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Tri-state station that never was


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Have you ever looked at a map of the southwest corner of Massachusetts / northwest corner of Connecticut and thought "Hey, what's with that?"


Here's a map:




It looks like someone cut the corner off of Massachusetts and pushed the Connecticut line about a mile and 3/4 to the east.


Well, it turns out "someone" did! Read on.


Part 1 - Boston Corner


I had always wondered about this and then a few years ago I learned about Simeon Borden, surveyor extraordinaire who did a survey of the state of Massachusetts in the 1830s, with results so accurate that most of his stations are in the NGS database, many of them as first order stations. I found his map, published in 1841 on the net, and noticed the southwest corner of Massachusetts looked much more like you would expect.


Here's a piece of the Borden map:




That motivated me to do two things:

1) Find out what happened to the corner

2) And think "I wonder if there's something still there".


The first question was easily answered: It seems that little corner of the original border was on the wrong side of the mountains. For the most part, the western border and the west end of the southern border of Massachusetts lie on or near the ridge of the Berkshire and Taconic mountains ranges, but that little corner (known as "Boston Corner" or "Boston Corners") sits in a nice valley that connects via an old road and train lines to New York and Connecticut.


So for most of the first half of the 19th century, bandits and outlaws, ever looking for an advantage over the local sheriffs, would do their dastardly deeds, and then run like hell to that corner and say "Nya, Nya, can't touch me here, I'm in Massachusetts" Just like in the movies. This culminated in 1853 with the historic 38 round prize fight between John Morrissey and the famed Yankee Sullivan (never heard of them? What do they teach you kids in school nowadays?) Here's a good account: The Battle of Boston Corners, October 12, 1853. In a nutshell, Massachusetts said to New York, "OK, you guys can have the place, we don't want it." And so it was done by act of Congress in 1855.


After finding out that stuff, one day I took a ruler out on a Google Map and extended the line from either side of the missing piece of Massachusetts to the old corner, and lo and behold it was right at the northwest corner of Dutchess County, NY, with Columbia County wrapping around it.


Mere's the map with my lines drawn on it:




I figured those county boundaries must have predated the change in 1855. So I got the coordinates, and stuck it into the NGS search function. I figured most of Borden's marks made it into the database, so this point, which he surveyed some 20 years before the change might be in there.


Here's what I got:


|Dist|PID...|H V|Vert_Source|Latitude.....|Longitude.....|Stab|Designation
|----|------|- -|-----------|-------------|--------------|----|-----------
| 0.0|MZ2081|3 .|29/SCALED..|N420259.49107|W0733117.21234|....|BOUNDARY BOUND CT MA NY


Paydirt! But the name was confusing, "MA NY" I got, but "CT"? That was a mile and 3/4 to the east. So I thought, maybe the Connecticut line was also originally at this point, as well as the missing piece of Massachusetts. Furthermore, the datasheet was unpublished for lack of a description, as was true for a number of Borden's stations.


So as soon as I could mount an expedition, I would check this out. I had found a couple of Borden's markers on the MA/NH boundary, and they were fancy - certainly worth looking for.


In the mean time I did some more investigating and found that this point was 1) set by Connecticut and New York in 1731 and 2) used by Massachusetts and New York in 1787 as the starting point of their common border.


Here's a quote from Bulletin of the USGS No. 13, 1885: The Boundaries of the United States and of the Several States by Henry Gannet - Google Books (BTW: Every serious Benchmarker interested in state boundaries should download this volumn)




3 years later, last June to be exact, I drove up Route 22 in New York, parked at the side of the road and made my way east on a old dirt road, around a gravel pit, through some brambles and found a faint woods road. Turning south and walking along this road I came upon an old stone marker, about 6" x 6" along the side of the road and a witness post with some red flagging.


It seems this county corner may still be used by local surveyors as a control point.


The stone itself may well be the original 1731 stone since the later surveys of the state boundaries all took place well after 1855, and there would be little reason why county surveyors would replace a marker for an obscure county corner. So I'll leave it as a "maybe", but I'm very happy it's still there.


Here it is:




And what is more, I submitted a recovery log to the NGS with a complete description and about a week ago, the station was finally published. A "Lazarus Log" as I call it. Check it out: MZ2081


But there's more! - see next note.

Edited by Papa-Bear-NYC
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Part II - The Oblong


The missing piece of the puzzle is why did the Connecticut line get moved about a mile and 3/4 east.


For that, the USGS volumn quoted above gives some information:




Huh! It takes about 3 readings to figure out what this convoluted description says, but the key phrase is the very last one: "being the northeast corner of the oblong." So what exactly was the "Oblong"? It turns out though many years of negotiations the two states agreed that a line 20 miles east of the Hudson would be their common boundary. This was actually laid out in 1683 according to one source.


But there was a complication: Connecticut had already established several towns on Long Island Sound which were less than 20 miles from the Hudson. These towns lay within her original charter, but unfortunately New York's charter conflicted and overlapped. New York was the stronger negotiator, and so what happened was the 1683 line was resurveyed in 1731 up to the southwest corner of Massachusetts (our point), and then they measured east a bit over a mile and 3/4 from this point and established another point, and they repeated this on down the 20-miles-from-the-Hudson line, and established another line - the current west line of Connecticut.


The area in between - called "The Oblong" - was then ceded by Connecticut to New York as an "equivalent" amount of land for the towns that Connecticut got to keep along the sound.


Here's a map from The Boundary Disputes of Connecticut by Clarence Winthrop Bowen (1882) - Google Books:




What the survey did was effectively establish Connecticut's line - and then changed it. So the point I found in June, surveyed by Borden in 1837, was the "hypothetical" tri-point between the three states as monumented in 1731, but was never "in fact" the tri-point, since the same survey pushed the Connecticut line about a mile and 3/4 to the east.


But why did the NGS, or perhaps Simeon Borden name it "BOUNDARY BOUND CT MA NY"? I can only guess. One possibility is that Borden was using the results of an old 1717 survey of the CT-MA line to find the old markers (probably axe blazes and cairns) and just went to the end of that line which was (in 1717) the "future" tri-point, although in 1717, none of the borders were fully accepted as final.


Mere's a map of the whole business:




And here's an interactive Google Map from which this screen shot was taken: Boston Corner GMap


One More Mystery


Look at the map. Notice the section along the south border of Massachusetts between the present (1853) southwest corner, and the point where the current Connecticut line starts its southward course. I've placed a little gray icon on the line where the topo map shows a bare spot. That's a Borden station that stands at the west end of the ridge line. He used that, together with another station on Alander Mountain up to the northwest to triangulate to the old SW corner. He had no choice, since those two points were the only ones visible from the tri-point that connect it to the rest of the survey. See the Borden map in the note above to see that. He could not, for example, triangulate from where the north-south Connecticut line terminates since that was in a valley. Look at the contours and you'll see.


To complicate matters, he called this point "Connecticut Line", most likely because it was a point marked by a cairn on the original 1717 east-west Connecticut line. The problem with this name is that his point was NOT any longer on the east-west Connecticut line, and CERTAINLY NOT the terminus of the north-south Connecticut line.


This however caused a good deal of confusion, and Gannett (USGS No. 13), long considered the gold standard in documenting the boundaries, erroneously used Borden's coordinates for the north-south Connecticut line's norther terminus, evidently assuming Borden had surveyed that point, whereas he had actually surveyed a point on the top of the ridge about 2000 feet to the west. In fact Borden's station was probably established at the "heap of stones" at the end of the ridge, mentioned in the summary of the 1731 survey quoted above and outlined in red. Now it all makes sense! :P


Now, if only Gannett (in 1885) had Google Map's he would never have done that!



Edited by Papa-Bear-NYC
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I applaud your research, effort, persistence and success. Congratulations! Thanks for sharing your great story (and for the history lesson).


With no monumentation description for MZ2081, how do you know that that the stone that you found is indeed BOUNDARY BOUND CT MA NY?


I always look forward to your posts.



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I applaud your research, effort, persistence and success. Congratulations! Thanks for sharing your great story (and for the history lesson).


With no monumentation description for MZ2081, how do you know that that the stone that you found is indeed BOUNDARY BOUND CT MA NY?


I always look forward to your posts.



I believe it to be the point since 1) it was in the right place to within several meters which is the accuracy of the orthophotos on Google maps (better than GPS), 2) it was flagged, which implies local surveyors use it for control, and by definition being both a county and town corner is a strong indication, and lastly there was a very old stone wall along the west side of the road which to within the accuracy of my GPS' magnetic compass, corresponded to the old Massachusetts west line. So there were 3 independent pieces of good quality circumstantial evidence. As I said, it's a "maybe", but a pretty strong "maybe". Edited by Papa-Bear-NYC
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2) it was flagged, which implies local surveyors use it for control,


If you could find the local surveyors that were using it, is it likely that they might have knowledge of the background of that stone?


(By the way, my questions are in NO WAY challenging any of your findings, I am just trying to learn. We are looking for some old marks in our area (not anywhere near as old as MZ2801, but old for the west coast) and are just trying to glean all the helpful tidbits that we can).




The TillaMurphs

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2) it was flagged, which implies local surveyors use it for control,


If you could find the local surveyors that were using it, is it likely that they might have knowledge of the background of that stone?


(By the way, my questions are in NO WAY challenging any of your findings, I am just trying to learn. We are looking for some old marks in our area (not anywhere near as old as MZ2801, but old for the west coast) and are just trying to glean all the helpful tidbits that we can).




The TillaMurphs


These are very good questions.


The one important point that distinguishes a boundary mark, especially one that is a town corner, a county corner and prior to 1853, a state corner, is that is is fundamentally a cadestral point (property demarcation) and only secondarily a geodetic point. In fact it's only a geodetic point because Massachusetts decided to hire Simeon Borden in the 1830s to make a survey, and sometime later the NGS (then the CGS) decided to include his points into the database.


Many towns have bylaws or traditions that require that the town line be "perambulated" at regular intervals. Basically the town surveyor, or a local surveyor hired for the purpose must walk the boundary - usually with a party representing the adjoining town - and verify that all the boundary monuments or other markings are in place. Surveyors among us can explain this more fully, but I believe this has been going on for centuries.


Thus the surveyor flagging on the rock pictured indicates that the local surveyors are 1) aware of this point and 2) use it routinely. Knowing exactly where and what it is would be required for the perambulation and the knowledge would be preserved in the town records and passed down among the local surveyors. Secondly, the point would be used to control property surveys, at least when the lots were laid out or subdivided in the vicinity. Again, surveyors on this forum are invited to elucidate this process.


So, as to question of checking with local surveyors on this point, the answer is YES that would be a good idea. Or at least i could call the town manager, ask if the town has a surveyor, then call and ask if this is known to be the town corner. He need know nothing whatsoever about who put it there or when, but if he says, yes "that's the town corner" then that is a BIG point as to the provenance of this point.


There are really two questions:


1) Is this the right point and

2) is this the original monument.


The first could be answered by the above information from the locals as well as looking in the town records or library for property maps of the town.


The second is harder, and unless there is a record somewhere of the 1731 survey (which there might be in the the NY or Connecticut archives) one would have to go on circumstantial evidence. There's "soft' evidence, such as the antiquity of the stone and nearby wall, the moss etc. Maybe a trained archeologist would know how to estimate age depending on things like that.


Remember, even Borden in 1837 did not necessarily know what he was looking for (unless he had the notes from the 1731 or the 1787 survey). He may have expected a pile of stones or some axe blazes on trees. And true to form. when he found what he found, be didn't leave the information where the CGS could find it years later when his points were put into the database.


But there is actually some "good" evidence, mostly in the negative.


1) Borden did not appear to have left a monument. His monuments along the border are very clear and obvious. Here's the one near Mt. Watatic on the NH line:




2) there were several surveys done by NY and Mass starting from the one in 1853 (when the corner was cut from Mass) and around 1900. In these cases newer monuments replaced older ones. In fact if this point had remained a state corner, the original stone would absolutely be gone. Here a photo of the (new) SW corner which was created in 1853:



Photo by Brian Butler from his

web site The Corner Corner


That's an 1898 monument with the small stone sitting on top being a remnant of the 1853 stone. Vandals!


So in a sense we're lucky the point was cut off from Massachusetts.


So my feelings are:


1) It is highly likely that this is the right location. This could be made a certainty by consulting town or county records.


2) It is quite possibly the original stone, but there is no way to prove it short of some scientist doing some carbon dating or other fancy-shmancy testing.


Once again I would ask the scientists, engineers and surveyors on this forum: if this was a property dispute, would you have a way of ascertaining the age of a monument like this?


Best regards


Edited by Papa-Bear-NYC
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My grandmother had bought an old farm in northern Columbia County in 1929. No survey was done at that time. (There seem to have been very few surveys done.) Our friendly neighbor, whose family had farmed the next farm ince the 1830s, said that his deed (with survey dated 1841) showed that he owned the land where my father built his house. (Yes. this was the 1960s. His survey was only 130 years old.) We did a lot of title searching in Hudson to disprove his claim. (His great-grandfather had sold it in 1871.) But anyway, that's when I heard of 'perambulation'. It was common (?) practice in the 1800s for land owners (at least in Columbia County) to perambulate their land every Easter Sunday. (At least, this is what my brain remembers.) I guess it kept your neighbors honest. They wouldn't cut wood off your back lot, for instance. I have never heard of a town doing a perambulation, but that's neither here nor there.

Also, no one really knows how to spell Taughkannock/Taconic! (The Taconic Parkway has an exit for Taughkannock State Park.)

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Thanks a lot Papa-Bear-NYC for this great post.


To answer your first question, yes I looked at the map and knew a little bit about this Boston Corners and the Oblong. Some month ago I came along a granite boundary marker near the "Southwick Jog" at the border of Massachusetts and Connecticut. I did some research and stumbled over the book "How the States got Their Shapes". It's described in there but in no way so detailed as you did it here.


But I also like to share some information about this perambulation. To do so I have to come back to a most unexpected and wonderful find in the wilderness between Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the Pine Tree Monument (btw, another great post). This pdf file from the Pelham Historical Society shows Mr. Winthrop Hobbs perambulate the bounds of the Town of Pelham at the Pine Tree Monument.


I also found this old granite post boundary marker between Lyndeborough and New Boston in New Hampshire:




There was a small book in a trail-head box nearby with the following description of this marker:


Well over a century ago granite post markers such as this one were placed along town boundary lines. The L stands for the Town of Lyndeborough. Were you to stand on the opposite side of the marker you would be in the Town of New Boston. The dates 1862, 1918, 1939, 1946 and 1956 tell a story. In the early days the boundary lines the area's towns were often in dispute. Because boundary shenanigans did occur, it became law that "Every seven years the town boundary shall be perambulated" ... (walked and inspected by the Selectmen), "and the markers and bounds renewed. If they failed to carry out that duty, they were fined. While that law has since been repealed, the dates on the granite post show that at least some Selectmen took their duty seriously.


It looks like this perambulation was very common in the New England area by that time. It would be interesting to know if some Selectmen/Towns are doing this still today.


King Hubi

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As a native of Massachusetts, I always wondered why that corner of the state was truncated. I knew it had something to do with Boston Corner but that was about all I knew. Thanks for piecing together the interesting story of how this came to be. I should have figured it was all about New York. ;)

Edited by rogbarn
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