Delaware Trifecta

On March 15, 2009 · 11 Comments

The Howder Clan found itself in northern Delaware this weekend, indeed within the actual Twelve Mile Circle itself for which this site is named. Of course I carved out some time for a few geo-oddities in this very rich concentration of such spots. Some of them I’ve discussed before and others I’ll probably cover on my permanent site so it would be safe to consider this entry a trip summary without the usual level of detail.



I sneaked out just as the first fingers of light crept over the horizon, hoping to return before the family woke up and started the day. They don’t much understand or appreciate this little hobby of mine although they’ve learned to tolerate it over time. Still, I’m not allowed to turn our trips into geography lessons so I was mostly on my own.

(1) Delaware Highpoint – Ebright Azimuth


Delaware Highpoint
The Delaware highpoint sign and pocket park

There is absolutely nothing remarkable about the Delaware highpoint. Nothing. It cannot be distinguished from the surrounding terrain; no hilltop, no view, no discerning features. Hundreds of cars pass here daily and barely a handful would ever notice the roadside marker. Pennsylvania sits a few hundred feet further north and even that nearby horizon looked like it might be slightly higher. Geographers can’t even call this place a hill much less a mountain so they had to go with azimuth, a reference point for measurement.

On the other hand there can’t possibly be an easier state highpoint to visit. Just drive up and park along the nearby residential street perpendicular to the site. The sign has been moved to the "correct" side of Ebright Road now. That must have been fairly recent as Google Street View still places it on the other side. Also the state has built a nice traffic nub immediately in front of the sign which slows down approaching vehicles and gives viewers a safe photo platform without being mowed down.

There’s also a bench for resting as one contemplate the arduous climb up to the summit of this supreme geographic achievement. With all the hoopla and fanfare one would think this pocket park would mark the true state highpoint but it doesn’t. For that, walk another 50 feet or so towards the radio tower to the chink in the sidewalk marked with white paint. The actual survey marker has been placed there in bare dirt. I can’t figure why they couldn’t have simply placed the sign next to the marker. Aesthetics perhaps.

There’s a little controversy with this highpoint because it’s so darn flat. Some people say the actual spot may be located nearby in the trailer park memorialized by so many state highpointers in their summit accounts. Others contend that the trailer park doesn’t count because the mound it rests upon was created by artificial means. Your call. It’s easy enough to touch all of the bases if that’s a concern, and it did concern me so I touched them all.


(2) The Wedge


Delaware Wedge
Peaceful now, but once outlaw country

The family did have to suffer through the Delaware Wedge. My wife and I know a couple from our school days who settled in Newark, DE. It would have been a shame to miss them since we were up in northern Delaware anyway and we made plans to visit with them for the afternoon. Newark is a stone’s throw from the Wedge, and only slightly out of the way. You can guess where this is heading.

The Wedge resulted from a compounding of surveying errors. I’ll keep this brief for today, but essentially surveyors ran into a bunch of problems trying to connect the Mason-Dixon line with the Twelve Mile Circle. The result was about 3/4 of a mile off. This left an 800 acre wedge, a no-man’s land or an every-man’s land depending on your point of view, that provided shelter for all kinds of lawless activities. Nefarious activities existed even into the Twentieth Century when bootleggers during prohibition used the proximity of multiple state borders to stay one step ahead of the law.

Coincidentally, an article on the Wedge appeared in Wilmington’s newspaper, the News Journal, just four days before my visit ("Delaware’s Triangular Oddity"). I wish I could provide a link but it doesn’t appear to have been made available on-line. That’s a shame because it was very well done, in full color and with great graphics. Given that fact, I wondered why we were the only visitors at the Wedge marker on such a lovely Saturday afternoon. The family responded with their typical eye-roll. They wouldn’t even get out of the car. They forced me to trudge over to the marker and record this momentous achievement on my own.

From there it’s possible to continue on New London Road (Route 896) for another half-mile or so, clipping the corner of Maryland and hitting Pennsylvania about thirty seconds later. At least my older son thought that was pretty cool. Thirty seconds was the extent of his attention span, being about the same amount of time he could manage to pull himself away from Lego Star Wars on his Nintendo DS. Nonetheless he thought it was amusing so perhaps there’s hope for him.


(3) Twelve Mile Circle Stones


Delaware Arc Border Stone 17
Stone 17 on the Twelve Mile Circle

Delaware Twelve Mile Circle stone #17 is a few hundred yards away from Ebright Azimuth so I collected that sighting while I was on my adventure earlier in the morning. This stone dates to the 1892 United States Coast & Geodetic Survey effort to set the arc boundary definitively with newer techniques. Stone 17 is supposedly one of the best preserved and most easily accessible of the 46 stones placed during this survey. I’ll vouch that it was both legible and easy to find.

I drove down a private road through the trailer park just over the Pennsylvania border, and parked in the small lot next to the stone. No, it’s not a parking lot just for the stone. Only a few oddballs such as myself care about such things. The lot’s actually for the trailer park office — housed in the old, historic Ebright home — but the marker was right there no more than a few feet away next to a picnic table. Nobody was stirring at that time of the morning so I got lots of photos devoid of humans in the background. The best fun fact here is that the Delaware/Pennsylvania border seems to split right through the Ebright home. I’d love to live in a house like that. Eat dinner in Pennsylvania, sleep in Delaware, and that kind of thing.

Interestingly there was also a geological survey control marker maybe another twenty feet away. Some of the waypoints I’ve seen marked on various Internet sites apparently confuse this with the Delaware highpoint but clearly it’s across the border in Pennsylvania if only by a few paces.



Arc Meets Wedge
Where the arc meets the wedge

I was quite pleased with my efforts but it turned out I wasn’t quite done. We arrived at our friends’ house and I relayed my adventures. That’s when I was given a copy of the newspaper article freshly pulled from the recycling bin. The husband said he’d been mountain biking along the trails in Walter Carpenter State Park (within the Wedge) and he’d noticed a marker maybe five feet tall and wanted to know if I’d like to see it. It was only five minutes away as is everything in the constricted northern reaches of Delaware, so it would be an easy trip. Well, duh, of course I wanted to see it! Soon we were on the way back to the wedge, leaving the rest of my family behind with his wife, who frankly, were all quite grateful to avoid this opportunity.

We cut down a narrow, winding asphalt track called Hopkins Bridge Road and kept our eyes open for a stone shaft set in a clearing in the woods. We worried we might get hit from behind if we pulled over so this might need to be a quick dash-and-shoot. However, when we arrived we noticed a small pullout on the other side of the road just large enough for a single car. I’m sure this was provided purposely and thanks should go to the State of Pennsylvania since we’d just crossed their border. From there it was a simple walk a few yards into the woods.

Three remarkable geographic oddities on four sites with minimal effort. My Delaware visit went much better than I’d ever imagined.

On March 15, 2009 · 11 Comments

11 Responses to “Delaware Trifecta”

  1. Jim Linnane says:

    Congratulations. That was quite an achievement. Given the technology of the time, it is not surprising that mistakes were made in laying out arcs and tangents of such length.

  2. William says:

    Ah…Delaware…

    I grew up in St. Georges (and New Castle/Newark). It’s nice to know that some random person cares about the boundaries in our little state.

    There are a LOT of housed and neighborhoods that are on both sides of the line. Especially in that trailer park near Ebright Azimuth.

    There is also a house downstate that’s in two states and 3 counties! Ever hear of Patty Cannon? Patty Cannon is believed to have come to Maryland from Canada in 1802. She is described as a large woman who could fling a man to the ground by the hair. What did she do to make herself part of Maryland history?

    She moved into a house that was on the corner of Dorchester County and Caroline County in Maryland. Across the way was the state of Delaware which was very convenient for Patty Cannon’s trade. Here is a website about her: http://www.prairieghosts.com/patty.html

    She was buried outside the courthouse where there is now a parking lot. Presumably, she’s still down there.

  3. Ian says:

    I just bought a house in The Wedge. Nice to know someone else on the planet has an appreciation for our favorite geographical oddity! It’s quite the point of pride for those of us who live within its borders.

    • You live in The Wedge?!? Seriously? I’m impressed and amazed — truly, no sarcasm here. I can claim to live in the smallest self-governing county in the United States, but that’s nowhere near as impressive as The Wedge. History, weirdness, compactness, The Wedge has it all as far as geo-oddities go. Congratulations on your choice of location.

  4. Edward J. Cunningham says:

    “The Wedge resulted from a compounding of surveying errors. I’ll keep this brief for today, but essentially surveyors ran into a bunch of problems trying to connect the Mason-Dixon line with the Twelve Mile Circle. The result was about 3/4 of a mile off. This left an 800 acre wedge, a no-man’s land or an every-man’s land depending on your point of view, that provided shelter for all kinds of lawless activities.”

    In all due fairness to Charles Dixon and Jeremiah Dixon, “the Wedge” was not a result of a surveying error on their part. They did what they were supposed to do, which was survey the border between Maryland, Pennsylvania, and the Lower Counties or Delaware. The problem was that the courts were so focused on the squabbling over the Maryland-Pennsylvania border, that nobody thought about this small section of land east of Maryland but west of the 12-Mile Circle. Since the Penn family administered both, they didn’t think it was that big a deal at the time, but it later came to be an issue when Pennsylvania and Delaware became separate states.

    Anyway, you can read more about it at this link:

    http://www.udel.edu/johnmack/mason_dixon/

  5. Edward J. Cunningham says:

    Oops! That’s Charles MASON, not Dixon! *blush*

  6. Steve O. says:

    Nice pictures! It’s also quite easy to reach the DE/MD/PA tri-state monument.

    It is just east of route 896 (there’s a Welcome to PA sign coming from Newark, Delaware). If you look at Google maps, satellite view, you can see a field on the PA side that’s all on PA parkland (look at terrain view for the park outline). We parked at The Wedge restaurant and walked across 896 onto a dirt path leading to the field, then followed the wheel ruts down to the woods and a wide path down to a small bridge. The marker is just across that bridge. (On the near side of the bridge is a smaller “triangulation” marker which isn’t the actual tri-state.)

    You can also hike there along the DE-PA border from the “Arc Corner” monument — probably best to bring a GPS! (The PA side is all parkland, but the DE side is not.)

  7. Walter H. Shirk says:

    I have been in that area three times, and have been unable to locate any of the items that you mentioned in your article, namely, Stone#17 / The Wedge Historical Marker / Delaware High Point / and the monument where the Arc meets the wedge. I would really-really love to be able to photograph these historical items. I did secure a photo of a M/D marker on Elbow Lane, just off Rte 896, but that is nothing compared to what you have found. Please respond.

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