The ‘Point of Beginnings’: It all started along the Ohio-Pa. border


The U.S. Public Land Survey System has aptly been called “the greatest subdivision on earth.” Without question, from this point all the land in the United States except Hawaii, Texas and the original 13 colonies has been surveyed. This even includes Alaska.

The place that is so important to the formation of this great nation is now located at the northern bank of the Ohio River along the Ohio and Pennsylvania border. It is where Ohio State Route 39 ends and Pennsylvania Route 68 begins.

Sitting 1,120 feet north of the original 1785 marker is a granite monument that is owned by the East Liverpool Historical Society. The original marker is permanently under water, due to the river’s raised navigational pool.

Getting to the point. To fully understand the “Point of Beginnings,” one must first learn of the events leading up to its being.

In 1763, Pennsylvania’s southern border was surveyed to settle land disputes between Maryland and Pennsylvania. Surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon were chosen to draw up this border. This line is more commonly known as the Mason-Dixon Line.

Over a two-year period, the English pair surveyed westward. Their survey ended abruptly near Dunkards Creek, Washington County, (now Greene County) just north of Morgantown, W. Va.

Hostile American Indians in that southwestern corner of Pennsylvania convinced Mason and Dixon’s Indian guides that they should stop what they were doing. The survey crew agreed and returned to England in 1767. Their line was approximately 30 miles short of its destination.

War grabs nation. With the American Revolution brewing on the horizon, no other major surveying was done. The Colonists focused their energies on either fighting the British or fighting the Indians on the western frontier.

After the Revolutionary War was over, the young nation found itself deeply in debt, facing a war debt that would exceed $100 million. Congress appointed a committee to devise a plan to report the best way to sell the lands of the Northwest Territory. None other than Thomas Jefferson headed up the committee.

Jefferson possessed great vision and scientific knowledge and brought about a report that was passed by the Congress on May 20, 1785. This act was commonly known as the “Land Ordinance of 1785.”

The final 30-mile survey of the southern Pennsylvania border was completed Oct. 16, 1784. This allowed the surveyors to draw the south-to-north line to the Ohio River. This survey line was to separate Pennsylvania and Virginia (later West Virginia.)

The completion of this line was necessary in order for the survey of the public land to be started.

Survey begins. This survey began in the first week of June in 1785, under the direction of the boundary commissioners of these two states. The surveyors were a distinguished crew. Representing Pennsylvania were David Rittenhouse, scientist and instrument maker, and Col. Andrew Porter. Representing Virginia were Joseph Neville and Andrew Ellicott. Ellicott later assisted with the layout of Washington D.C.

Stone masons traveled with the survey team. The masons cut stone along the way in order to mark the new boundary. The stones were placed on every significant hilltop. A “V” was carved into the Virginia side and the Pennsylvania side received a “P.”

Original marker. The final carved stone marker to be placed by this crew sits on the southern side of the Ohio River. It sits high on the bank overlooking the Ohio River and the little Mill Creek, just west of the town of Georgetown, Pa.

This borderline survey took just under three months to complete, and on Aug. 20, 1785 the survey crew placed their final marker. When according to their notes, “placed a stake on the flat, the north side of the River [Ohio].” This final stone marker now sits within the property of First Energy and you must obtain permission from them to visit it.

Temptation. This final stone marker placed by Ellicott and Rittenhouse has a rather exciting past worth noting. It would seem that its close proximity to the Ohio River was much too tempting to an enterprising unnamed man. As reported in the East Liverpool Review, a man known only as a “Thief” removed the marker from its location and put it in his yard for decoration. This was no easy task as the stone’s weight is approximately 1,140 pounds.

The Review article goes on to say the marker was discovered missing in 1960. Fortunately, local historians located it again in 1976. After careful negotiations, the 1785 boundary stone was returned to its rightful place.

Westward, ho! The next team of surveyors headed by Thomas Hutchins, U. S. geographer, was ready to begin its westward survey from the “Point of Beginning.” Completion of the Pennsylvania-Virginia border allowed for the westward surveying of the Northwest Territory to begin.

After purchasing needed supplies from Fort Pitt, now Pittsburgh, the survey crew headed by Hutchins canoed down the Ohio River. Their destination was an encampment near Mill Creek and Georgetown, Pa. This camp was situated across the river from the mouth of the Little Beaver Creek.

On Sept. 30, 1785, they would cross the Ohio River to present day Ohioville Borough and begin what has been called “the greatest subdivision of land on earth.” This survey eventually reached the Pacific Ocean and Alaska.

1881 survey. From 1878-1882, the old Ellicott-Rittenhouse line was resurveyed. Known as the 1881 survey, this surveying crew placed a large, carved granite monument at the base of a slope rising from the north side of the Ohio River. As the original stake marking the “Point of Beginning” was lost to history and also the point was in the Ohio River, it was decided that the granite monument should be placed on the bank 690 feet north of the original 1785 marker.

In 1960, this 1881 granite monument was in danger of being buried under a slag pile. It was decided that to save the monument, it should be moved.

The Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company donated land near the highway (Ohio Route 39 and Pa. Route 68.) The Pennsylvania Highway Department created a small roadside park and moved the monument to this site.

The monument stands here to this day, 1,112 feet from the original stake in the Ohio River. This granite monument marks the Pennsylvania-Ohio border and also serves as a witness to the original location of the “Point of Beginning” of the U.S. Public Land Surveys.


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