Bibb–Monroe Border War in Georgia

On January 7, 2009 · 2 Comments

I don’t know what’s going on in the minds of the citizenry of the State of Georgia but they just don’t seem comfortable within their borders lately. They’ve been tugging, pulling, cinching and stretching their ill-fitting suit, maybe hoping to address some ancient wrongs or remove old annoyances. It’s not like they haven’t had an opportunity to settle things. They’ve had the same basic shape since 1802 when they ceded their western claim.

Last summer a legislator in Georgia wanted to redraw the border with Tennessee. This would have provided access to Nickajack Lake, a large water reservoir near Chattanooga and help them weather a protracted drought.

Now, only a few months later, an ongoing county-level squabble verges on nasty as an endgame approaches. Welcome to the Bibb–Monroe Border War.

Border of Bibb and Monroe Counties GA in January 2009

We need to look back a couple of hundred years when it could have been so straightforward. According to a 1941 article in the Monroe Advertiser the Georgia General Assembly established a firm, straight border in 1822 when it created Bibb county. It was a direct line between Torrentine’s Ferry on the Ocmulgee River and the northeast corner of Crawford County.

The deficiencies of early 19th Century surveying have been discussed several times on Twelve Mile Circle. That’s also the case here since the portion of the border that’s supposed to be "straight" appears a bit wobbly. Also, Torrentine’s Ferry was out of service so long that even back in 1941 the experts could only guess at its possible location by examining foliage patterns along the riverbank.

On top of that, take a look at the jog at its northeastern terminus. In 1877 a local doctor, Lee Holt, decided he wanted to live in Bibb County. He actually persuaded the General Assembly to change the boundary! In fairness to him, he owned all the land between his residence and the river so the change didn’t impact anyone else, but still, that’s a remarkable adjustment for the convenience of a single person. Today, however, it does have an impact. The legislation specified only that the residence of Dr. Holt should be incorporated within Bibb County. The definition of "residence" has become a point of contention.

It’s a big mess so the the Governor commissioned a boundary survey recently. Bibb County has many times more people, about 150,000 including the City of Macon. Monroe County has a much lower density with about 25,000 inhabitants. There is a subtext of rural versus urban lifestyles, interwoven with downstream factors such as tax rates, school systems, crime statistics and basic government services.

Granite survey markers began springing up within the last few days that seemed to suggest Monroe County would gain territory, even though a final decision has not been made. This has caused quite a ruckus.

I could spend a great deal of time outlining them but frankly there are much better sources that discuss the issues from a local perspective:

From WMAZ 13, the Macon CBS television station:

From a blog called WMCC News that has been doing a great job of covering developments in real time:

Comments posted by various readers in response to the blog entries are both instructive in terms of understanding all sides of the issue as well as being entertaining in their own right.

If you think this just inconveniences a few people who might now find themselves in a new county, you would be mistaken. A Bass Pro Shop sits right along the border, currently in Bibb County. It’s not just any Bass Pro Shop, but a 500,000 square foot distribution center that serves the entire southeastern United States along with a 125,000 square foot retail store and 1,000 jobs. The proposed border cuts right to through the facility with the promise of large tax revenues for Monroe County should the revised boundary stand.

On January 7, 2009 · 2 Comments

2 Responses to “Bibb–Monroe Border War in Georgia”

  1. John Ricketson says:

    An Administrative Law Judge just ruled (April 29,2011) that the line between Bibb County and Monroe County has been in error since 1822. He found no evidence that the original survey was ever done and that the location of Torrentine’s (or Turrentine’s) Ferry was the correct starting point for the 2009 survey. It now goes to the Secretary of State for a final disposition. Looks like Monroe County’s claim was based in fact and they are being vindicated.

  2. Boyd Ellison says:

    The WMCC blog referenced above is long gone, but it’s very interesting that the surveyor appointed to define the line has close relatives on the Monroe County Board of Commissioners. It’s also interesting that the historical county line meets the Ocmulgee River at a point with smooth, sandy bottom, while the newly surveyed line meets the river at a rocky shoal that no boat of any design could negotiate. Mr. Torrentine must have used an 1822 model hovercraft.

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