Welcome to another week’s DC Mythbusting. This week we’ll talk about a myth I heard when I first moved to DC– that the city’s boundaries are marked off, every mile or so, with stones. I heard that these stones had been placed long ago when Andrew Ellicott and Benjamin Banneker were surveying the city, and that they’re mostly still there. I’d never seen them or heard of them outside of that once, so I assumed it was a myth. But I was wrong– this myth is confirmed!
Back in 1791 and 1792, Andrew Ellicott and friends went around the 10-mile square of the planned City of Washington and placed a boundary stone every mile. The stones had four sides– facing inward towards DC (which read “Jurisdiction of the United States” and a mile number, facing outward (which showed the name of the bordering state, either Maryland or Virginia), and the other sides showed the year the stone was placed and the compass variance at that point.
‘DC Northwest Boundary Stone 7’
courtesy of ‘zhurnaly’
In 1915, the Daughters of the American Revolution volunteered to maintain the stones, and they installed gates around each of them for protection. However, by the mid-1900s several stones had been displaced by construction projects. Today, the Nation’s Capitol Boundary Stones Committee seeks to preserve the stones. The stones are made of sandstone, which is soft and not durable, which has caused the damage and cracks. The committee is studying the best way to preserve the stones on a case-by-case basis.
Interestingly, the stones are the oldest federal monuments in the country, and they are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Many of the forty stones remain in their original places, including the ones that now mark the boundary of Arlington County, Virginia. Due to the development in the area, the stones now stand in such places as a church parking lot, a road’s median, and at the bottom of a pipe at Blue Plains Impoundment Lot. Because of development pressures, many of the stones have been moved to more convenient locations– check out this map of actual vs. theoretical locations.
The stones have received some press from the Washington Post’s John Kelly recently, and boundarystones.org is a fantastic resource for information on the stones. You probably pass them by without even knowing they’re there, so find directions to your nearest boundary stone and go check it out!