History of Pennsylvania Land Surveying: Pennsylvania Borders Have a Dramatic History

The history of Pennsylvania land surveying goes all the way back to the 1700s and to a pair of famous land surveyors named Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. Though many may not recognize the names, most will recognize the combined last names that title the line they surveyed that became a hot issue for next 100 years or more, the Mason-Dixon Line. This line established the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland, and became a heated American topic when it started being considered the line between the “free” states and the “slave” states. Though this is one of the earliest surveying issues in the state’s history, the drama surrounding it began even before this, as the line was a direct result of a land ownership conflict between the state’s founding family, the Penns, and the Calverts of Maryland.


The Mason-Dixon Line was resurveyed both in 1963 and 1767, with stone markers bearing either the Calvert or Penn family name ever so often. Before this time the borders of Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania actually overlapped due to confusing maps and royal charters. The boundary between Maryland and Pennsylvania was resurveyed in 1849 and 1900 with no real changes made worth mentioning in the history of Pennsylvania land surveying, although the original surveyed line left a small piece of land in question until 1921.


This notable line left the history of Pennsylvania land surveying a safe spot forever in American history. These first surveyors, Mason and Dixon, were forced to leave their work on the Mason-Dixon Line early due to the threat of hostile Indians. Considering that surveyors often worked in remote areas, this was understandable. Andrew Ellicott picked up their work and extended the line to the southwest corner of Pennsylvania, where it was originally intended to end. After this, he was hired to establish the western boundary of Pennsylvania which became known as Ellicott’s Line.


David Rittenhouse is also an important name in the history of Pennsylvania land surveying. Not only was he a land surveyor, but he was a clock builder, calculator, and instrument builder as well.  He worked with Ellicott on the western boundary as commissioner, and represented the state in the expansion of the Mason-Dixon Line to Ohio. He also established a point for the beginning of the western line that divided New York and Pennsylvania. These men worked together at different times in history to survey the land that is the Pennsylvania of today.


At Point to Point Land Surveyors, Inc., we aim to uphold the quality historical to Pennsylvania, as well as the other states we serve, while incorporating modern technology and techniques. Offering land surveying services in the state of Pennsylvania, we at Point to Point Land Surveyors, Inc. feel a real connection to those land surveyors who, in performing their surveying services, have shaped Pennsylvania and history.