Over the course of five years in the 1760s, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon made their way through the thick forests of the New World, on a mission to settle a land dispute between Maryland and Pennsylvania. The boundary they drew, considered the most scientifically advanced land survey of the time, would become known as Mason-Dixon Line.
On June 6, 1765 they stopped about 4 miles northwest of Newark and drove into the ground a wooden post that became the dividing point between Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
On Saturday, exactly 250 years after Mason and Dixon laid the Tri-State Marker, several dozen people hiked to that spot on a mission of their own: to dedicate the first-ever public trail leading to the historic marker.
“This is an important and holy site,” Cindy Dunn, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said during the ceremony, which drew participants from all three states. “The next generation needs to understand and care about these places.”
The trail was made possible when, in 2011, the state of Pennsylvania purchased the land surrounding the marker in that state. The land on the Delaware and Maryland sides remains privately owned.
Since then, the Pennsylvania-based volunteer group Friends of the White Clay Creek Preserve has worked to secure funding for and design the trail, which consists of two portions, both approximately 2 miles long.
The northern portion was completed last year and starts in the FWCCP’s Arc Corner parking lot, off Chambers Rock Road in Pennsylvania, and ends at the Tri-State Marker. Work is ongoing on the southern spur, which will connect to existing trails in Delaware’s White Clay Creek State Park.
Carla Lucas, spokeswoman for FWCCP, said the marker has long been a popular destination for hikers and history buffs, but until recently, visitors were trespassing on private property.
“This is the first time they can legally walk a public trail to this historic site,” Lucas said.
The first phase cost approximately $14,000 and was funded by grants and private donations. Dozens of volunteers worked on building the trail, which was designed by Newark resident Wendel Cassel.
The marker is one of many laid by astronomer Mason and surveyor Dixon, who came to the colonies at the request of William Penn, who owned Pennsylvania, and the Calvert family, which owned Maryland. The two parties were engaged in a long-standing dispute over the location of the dividing line between their land.
For part of their time in the area, Mason and Dixon used Newark as their base of operation, staying at St. Patrick’s Inn, the precursor to the Deer Park Tavern.
The wooden post was replaced in 1849 by the stone marker that remains today. The marker lists only Maryland and Pennsylvania, not Delaware, because in 1765, Delaware was part of Pennsylvania.
Quintin Schroeder, a history buff from Kennett Square, Pa., portrayed Charles Mason during Saturday’s ceremony.
“To make this part of the public domain is just wonderful,” Schroeder said. “It’s part of the history not just of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware, but of our nation.”
He said it’s hard to imagine that Mason and Dixon had any idea of the legacy they were creating.
“They were pushing the boundaries of scientific knowledge at the time,” he said. “But they were humble guys. They looked at it as the job they were assigned to do.”