Surveying the Virginia/West Virginia Boundary

The boundary between Virginia and West Virginia has as its origins the beginnings of colonization of North America. It did not become a state boundary, however, until the Civil War. Later, its location was disputed in criminal and civil cases, leading to the first ever survey of this historic line.

Loudoun County, Virginia was originally part of the five-million-acre Northern Neck of Virginia Proprietary granted by King Charles II of England to seven noblemen in 1649. Between 1653 and 1730, Westmoreland, Stafford and Prince William Counties were formed within the Proprietary, and in 1742 the remaining land became Fairfax County. Loudoun County was created from the western portion of Fairfax in 1757.

"The Top Of The Mountains"

To the west, Jefferson County, now in West Virginia, evolved in much the same way. Orange County was formed from Spotsylvania County in 1734, and Orange was divided again in 1738 into four new counties. Frederick County, Virginia had as its western boundary, "the top of the mountains" (Blue Ridge). Frederick, in turn, was divided into three counties in 1772 by the Virginia General Assembly. Berkeley County, Virginia now lay west of the Loudoun County line at the top of the mountains. On January 8, 1801, the Virginia General Assembly again divided the county, creating Jefferson County. The Act declared Jefferson's eastern border to be its border with Loudoun County.

In 1862, West Virginia voted to separate from Virginia. Jefferson County, however, voted to remain with Virginia. The top of the Blue Ridge, therefore, remained a county line during the Civil War. After the War in 1866, Jefferson County decided, with the consent of Congress, to become a part of West Virginia. The first boundary commission was authorized by Virginia in 1873 and by West Virginia in 1877 to locate the boundary between the two states. So far as is known, however, no survey was ever undertaken.

In 1908, commissioners of the counties of Clarke and Loudoun appointed by the circuit court of each county were charged with defining and establishing the true boundary line between the counties. They held a meeting at Chapin's Hotel in Bluemont, Virginia to examine all available public records and failed to discover any information of the location of the line, except from the Act of General Assembly of Virginia passed in 1738, creating the counties of Frederick and Augusta.

The commission, after an examination of the act, decided that the true boundary line between the counties of Clarke and Loudoun is the watershed divide on top of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The Top Of The Watershed

The boundary line between Loudoun County, Virginia and Jefferson Counties, West Virginia was established by legislative acts of the Virginia General Assembly in 1734, 1772 and 1801 as also being the watershed line at the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This 16-mile boundary line began at a corner stone found marking the Clarke County and Loudoun County, Virginia and Jefferson County, West Virginia boundary and continued northeasterly to the Potomac River at the Washington County, Maryland line, but had never been surveyed.

Again a boundary survey commission was created with the charge of establishing and permanently monumenting the boundary line between the Commonwealth of Virginia, County of Loudoun and the State of West Virginia, Jefferson County. The Virginia/West Virginia Boundary Survey Commission contracted with Patton Harris Rust and Associates, pc (PHR&A) of Leesburg, Virginia to perform this historic survey.

As senior project surveyor and manager, and as a licensed surveyor in both Virginia and West Virginia, I was placed in charge of this survey to establish the watershed line, placing 30 boundary markers to monument the boundary.

16-Mile Linear GPS Control Line

My very first objective was to personally introduce myself to as many individual property owners as possible along the ridge by going door to door. Next, a team meeting was held on December 2, 1996 at the southern end of the boundary to begin the project. Establishing the horizontal and vertical control along the ridge from Bluemont to Harper's Ferry was a major endeavor. With the rugged terrain and the survey line continuing in one general direction for approximately 16 miles, GPS control was the only way to go. Ten pairs of GPS control stations were established along the ridge every mile or so apart for our base control network. The field observations were conducted using four Trimble 4000 SSi geodetic GPS receivers to collect the field data. The field data was reduced to vectors using Trimble GPSurvey VER 2.11. The vectors were combined to form a geodetic network and adjusted by Least Squares using the program Trimnet Ver 92.11c.

Conventional survey methods were used to establish random traverse control stations between each pair of GPS points using a Topcon GTS-3 electronic instrument. Using the program VANGO Ver 7.2, adjustments by the Compass Rule were performed on all traverse lines throughout the project. This provided us with a complete network of control. I must admit, we struggled with closures of the traverse lines. It was not the accuracy of the GPS, nor the conversions from geodetic to ground coordinates. The trees were the problem. It was very difficult in the woods to get a single pair of GPS control points far enough apart in open areas. Achieving good long backsights and foresights was next to impossible.

With a hand level and rod, the mountain top had to be cross-sectioned at intervals of approximately 400 feet to establish the watershed. A wire and flag stake was placed in the ground as a temporary marker and tied into the horizontal control network. With these locations a preliminary boundary was calculated and used as a baseline as preparation for the aerial topography. Trigonometric leveling along the ridge between GPS control points through the traverse stations was performed to establish the vertical control network required. Approximately 31 aerial panel points were placed randomly along the ridge, as instructed by the photogrammetrist, and tied into our traverse control. This provided the horizontal and vertical control necessary for the aerial topography.

Bad Weather Conditions

Weather conditions throughout December were at their worst. We had to deal with rain, fog and an occasional snow storm. This was a matter of concern, but not as disappointing as what we discovered after coming back from the Christmas and New Year's holidays. Approximately two miles of our cross-section markers and traverse control stations had been removed along the survey within the National Park Service property. This and the weather conditions put us slightly behind schedule. Our delivery date of March 31, 1997 was becoming a real concern and we were only into the first month. In early January I filed what was called a Case Incident Report with the Park Ranger of the National Park Service for the survey control vandalism. I did not expect anything to come of this, but it certainly made me feel better.

By January 27, all traverse computations and leveling were completed and immediately forwarded to the photogrammetrist to begin the topography. When we received the aerial topography on February 19, I began the review of the boundary. With only minor adjustments to the preliminary location, I was ready to present the boundary survey to the Commission on March 3 for its first review.

The meeting was very successful. The commissioners were extremely pleased with what I presented. They had only two major areas of concern. A house at the southern end of the project was, in my opinion, located on the watershed line. This of course was a real concern. The Commission suggested I re-examine this area. After requesting additional topography, I confirmed my earlier finding and held that the line did indeed pass through the house. This area did not have a defined ridge line like the top of the mountain. We were off the mountain top and in the middle of a residential area, with finished graded lots, private gravel roadways and gradually rolling terrain.

The next area was quite an unusual situation. The watershed line was in question where it crossed Charles Town Pike, Route #9, a major two-lane road. It was the opinion of the Commission that the line might cross the roadway approximately 800 feet east of the line that I proposed. Again, additional topography was requested and new cross-sections established. After an intense review of this area, we discovered that the Virginia Department of Transportation improved Charles Town Pike, Route #9, lowering the original road. Changing the grade of the road relocated the watershed line so dramatically, it placed approximately 800 feet of Virginia road in West Virginia. This shift in the line, being a good distance from where the line is generally recognized as the state line, would have been so drastic the Commission decided to accept our original location.

Leaves Begin To Appear

We were now in the first week of March. The Commission approved the boundary line location and authorized us to begin preparing all required plats and documents. The scheduled date of completion was extended to April 31 by the Commission, primarily due to the weather conditions.

Prior to placing the boundary markers, we decided to set temporary points, iron pipe and marks on rock along the boundary line. The leaves were beginning to appear. The National Park Service made it very clear about allowing only a minimum of line cutting while surveying through its land. I was very concerned that we were going to lose our line of sight between traverse control stations.

Around March 17 our field personnel completed all temporary markers and started placing the boundary markers in concrete poured in place or drilled and set in rock. Where possible, the bronze disks were placed in rock. Even though the gasoline-powered orbital rock drill was heavy, it did not compare to the weight of all the supplies required for the poured-in-place markers.

By the end of March we set all 30 bronze markers and established three reference points for each boundary marker. This completed all field work for the project and we were now ready to prepare the plats and necessary documents.

A boundary survey plat consisting of 16 sheets with multiple match lines was prepared to document the historic boundary line. Coordinate values were provided in Project (Ground) Coordinates and NAD 83/93 Coordinates in both Virginia and West Virginia State Grid, along with 10-foot contour interval topography, including planimetrics. In addition to the plats, a legal description of the boundary line was prepared and a description sheet produced for each boundary marker. The boundary marker description provided the latitudes and longitudes for Virginia and West Virginia NAD 27 and NAD 83/93 systems; NAD 27 and NAD 83/93 Virginia and West Virginia State Grid Coordinates in U.S. survey feet and meters; a brief description of each marker location and a sketch showing the references set. All data conversions were performed using Corpscon 4.11 and Nadcon 2.1 computer programs.

On April 29, a meeting was held in the County of Loudoun Government Building in Leesburg with the Commission and me to present the boundary survey. The plats, legal descriptions, monument descriptions and photographs were delivered. After the Commission completed its review of all the final documents, the members approved the survey.

Now leaving only the recordation of the legal documents in Loudoun and Jefferson Counties, our contractual obligations with the Commission and Loudoun County were coming to a close. What a tremendous feeling it was to complete this survey and certify the boundary by sealing and signing the plat for Virginia and West Virginia.

It is now the responsibility of the Commission to prepare a report and formerly submit to the Virginia and West Virginia Legislatures for approval. The next session of the General Assembly will be in January 1998 in both states. I hope our survey will be officially adopted at that time and we can record all the documents, completing this major undertaking and personal accomplishment.

I had absolutely no visions of the media attention this survey project was going to bring. The local newspapers were writing articles about the survey. Even National Geographic magazine was interested. In the Geographica section of the June 1997 issue was a brief article telling about this survey. Just the other day I was contacted by a historian who was hired by a local newspaper to write an article about the significance of this survey. I am pleased that this project ran as smoothly as it did with all the publicity we had. It has also been gratifying that I continue to hear from the owners we talked with on the mountain. They continue to express their appreciation for the support of the states and counties, and the professional manner in which the survey was carried out.

Kevin Vaughn is a senior project surveyor and manager with Patton Harris Rust & Associates in Leesburg, Virginia.

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