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Mason-Dixon festival in W.Va. celebrates 250th anniversary of survey's completion

| Friday, Oct. 27, 2017, 11:55 p.m.

Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon ended their survey of the southern border of Pennsylvania 250 years ago in October, built a modest monument on top of Brown's Hill, and then returned to Philadelphia.

Largely through the efforts of one man, Pete Zapdka, this event was celebrated this year at the Mason-Dixon Historical Park in Core, W.Va., with a very impressive festival.

The western terminus of the survey is located within the Mason-Dixon Historical Park. The surveyors' original assignment was to lay out the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland, a border that terminates far east of this point, at the headwaters of the Potomac River. Since the southern border of our state, shared with Virginia, extended farther west, they decided to keep going as far as was practical.

It turned out that the practical limit was an Indian War Path close to the point where the survey crossed Dunkard Creek for the third time. Throughout the summer and autumn of 1767, the survey party had been accompanied by a contingent of Iroquois Indians as protection against potentially hostile Native Americans west of the Alleghenies.

The chief of their escorts advised the surveyors that the War Path was the boundary between their jurisdiction and that of the western tribes and announced that they would go no farther. At this point Mason and Dixon spent a week taking star shots to determine their precise latitude and established the final milestone of their survey on top of Brown's Hill.

For several recent years there has been an annual event in the park in the middle of October celebrating the completion of the survey, sponsored by the Dunkard Creek Watershed Association. This year it was expanded into an impressive festival, complete with vendors, astronomy demonstrations, 18th century surveying equipment, re-enactors, a quilt show, and historical presentations.

Pete Zapadka's presentation about the survey was quite interesting, particularly because it included a lot of information about the completion of the survey to the Ohio line in the years after Mason and Dixon left for home.

Getting to the actual location of the Mason and Dixon survey line from the park buildings involves a lovely walk along the edge of Dunkard Creek. There was an encampment of re-enactors at the end of the trail — Indians and surveyors. I have a soft spot in my heart for re-enactors. They make a conscious effort to research the characters they impersonate, and the good ones really enhance our understanding of times past.

It was a great way to spend a lovely autumn day. I certainly hope that Pete and the festival organizers found it sufficiently rewarding for them and that they will continue this event in future years.

John Oyler is a Tribune-Review contributing writer. Reach him at 412-343-1652 or Read more from him at

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