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Where is the state line?

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By Chris Sardelli

Carolinians have disputed the border between North and South Carolina since Lancaster County was established in 1735. But within the next year, that question may be resolved.

Alan-Jon Zupan, who works with the S.C. Geodetic Survey, said his team has been working with the N.C. Geodetic Survey for the last several months to reestablish exactly where the border line is. Zupan said the surveying of the area cannot begin until his team determines exactly where the state line is.

“The thing is we’re not going to be doing any surveying for a while,” Zupan said.

“The first thing we have to do is research it out as far as any old documents that we have and any old land records.”  

Over the last few months, the combined team has been poring through old deeds and plats, which show the divisions of a piece of land, searching for past markers of the border. Once they locate an old marker, they try to track it forward to the present day.

If they can firmly establish where the landmark used to be, they establish its geographic coordinates and move on to the next portion of the border.

In 1995, the two geodetic surveys were commissioned to redefine the North Carolina/South Carolina border.

The SCGS has worked on it in chunks. They have already completed the border above Oconee and Pickens counties and over Greenville and Spartanburg, and have also finished surveying the section from the Atlantic Ocean to the corner of Marlboro County and from Greenville to Lake Wylie.

The whole process can be very costly.

Research on the Greenville-Spartanburg area cost at least $200,000, while the actual surveying of the area cost more than $300,000 because the SCGS had to contract out help.

They are now conducting intensive research in preparation for surveying the eight-mile stretch of border between North Carolina and Lancaster County going directly north from the North Corner marker, where the Panhandle begins.

The section they plan to resurvey begins at the area near North Corner AME Zion Church on East North Corner Road and travels north past where the Catawba Indian Reservation used to be. A North Carolina firm, CESI, will conduct the actual survey after the research is complete.

Finding the border

Retracing the original border is difficult because environmental landmarks, such as trees, were originally used in the 1764 survey.

By 1772, the boundary followed the old Salisbury Road up to the Catawba Indian Reservation and followed it southeast, northeast and northwest until it reached the Catawba River. From there it reached west to what is now the boundary dividing Spartanburg and Greenville counties.

Zupan said the original surveyors marked the boundaries by blazing trees. After 70 years, the marks were unclear or gone.

In 1880, South Carolina resurveyed the boundary from the seacoast to York County.

In 1886, North Carolina surveyed the area, but the states never surveyed the area together.

“Now, there may be three possible locations for that stretch of boundary, although only the 1772 survey of the boundary is legal. This has not been resolved since then,” Zupan said.

This time, the two states are working together, although their respective geodetic surveys are surveying the border separately.

They do this by looking for the original blazes. After 200 years, few remain.

In such cases, the SCGS relies on old plats showing the original state boundaries.

Whenever the SCGS and NCGS have contradictory findings, the Joint Boundary Commission will decide where the border is.

The findings then go to the respective state governments.

In South Carolina, the findings are drafted in an act and passed as a bill through the Legislature, which then goes to the governor for signature.

In North Carolina, the findings are sent directly to the governor.

So far, Zupan  said there is no disputed area between North Carolina and Lancaster County.

“We’re working with North Carolina and trying to do this in an amicable area,” he said.

Border issue has lasted years

Lindsay Pettus and his sister, Louise Pettus, are local historians who have researched the border issue for years. Both say it can be a confusing subject.

“So many people have spent so many years trying to figure out where the line is,” Lindsay Pettus said. “It’s a very interesting subject and I’m pleased there’s a lot of research going on today for people to learn more about the state line.”

He said clarification of the border will be difficult, especially since many land deeds for locations in Lancaster County are stored in other counties, such as Union and Anson counties in North Carolina.

“There’s quite a number of tracts of land on the east side of the county that were recorded in Anson County because people just didn’t know,” he said.

Louise Pettus  said it’s “terribly difficult” to find information that firmly establishes the original border. Part of the reason is both Carolinas claim many of the same portions of land and records are either scattered or nonexistent.

Also, much of the original border was decided by oral agreements between the Catawba Indians and settlers.

“It’s just not documented well enough,” Louise Pettus said. “The Catawba Indians never had the experience to deal with this. They just sealed bargains with a handshake. They didn’t write them down.”

What also makes claims over land so confusing is that until 1810 there was no requirement from South Carolina to honor any of those agreements or include them in state records. As a result, land claims constantly shifted.

These days, Louise Pettus said, state commissioners make sure the information is recorded.

With current satellite mapping technology, she hopes that once the survey is complete, the border will no longer be in dispute.

“If this finally would be an official measurement, it’s sealed and then no one would question it,” she said.

You can help

Anyone with an old plat of the border area from around the time of the 1772 survey is asked to call the SCGS at (803) 896-7700.

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli  at csardelli@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 416-8416