In April 1791, at the behest of President George Washington, 40 sandstone markers were placed during a multi-year boundary survey of the federal territory of Washington, D.C. The survey team, led by Andrew Ellicott, traversed clockwise from their starting point, established by President Washington as “Jones’s point, the upper cape of Hunting Creek in Virginia”, setting the stones at intervals of approximately one mile and completing the work in 1793.
Today, 36 of the 40 original stones survive as the oldest federally marked survey monuments in the United States. 14 of these markers actually reside in Virginia due to the portion of Washington, D.C. originally ceded by Maryland and Virginia as part of the 1790 Residence Act, land that was eventually returned in March 1847.
Over the years, the stones have been through countless hardships, with some more cared for than others. The original West Boundary Stone resides in Benjamin Banneker Park in Falls Church, VA, protected by a five-foot tall fence installed by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Those remaining unprotected have a less appealing fate, such as NE3, which sits in Northeast D.C. at the corner of a McDonald’s parking lot, surrounded by trash. Four of the boundary stones are replicas due to unfortunate events of the years (NE1 demolished by a bulldozer, SW6 destroyed by a car).
Determining who owns the stones, whose responsibility is to protect them, and what the future has in store for them is a complicated matter. Many of the stones are assets of the District Department of Transportation, but are located on land owned by the National Park Service. Others are sitting on private property in people’s backyards. Preservation and protection efforts have occurred in the past; in 1915 the Daughters of the American Revolution began placing fences around each of the markers. Most of these fences have held up over time and some have been replaced, but it’s vital that these precious landmarks receive the protection they deserve.
To emphasize their importance and significance, a GIS survey performed by the District of Columbia in 2011 demonstrated the astounding accuracy of the boundary stones’ locations placed over 200 years ago. Results of the survey showed the stones’ placements inside and outside the existing boundary ranging from approximately 4′ to 19′. Pretty incredible for a seven-person survey team working in 1791! The GIS survey even showed the distance between stones SW6 and SW7 as 5,280.824 feet apart, only 10 inches past the intended 1 mile!
As civil engineers and surveyors working in Washington, D.C., the original stones demarcating the boundary lines of 200+ years of history have special importance to us and those we work with. The interactive map below allows you to virtually tour all 40 boundary stones, but don’t let that stop you from finding them yourself!