D.C.’s historic boundary stones are being preserved

Boundary stone SE6 was recently returned to 901 Southern Ave. SE. (Jason Hornick /For Express)
Boundary stone SE6 was recently returned to 901 Southern Ave. SE. (Jason Hornick/For Express)

The boundary stones of Washington — the 40 surveying markers placed around the city’s border in 1791-92 — were bound to have an identity crisis. Each bears the inscription “Jurisdiction of the United States” on one side, and either “Virginia” or “Maryland” on the other. So as interest grew over the past decade in a preservation effort, people first had to figure out who owns the things, explains Stephen Powers, who runs boundarystones.org.

The answer, as the Internet likes to say, may surprise you. Those that sit on the D.C./Maryland line were deemed the property of the D.C. Department of Transportation. “But on the Virginia side, if you own the land, you own the stone,” Powers says.

Efforts to convince this mishmash of stakeholders to agree to a single rehabilitation plan were a bust, so D.C. is tackling just its stones, says DDOT transportation planner Gabriela Vega. Work started this spring with the help of the city’s Historic Preservation Office and experts from the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Training Center.

“There are very few people who know how to deal with stone,” says Vega, who cringes at “fixes” made by well-meaning members of the public.

The process proved more challenging than expected: The first day the preservationists were on the job, thieves stole their equipment. And some residents have trouble accepting that part of their yard belongs to the government.

The city has help from the Daughters of the American Revolution, who have considered themselves custodians of the stones since installing protective cages around them in 1915. DAR dug up their original blueprints, and hired a welder to accurately replace any broken bits.

The project is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Every boundary stone has a story. Here are our favorites:

SE6
901 Southern Ave. SE
This was considered one of the most attractive examples of a boundary stone until a car drove over it in 2008, Stephen Powers says. The cage was destroyed and the stone was knocked off its base. For years, it sat in an office. But this summer, SE6 came back — with a newly restored cage, too.

SE9
0.225 miles southwest of the Oxon Cove Bridge in Southeast
It’s tough to visit this stone. Gabriela Vega says the preservation team must wait until after the nearby poison ivy dies to reach the out-of-the-way location. On boundarystones.org, the hiking directions include this line: “If you are on a small sandy beach with car tires and debris, you are in the right place.”

NE8
Near the intersection of Eastern and Kenilworth avenues NE
Powers fondly recalls hiking through the woods down a litter-covered trail to visit this stone. It stood beside a shack, where a hermit lived. “He was a bicycle repairman, with a 20-foot pile of bike parts,” Powers says. Ever since a fire destroyed the building a few years ago, the stone has remained alone.

 

Read more about exploring D.C.’s border:

Washington, D.C., boundary tour: our 40-mile walk along the District border

Explore Washington, D.C.’s border by bike or car

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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Vicky Hallett · August 29