On the Border, an Anomoly

This article was published in the Oct. 15, 2000 edition of the New Hampshire Sunday News.

PITTSBURG – By all accounts, the Canadian and American crews charged with surveying a stretch of international border between New Hampshire and Quebec back in 1842 had their work cut out for them.

New Hampshire’s international boundary at Pittsburg.

They were fulfilling the terms of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842, which was written to end some 60 years of haggling over the border, ever since the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783. That document described the boundary from the Atlantic Ocean to the prairies and the states that had gained independence from Great Britain in 1776.

After the Webster-Ashburton Treaty was signed, the two countries set about surveying the length of the border from the St. Croix River in Wisconsin to the St. Lawrence, concluding in 1847.

So on that long ago day, the two crews, concluding what some historians described as lengthy and arduous, met up at a point that is now the state’s only international border crossing between Pittsburg and Chartierville, Que.

“At the point where they met, the difference they had was (of about 18 inches),” said Clyde Moore, deputy commissioner of the International Boundary Commission. “That’s really remarkable, considering the distance they had to survey.”

The teams could not reach agreement about that point, so two boundary monuments were erected and have remained in place for more than 150 years. Less than two feet separate them and that makes them a bit of an anomaly along the entire border, 5,525 miles over land and water, from the tundra to Atlantic coast.

“That’s the only one I know of,” Moore said.

Those in northern New Hampshire who live on the border will tell you that it is invisible – crossing it several times a week is no big deal. Older folks in West Stewartstown tell stories about how they used to walk to their grandparents house in Canada, a stone’s throw from town.

But the world’s longest, undefended border is clearly defined by a 20-foot swath and along that swath are more than 8,000 monuments that dot the vista, in such a way that you can see the next one from the one where you are standing.

New Hampshire’s international boundary with Canada stretches just shy of 59 miles between Vermont and Maine and along the vista are 659 monuments, according to IBC field engineer Carl Gustafson.

The double monument, now known as Boundary Monument 484, is enclosed in a metal crib now, right between the ports of entry to Pittsburg and Chartierville. Former immigration inspector Marty Hewson, who tended the New Hampshire border for more than a quarter of a century, said the late Louis Beauchemin, who was a longtime superintendent for the state Department of Transportation, put up an iron fence around the markers in 1976.

“That was after it got broken by a snowplow,” Hewson said.

As Hewson’s children where growing up, he recalls how he used to mock-threaten them.

“I used to tell the kids I would put them in no man’s land,” he said.

But, Moore said, “There’s no such thing as no man’s land. You’re in one country or the other there.”

There are stories about several of these monuments at follow the contour between New Hampshire and Canada. The Joint Report upon the Survey and Demarcation of the Boundary, issued in 1925, had notes on the double monument.

“Nos. 483 and 484, in the old United States notes, were found have been set only 18 inches apart. They marked an astronomic station of the survey in 1845. As this ‘double monument’ was regarded as a landmark in that locality, the two monuments were reset in a single concrete base and numbered as one monument, No. 484,” the report read.

This photo old photo shows two men, presumably Canadian and American, shaking hands after the reset.

The recasting, on a three-foot deep base on bedrock, was done in 1916 and rebuilt in the same way as the original monuments with two cast iron obelisks. An old photo shows two men, presumably Canadian and American, shaking hands after the reset.

The report also notes Monument 440 was known to exist, but was “found by accident by the chief of one of the triangulation parties on his along the boundary ridge to look for monument 441.”

Elsewhere along the remote border, the report noted that monuments 481 and 482 “were originally wooden posts” and that “the rotted remains of these were found, with rocks piled around them and they were replaced by two new cast iron monuments.”

At the head of Hall’s Stream, the boundary is marked by a large iron monument cast in three sections and is “one of several similar large monuments used to mark important boundary points from the source of the St. Croix River to the St. Lawrence River.”

Today, the thousands of boundary markers, along with the vista, are well-cared for by the IBC, which was founded under the Treaty of 1908 for the specific purpose to complete reestablishment and mapping of the boundary from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.

The boundary had been defined by treaty and most of it surveyed by 1874, but by 1908, it had become so overgrown and monuments obliterated that it became necessary to reestablish the border demarcation to avoid any uncertainties that could lead to dispute.

In 1925, upon realization that such maintenance would have to be on a continuous basis, another treaty was signed establishing the IBC as the permanent caretaker of the boundary area and its markers.

“Plans are laid out so clearing takes place in a 10-year cycle, but it all depends on how much things grow up,” Gustafson said. “In remote areas, like the Yukon, you may have to do it only every 50 years or so.”

The IBC is also responsible for determining the position of any point on the boundary necessary to settle questions that might arise between the two governments. Gustafson said the commission will soon be taking a look at the boundary in one particular area of Pittsburg.

“Hall’s Stream has migrated so much that instead of following the boundary, it’s crossing it,” Gustafson said.

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