The Fairfax Stone and West Virginia v. Maryland

November 8, 2013 |

In 1736 the far western boundary of the immense Fairfax land grant (the Northern Neck Proprietary) was surveyed for the first time. These lands were granted by the British King George II, and encompassed everything between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers, making up much of the boundary of northern Virginia (and present day West Virginia).  In 1746, a survey crew marked the far western extent of this land grant, at the source of the Potomac River, which is where the Fairfax Stone was set. From the beginning, though, officials in Maryland objected to this border, and would contest it for the next 150 years, until the Supreme Court settled the issue in 1910. Here is the story:

The Fairfax Stone Historical Monument State Park. Pictured are the 1910 monument (foreground) placed by the Supreme Court ordered boundary commission and the 1957 monument with plaque (background).

The spot the original land surveyors for Lord Fairfax thought was the source, or headspring of the Potomac River is still marked and today is maintained as the Fairfax Stone Historical Monument State Park, in West Virginia. It can be accessed from County Route 9, three and a half miles north of Thomas, W. Va. on Route 219.

The West Virginia – Maryland border. The once disputed Deakins Line boundary (yellow) was finally settled by the Supreme Court in 1910. The Potomac River makes up the northern border of the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. The Potomac River was originally thought to originate on Backbone Mountain (red dot), which was disputed by Maryland. The above map shows the current state and county border between West Virginia and Maryland. The blue line is the Potomac River, which makes up the northern border of West Virginia’s eastern panhandle. The yellow line is the Deakins Line, disputed between Maryland and West Virginia until 1910. The red dot is the site of the Fairfax Stone.

AmericanSurveyor

The WV Surveyors Historical Society at the Potomac Stone. The magazine The American Surveyor featured an article which tells their story of “Finding the Potomac Stone.” Click the photo for the article.

Drawing showing the positions of the different boundary’s and monuments on the border of West Virginia and Maryland. The Potomac River (bottom right) ends at two different sources: the Fairfax Stone, and the Brown Monument (aka the Potomac Stone, at left). The [McCullough] Brown-Bauer Line was the boundary Maryland sued for in the 1890s. Other boundary monuments from the 1910 commission are numbered.

1957 monument plaque, explaining that the Fairfax Stone marks the headspring of the Potomac River. The original Fairfax Stone was placed in 1746.

Fairfax Stone historical marker along US Route 219, near the border with Maryland.

In 1910 the Supreme Court finally made a ruling on the lawsuit between Maryland and West Virginia, ruling in favor of West Virginia and settling the disputed border. The Deakins Line was upheld as the legal boundary line between Maryland and West Virginia. Commissioners, including William McCullough Brown (who had surveyed the Potomac Stone line) for Maryland, were ordered to officially survey the Deakins Line and place monuments along it to mark the border. Below is a photo from that survey.

The 1910 Supreme Court ordered boundary commission, photographed in camp during the survey work. Photo from the West Virginia & Regional History Collection.

For more information on the Fairfax Stone Historical Monument State Park, visit: http://www.wvstateparks.com/Brochures/Fairfax_Stone.pdf

A special thank you to Don Teter, Dave Ingram, and the West Virginia Surveyors Historical Society who made this story possible.

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