A Fine Old Line Across New Jersey

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  Article taken from "Backsights" Magazine published by Surveyors Historical Society


by Fred J. Aun

January 1995

What possible difference will it make when Brian Taylor, Bob Heggan and their cohorts unscramble all the data, plot it on maps and show the world the true position of a survey line drawin in 1743?

Probably not very much.

Life in New Jersey will gone on as before, even if this group of curious volunteer surveyors and their ultrahigh-tech satellite-aided equipment discover that the once-famous East-West New Jersey Line is no straighter than cooked spaghetti.

To view their project in such a utilitarian light misses the point.  These are surveyors we are discussing; men and women who plumb muddy swamps looking for ancient piles of rocks or buried iron stakes, all in the name of accurately dividing the world into pieces we can claim to own.

For this group of volunteers, pinpointing the actual coordinates for the elusive markers along the old East-West Jersey Line on the boundary's 250th anniversary is a labor of love.

"We're just doing it for the sake of re-establishing it," said Heggan, a surveyor with Taylor, Wiseman and Taylor of Mount Laurel, a coordinator of the project.  "There's no self-glorification involved.  We're just doing it because it's a part of New Jersey heritage and a part of the surveying professional also."

The East-West New Jersey Line, known among the initiated as the Lawrence Line because it was plotted by surveyor John Lawrence, divided the state diagonally between Little Egg Harbor and a point in the Delaware River that is now part of New York State.

In 1644, James, Duke of York (the brother of King Charles II of England) seized from the Dutch the "New Netherlands" an area stretching from Massachusetts Bay to Delaware Bay.  The Duke gave New Jersey to Lord John Berkeley and Sir George Carteret, two of the crown's supporters during the English Civil War.

Berkeley and Carteret split New Jersey in two based on a line drawn by surveyor George Keith in 1687.  The two men eventually sold their vast tracts of land to groups called proprietors.

Disagreements over the boundaries, including the dividing line between New Jersey and New York, eventually resulted in the hiring of Lawrence by the proprietors of East New Jersey.

Lawrence ran the line from a large rock, called Station Rock, in the Delaware River near what is now Cocheton, New York, to a now-submerged marker in Little Egg Harbor.

The Lawrence Line left a sliver of New Jersey perched north of the confluence of the Neversink and Delaware rivers, a chunk some called the "New Jersey Peninsula."  After 50 years of nasty border fights, the provincial government moved the state line south to its current place.

The remainder of the Lawrence Line remained in effect and to this day, there are proprietors representing both sides of the stat who oversee and sell the remaining, undeeded land.  William Taylor of Haddonfield has held the title "Surveyor General for the Western Division of New Jersey" since 1968.  As such, he is West New Jersey's 12th surveyor general since the area was partitioned about 320 years ago.

Taylor is a big supporter of the modern surveyor's attempts to plot the old Lawrence Line.

"I think it's a wonderful think that they would go ahead and again survey the line and maybe re-establish some missing monuments,"  he said.  "It is true separation between East and West Jersey."

The surveyors, led in the south by Heggan and in the north by Brian Taylor, are using the most modern surveying equipment available.

The two teams are finding the exact coordinates of the Lawrence Line markers by measuring them against known points on the national geodetic grid.

To get as exact a measurement as possible, the surveyors are relying on the Defense Department's Global Positioning Satellites (GPS) orbiting the Earth 11,000 miles away.

Ed Drelich of Fredon is providing the GPS receivers and antennae for the northern team.  As of last week, that group had made two forays into the fields of Sussex County with the GPS receivers.

When the field work is done, the surveyors will be able to determine the true straightness of John Lawrence's 250-year-old-survey job.  Nobody involved in the project is expecting perfection.

Given Lawrence's equipment and the wild nature of New Jersey back then, absolute straightness is highly unlikely.

From "Coordinate", New Jersey Society of Professional Land Surveyors, Spring 1993, vol. 15, No. 1

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