Mason-Dixon ‘mystery stones’ reset in Hebron

Salisbury surveyor John Andrews, center, is joined by is brother, Paul, right, and property owner Glynn Bridge, while resetting one of seven Mason-Dixon “mystery stones” found in and around Mardela Springs.

Salisbury surveyor John Andrews made history when he recently reset one of the famous Mason-Dixon “mystery stones” in a wooded lot near Hebron.

For at least 40 years, Andrews had been intrigued with these markers, associated with English surveyors/mathematicians Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. They were cut and shipped from England  to mark the north-south Tangent Line, the official boundary line between Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania.The surveyors started their work in 1763.

The 82-mile Tangent Line defines the east-west boundaries of Maryland and Delaware. 

The line was established after decades of legal battles between the Penns of Pennsylvania, that owned what is now Delaware, and the Calvert family of Maryland which asserted ownership of some of what is now the state of Delaware.

The southern-most point of the Tangent Line began at the “mid-point” on the Transpeninsular Line (the halfway point between Fenwick Island and the bay shore of Taylor’s Island) near Mardela Springs. 

There are stones, bearing a P on one side to face Penn property, Pennsylvania, and an M on the other side facing Maryland, set every mile on the Tangent Line. Every five miles is a special stone, identified as a crown stone, bearing decorative elements of the coat-of-arms of the Penns on the east side, and Calvert family on the west.

 Those stones on the Transpeninsular Line, which was surveyed by others about a decade before Mason-Dixon began their work on the Tangent Line, are not of the almost foot-square white stone imported from England and very different in style from the Mason-Dixon stones. Stones or markers on this 35-mile line were only set every 5 miles.

A Mason-Dixon “mystery stone” becomes a seat for Salisbury surveyor John Andrews, as he takes a break from preparing the site to reset the famous marker that was shipped from England around 1763-64.

Over the years it was discovered that at least eight Mason-Dixon stones, identical to those used on the Tangent Line, were within a 5-mile radius around Mardela Springs. There are no stones known to exist north-west of the community.

Just where they came from is a mystery, but there is an account by the late Bessie Holloway, in her book, “Holloways of the Eastern Shore,” that a stone had been found, about 1917, on property owned by her husband’s ancestors. It was said to have been laying on the Rewastico Creek shore. The Holloways used the stone as a doorstep to their house. This stone is now alongside the old Barren Creek Church in Mardela Springs.

 It was used at the Holloway farmhouse, then ended up at the home of Frank and Bessie Holloway in Salisbury. Frank grew up on the Rewastico area farm and took the stone with him when he moved. 

Simpson Dunahoo of near Hebron acquired the stone from Frank after Bessie’s death in the mid-1980s.

Years ago, he and his wife donated it to the Westside Historical Society which placed it at the Barren Creek Church location.

Dunahoo reported that Frank Holloway told him the stone was one of two the family found on the shore. They took one, for a step, the other was left along the shore. 

This second stone remains missing. A search for the stone has never been undertaken. Over the years the area became part of a millpond. 

The Holloway site along Rewastico Creek may have been the original location for all the stones, which appeared to have been ferried by the boat Besty Lloyd. There is no known account of these stones being ordered, or discarded, by Mason and Dixon, but somehow at least seven exist.

Robert Adkins of near Salisbury has also been long-interested in the markers. The former Mardela High School industrial arts teacher has carefully mapped the location of the seven known markers, and one reported to have been near an old mill, now lost.

For the past decade Adkins and Hertsell “Buck” Jones have explored much of Wicomico and Worcester counties in search of 18th, 19th and early 20th century water mills and their dams and ponds.

The two have jointly searched the Mason-Dixon line for markers as well as those on the east-west Transpeninsular Line.

Both have also examined the mystery stones.

Adkins believes the stones were used as boundary stones by local property owners. 

He also said that they may have been intended to replace markers on the Transpeninsular Line set by another team of surveyors predating Mason and Dixon. There is evidence that Mason and Dixon were somehow to be involved in a resurvey and resetting of markers on the Transpeninsular Line.

Now placed beside Barren Creek Church in Mardela Springs, a Mason-Dixon stone was found in 1917, along the shoreline of Rewastico Creek, with one other marker. For decades, it had been used as a farmhouse doorstep.

Adkins said it’s possible the stones were brought by boat up Barren Creek to a drop-off location near the Mid Point. From there the surveyors may have intended to work their way east with the stones.

When that job didn’t materialize, Mason and Dixon may have abandoned the stones when delivered. There are no records mentioning stone shipments along Barren Creek, or Rewastico Creek, but there are accounts, in the Mason-Dixon survey journals, that some of the stones they used were shipped to near what is now Sharptown for use on the Tangent Line, as they worked their way north from the Mid Point.

Andrews, who has been involved with this mystery for at least 30 years, is perplexed. He feels that three of the stones may have been set by Mason and Dixon as “reference stones,” set a location that would have helped surveyors precisely reset the Mid Point stone should it ever be moved from its original location. 

Adkins said there is no mention in the Mason-Dixon journals, which detailed their day-to-day  activities, about setting reference stones.

Yet the considerable legal and survey costs of setting the all-important Mid Point stone would certainly merit the placing of critical reference markers.

It may be possible that the stones were set as “witness” or reference markers by surveyors after Mason and Dixon left for England. Contrary to popular belief, Mason and Dixon did not set the large Mid Point stone. 

In November 1768, two months after the surveyors left America, members of a boundary commission of Penn and Calvert officials set the famous stone at the Middle Point. That stone marks the start of the Tangent Line north and the end of the Transpeninsular Line that ran west from Fenwick Island.

Andrews discovered the 500-pound stone, he recently reset, by accident while surveying property in the late 1970s, for developer Glynn Bridge. The property had been clear-cut except for a single tree. At its base, the standing Mason Dixon marker. 

The marker was not on an existing property line.

The discovery was “remarkable,” Andrews said, because the stone was standing in what may have been its original location, and, after 200 years, had not been damaged.

 It was also an exciting find. No Mason-Dixon stone has been found since the late 1970s, and few people knew this one existed until Andrews found it.

Ralph Adkins, 81, of Florida, said he saw the stone as a boy 70-years-ago when he lived on the adjoining farm. His family was intrigued by the strange marker in the woods. 

“We used to go back there with the tractor across the field and walk into the woods to see the stone. We didn’t know anything about its history. I remember it had a seal, or something, on the side near the top. We always said it was a Mason-Dixon marker but we didn’t really know,” he said.

“It was a curious thing and that’s why we went back there, to see it. I really don’t know how we discovered it. We didn’t know what it was, but you could tell from the emblem on the side of it that it was an ‘official stone’ of some sort.”

Adkins doesn’t recall anyone coming to the farm to get a tour of the stone. It was just a family curiosity.

As it turned out, this is the only Mason-Dixon mile-marker that Adkins has seen to date. “If we get back up there I’d really like to see it again,” he said.

All of the “mystery stones” are in Wicomico County. While one is close to the Delaware line, north of the Mid Point, mystery stones have yet to be found in Delaware.

The late Howard Adkins was the first to locate and record the location of the mystery stones. He referred to the one Andrews reset as the “Covington Stone” on land once referred to as the Western Field land grant, which is now owned by developer Glynn Bridge.

 Andrews and Robert Adkins both knew the late Howard Adkins who, along with his wife, founded the Adkins Historical Complex in Mardela Springs.

After finding the stone in the late 1970s, it was almost 30 years before  Andrews saw it again. He discovered that the roots from the tree, just inches away, had gradually raised the marker until it toppled over.

Andrews marked the location of the hole and made plans to reset the stone.

Andrews said the mystery stone is not on any of the Bridge property lines. Strangely, none of the mystery stones are known to be on existing property lines. While divisions of farms took place over the years, it is peculiar that not a single stone is confirmed to be on a property line.

So, did farmers take horse and wagon, travel about 5 miles to help themselves to a cache of unclaimed stones that were extremely costly in the day?

Hoisting a 500-pound stone, getting it into a wagon, hauling it for several miles, unloading and setting it was certainly a challenge for farmers. Was a stone marker needed? 

Generations of land owners, for centuries, relied on existing mature notched trees, and posts, to define lines. Some were lucky enough to have access to tomato-basket-size field stones. Was a five-foot tall, 1-foot-square, 500-pound marker, transported for miles, overkill? 

Andrews said he wanted to get the stone reset on concrete as soon as possible. Some folks had expressed interest in buying the stone, and Andrews felt it was historically important to keep the rare stone in its original location. “I’m just grateful to Glynn that he agreed to save the marker and let me reset it so it will be safe,” Andrews said.

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