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Stolen stone returns home minus fanfare

POSTED: March 20, 2011 1:00 a.m.

Considerable commotion arose a few years ago when some Georgia legislators wanted to claim land north of the state's boundary with Tennessee so Georgia could get water from the Tennessee River.

That was in the middle of a drought and the dispute over use of water in Lake Lanier that still hasn't been settled among Georgia, Alabama and Florida. Tennessee didn't have a dog in that fight until some in Georgia began to lust over its river just across the state line.

Some Georgia legislators argued that surveyors miscalculated the location of the 35th parallel, which was supposed to mark Georgia's northern boundary as set by King George II in 1732. The boundary has been in question over the years, Georgia even tussling with North Carolina over its line. But high courts usually decide the horse was already out of the barn, and long-established lines can't be rearranged.

In 1811, Georgia Gov. D.B. Mitchell hired Andrew Ellicott to fix the Georgia-North Carolina boundary. Through numerous hardships in the then-wild land, Ellicott marked a rock on the eastern side of the Chattooga River where the 35th parallel supposedly crossed. It turned out, however, to be 18 miles south of where Georgia thought it was. That marker is known as Ellicott's Rock.

In the meantime, North and South Carolina marked another rock when they were surveying their boundaries. When Georgia and North Carolina got together again in 1819 on their boundaries, they used the wrong rock to mark them.

That brings us to James Camak, who really takes the heat for missing the elusive 35th parallel as it relates to the Georgia-Tennessee line. Camak, on the second try to mark the boundaries in 1826, set a stone that was supposed to mark the corner boundaries of Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama.

A mathematician, Camak had no modern tools that today's surveyors might use. Instead, his guides were stars, compasses, chains and apparently some inexact mathematical charts. Congress had designated the 35th parallel in 1796 as the southern boundary of the new state of Tennessee, but Camak apparently missed it by a mile because the 35th parallel actually runs in the middle of the Tennessee River at some points. The marker Camak set was called the Camak stone in the surveyor's honor.

Curiously, in the summer of 2007, a few months after Georgia had flirted with trying to move its border with Tennessee a mile or so north to raid the river, the Camak stone went missing. There was speculation that some passionate Georgian had snuck the marker north to where he or she thought it should have been. No clues emerged to its disappearance.

Earlier, this month, however, with no fanfare and only silence from south of the border, the Camak stone was replaced. The Alabama surveyors who placed the stone at the same spot from where it had been pilfered said it had nothing to do with the dispute over water in the Tennessee River.

Bill Morton, who wrote a history of Georgia's boundaries, was quoted in the Chattanooga Times-Free Press as saying, "Tennessee and Georgia should be doing this ... because it's so important, legally and everything else. But Alabama's doing it."

No Georgia official attended the ceremony re-setting the Camak stone, but neither did anybody from the state contest its being replaced in the same location. Farris Cadle of Garden City, an expert on state boundaries and author of "Georgia Land Surveying History and Law," commented, "It is significant that Georgia made no issue of the location, showing that all the ruckus that was raised ... about moving Georgia's north boundary to the 35th parallel was pointless."

A Lookout Mountain surveyor, Bart Crattie, is credited with bringing attention to the flawed Tennessee-Georgia border, through an article in a surveyors' magazine four years ago. He noted that Alabama was a good neutral party to lead the effort to replace the stone.

Author Morton said somebody should have brought wine to christen the new marker, the Chattanooga paper reported.
Robert Cagle, an officer of the Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia Land Surveyors Historical Society, countered that moonshine would be more appropriate because some historians say that mountain spirits could have been the culprit in the incorrect placement of the stone in the first place.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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