Southwick Jog

On October 16, 2008 · 3 Comments

Follow the border between Connecticut and Massachusetts westward and you’ll notice a little notch in an otherwise straight line. This 2-1/2 mile dip is commonly called the Southwick Jog after the town that plugs the hole.

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The ultimate authority and definitive source is "The Southwick Jog" by Rev. Edward R. Dodge, as appearing in Southwick, Massachusetts 1770-1970. A portable document format (pdf) copy of this chapter is available through the Town of Southwick Massachusetts website. It’s fifteen pages of fully sourced and footnoted material but it’s an easy read. Another summary but with considerably fewer pages is available through the Connecticut State Library.

Here is a highly synopsized version:

  • The border remained largely undefined during early colonial times because it didn’t matter. It only became an issue once people began to settle there in greater numbers, particularly as pocketbook issues such as taxation forced it to the surface.
  • Massachusetts commissioned a border survey in 1642 to resolve the confusion. Their charter specified a southern border stretching completely across North American due west “from a point three miles south of the most southerly branch of the Charles River.” Easy, right? Just find that specific point south of the Charles River and begin walking west.
  • Well, Massachusetts didn’t hire the most diligent bunch. Their surveyors found the first point below the Charles easily enough but then they took a shortcut. Rather than walk the line they sailed over to the Connecticut River and traveled upstream to the corresponding latitude. Here they marked a second point. Then they simply drew a line across the two dots and called it a border. That would be fine theoretically, but instruments of the day lacked a certain precision. The surveyors really needed to follow line taking measurements as they went, because their results were up to seven miles south of the true line. Massachusetts didn’t mind, though. The error was in their favor.
  • There’s no truth to the legend that they were drunk. They were either incompetent or lazy, and Connecticut was less than pleased with the result. They commissioned an overland survey in 1695 that quickly revealed the error. So now there were two lines, no agreement, and a number of towns stuck in between that didn’t know who ruled them.
  • Additional surveys, compromises, joint commissions, negotiations, repudiations and the like happened for the next hundred years.
  • Massachusetts gave up Suffield, Enfield and Woodstock during one of the more promising compromises, and felt a little miffed when the solution didn’t stick. They vowed never to repeat their mistake and refused to relinquish Southwick. They dug in their heels on principle.
  • Finally in 1804 the parties agreed to split Southwick as a final compromise. Massachusetts retained Congamond Lakes and the lands to the west, while the remainder went to Connecticut. Massachusetts got its bone and a symbolic victory. The dispute ended.

Southwick Jog
In the 1804 agreement, Southwick Parcel A went to Massachusetts and Parcel B went to Connecticut. Detail from "The Southwick Jog" by Rev. Edward R. Dodge.

I’ve covered all sorts of strange boundaries on Twelve Mile Circle, but for some reason this one has gotten lots of attention from other sources. I’m a little perplexed. Usually I have these oddities all to myself and I’m a bit possessive. I think maybe the Southwick Jog gets more press because it’s within the heavily populated northeastern United States. Perhaps it’s simply more visible to a greater numbers of people than any of other anomalies.

Here’s a sampling of blogs that have already covered it. And if that’s not enough, there’s even a website that sells "Take Back the Notch" T-shirts, hats, mugs & stickers.

On a final note, some of this area is covered by Google Street View. Here is a primary southern entrance to Southwick, located at the very bottom of the jog in the area surrounded by Connecticut on three sides.

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Look closely and you can read the Southwick sign.

UPDATE: The Southwick Jog continues to generate controversy. A reader has brought to my attention an article in the October 22, 2008 edition of the Hartford Courant — Massachusetts Expecting Fees From Suffield Lake Dwellers.

On October 16, 2008 · 3 Comments

3 Responses to “Southwick Jog”

  1. Steve says:

    Thanks for the linking – but I haven’t written about the Jog yet!

    Amazingly, I was planning on taking some pictures today (before I saw your post) and writing it up this weekend. And I shall –

    shoot me an email (b/c I can’t find yours).


  2. Bill Harris says:

    Just a few miles east of Southwick is an even smaller jog:*&oe=UTF-8&startIndex=&startPage=1&safe=on&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&hl=en&tab=wl

    Additionally, the boundary line before and after this little speck is askew from the rest of the border. I guess some one was having a bad day at the transit when this portion of the stateline was laid out!

  3. Ornithikos says:

    Actually the reason for the Jog is structural, not historical. Without it, the parallel top and bottom of Massachusetts would allow it to slide loose from the East Coast and out into the Atlantic, which would be bad for the whales. The Jog locks the state firmly in place within New England.

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