to bloom. The park offers free live music in the summer, and will be hosting a Star Wars Movie night this year on the evening of October 16.