Surveyors armed with GPS and satellite feeds are re-establishing the 401-mile border between North Carolina and South Carolina for the first time since it was redrawn in the early 1800s with sextants and crude compasses.
Despite the rumors, the 18th-century surveyors who drew the original border just south of Charlotte were not drunk.
The zigzagging line with sharp right angles at Carowinds and Hwy. 521, and the serpentine curves at Lake Wylie, appear to be helter-skelter. But, historians say, the Etch-a-sketch pattern is deliberate and a result of an 85-year journey involving Indian treaties, English lords' folly and surveyors on horseback following the stars.
The irregular line is why the Flint Hill community is 20 miles north of Waxhaw Creek Road in North Carolina.
The N.C.-S.C. Boundary Commission is more than halfway through a 15-year process to re-establish the border. The section west of Charlotte is nearly complete, and surveyors are working their way back to Charlotte from the coast.
Also, historians are combing through records in Union, Mecklenburg, York and Lancaster counties trying to find plats and deeds to property along the line as it runs from Lake Wylie to Pineville, NC., near Ballantyne, N.C., Marvin, N.C., Waxhaw, N.C., and Van Wyck.
And the researchers need your help.
"We are particularly interested in hearing from any property owner along the border just south of Charlotte," said Jean Branton, a historical property researcher from Charleston. "We're trying to establish a plat history so we can help the surveyors re-establish the original line. Our goal is for today's surveyors to be able to walk in the steps of the original surveyors."
Branton said they're looking for property records along the border from 1763 to the present.
Duke Energy initiated the need for the survey in 1995 by asking for a more clearly defined state border across large tracts it owned in the Jocassee Gorge area north of Clemson. Duke was selling and donating Jocassee land to each state.
Officials from both states say the border resurvey is long overdue, and GPS allows for pinpoint accuracy where the states have allowed a "stone's throw" leeway in the past.
Alan Zupan of the S.C. Geodetic Survey works with the Border Commission and says the public needs to understand that the resurvey is to re-establish a political boundary, not property lines - although, as a result of the resurvey, some property owners may find their property lies in both states.
"One of the main problems both states have along the border are jurisdictional disputes - about crime scenes, hunting and fishing, school and tax districts," said Zupan. "Plus, more people are moving to the rural areas and they can't get title insurance or sell the property without a clear title."
Louise Pettus, a retired Winthrop University history professor and author, grew up about 10 miles from the Old North Corner of the border in Indian Land. She says that the principal reason behind so many land disputes along the border is that, until surveys of 1812-1815, the line was so ill-defined south of Charlotte that the border was physically shifted.
For example, the Salisbury-to-Camden road, which roughly paralleled Hwy. 521 near Andrew Jackson State Park, once served as the border. But when British troops nearly destroyed it by marching on the muddy path during the Revolution, the road - and the border - was relocated more than a quarter mile away. The shifting border is part of the reason for the confusion about which state is the birthplace of Andrew Jackson.
Pettus tells a humorous tale about how the imprecise border helped local property owners avoid the tax man.
"When the North Carolina tax collector would come, they claimed they lived in South Carolina, and when the South Carolina tax collector came, they said they lived in North Carolina," said Pettus.
She says the sketchily defined border has led to numerous property disputes and a sibling-like rivalry between the states for more than two centuries.
"The first problem was that the Province of Carolina was ordered divided by English lords who had never stepped foot in the New World," she said. "It took five surveying teams more than 85 years to complete the border, and it was hard work with little pay. One team would make a mistake and, instead of correcting it, would keep going. ... And that border with all of its starts and stops is what we are living with today.
"It reflects the history of the Carolinas, and I think it's rather wonderful."
Want to help?
If you own property along the state border south of Charlotte, the N.C.-S.C. Border Commission wants to hear from you - particularly if you
have titles and/or plats that refer specifically to the border. E-mail Jean Branton at email@example.com