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Settling of age-old boundary dispute commemorated

April 22, 2010|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- As boundary disputes go, one over a 15-mile stretch of the crest of Blue Ridge Mountain between Jefferson County, W.Va., and Loudoun County, Va., can't hold a candle to "Fifty-Four Forty or Fight," even if it is a lot older.

On Thursday morning, Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History brought to a close the disputed boundary on the Blue Ridge that separates Jefferson and Loudoun counties when he presented Jefferson County with a plaque commemorating the settlement. One also went to Loudoun County and one each to the governors of West Virginia and Virginia.

Reid-Smith told the Jefferson County Commission that the county was created in 1801 from annexed royal lands. The unofficial boundary separating the counties was the crest of the mountain.

No survey was done at the time, nor was one done in 1863 when West Virginia separated from Virginia to become its own state, Reid-Smith said.

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Such matters were of little concern to two counties on opposite sides during the Civil War, he said.

It wasn't until 1989, when school and fire department boundaries began to matter, that it was decided to survey the boundary to see which county owned what.

Each county appointed three-member commissions to work together, hire a surveyor and settle the question.

The study was completed in the late 1990s, Reid-Smith said.

Del. John Doyle of Shepherdstown, W.Va., was one of the three members of the Jefferson County survey commission. Also serving were Herbert Russell and the late Charles W. Shultz.

Doyle said Thursday that it had always been presumed that the crest was bordered on the west by Jefferson County and on the east by Loudoun County.

"There was no problem until somebody put in a subdivision," he said.

It was time for geographical accuracy, he said. In the end, after the survey was complete, "the line didn't move much, but West Virginia did gain a few feet," Doyle said.

The next question to be answered, he said, is determining the exact highest point on the mountain in Jefferson County.

"It's somewhere between 1,690 feet and 1,710 feet," he said.

America nearly went to war again with Great Britain in the 1840s over a boundary dispute over the vast Oregon Territory which both countries claimed -- the U.S. for itself, Britain for Canada.

"Fifty-four Forty or Fight," for 54 degrees longitude and 40 degrees latitude, which covered all of British Columbia, became James K. Polk's presidential campaign slogan in 1844.

In 1846, both countries finally agreed the U.S. boundary would be the 49th parallel.

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