Back in the 18th century, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon were hired to survey the demarcation line between the colonies of Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Their work came to rest on Brown’s Hill in what became Greene County, Pa. A band of Native Americans who had guided the group through the unchartered wilderness came across a warpath and said they would not venture one step farther. Mason and Dixon made observations and marked the site with a pile of rocks.
Now, a historical park spans both sides of the line between Pennsylvania and West Virginia to honor the achievements of these two surveyors and, arguably, the most famous boundary line in the nation.
This October, visitors to Greene County will have the chance to walk in Mason and Dixon’s shoes as Peter Zapadka, an avid researcher of the Mason-Dixon Line, will lead a hike to the boundary stone placed by the explorers.
“We are walking in the footsteps of history,” Zapadka said.
Greene County, found in the extreme southwest corner of Pennsylvania and a nearly four-hour drive from Washington, D.C., is steeped in historical tourism. From covered bridges, barns adorned with ancient “Mail Pouch” tobacco advertising, charming general stores, and old river towns, the county has ample places to visit by car, or by hiking boots.
And a hike along the path traveled by Mason and Dixon is one of the more unique ways to experience this part of Colonial history.
The hike will be held Oct. 18 at 10:30am at the Mason-Dixon Historical Park.
Since he was a kid, Zapadka loved astronomy and later came to love the geography of his home state. That interest led to a fascination with the Mason-Dixon Line. Mason and Dixon used astronomy to lay out the line between Maryland and Pennsylvania, moving in a westerly direction from Philadelphia. Their goal was to reach 5 degrees longitude from the Delaware River — the original land grant William Penn was deeded from the king of England. Mason and Dixon got close, but it would be another two decades before a surveyor would complete the line, forming the end of Pennsylvania, Zapadka said.
Zapadka holds the hike in October to commemorate the time in history when Mason and Dixon completed their work. The trek starts in West Virginia and follows an easy grade along Dunkard Creek.
At some point, hikers will cross the unseen boundary into Pennsylvania. Zapadka takes his time in mentioning when the line is crossed and often ask people along the hike if they know which state they are in.
“It’s kind of confusing not knowing what state they are in,” he said.
But the hike eventually comes into the Keystone State and up Brown’s Hill, where a monument established in 1883 commemorates the place where Mason and Dixon ended their quest. “There is a spectacular view up there,” Zapadka said.
Enjoy festivals, too
For those who are in the festival mood, the Greene County Historical Society hosts its annual Harvest Festival Oct. 17–18, 10:00am–5:00pm, at the society’s museum in Waynesburg, located on what was once the county poor farm.
Over the two-day event, more than 2,500 visitors will come to see historical reenactments and antique displays, view the work of local artisans, and learn about the role Greene County has played in energy production.
“Our grounds are just beautiful, and they are a great place to spend an autumn day,” said historical society curator Eban Williams.
October is perhaps one of the best months to visit Greene County. The rolling topography and mixture of hardwoods creates a fall vista that rivals New England.
“History is very much alive in Greene County,” said Elizabeth Manhart, who promotes the county. “It’s a driving force in the majority of our events, as we celebrate where we’ve come from and how it’s shaped us into who we are.”
Greene Co. Tourism: greenecountytourism.org
Harvest Festival: greenecountyhistory.org
Mason-Dixon Hike: exploretheline.com