Thursday, June 5, 2014

Mason Dixon Trail Map 10 - The Journey Begins!

Section 1/ Map 10: May 24, 2014 (9 miles) Chadd's Ford to Kennett Square, PA
Section 2/ Map 10: May 31, 2014 (9 miles) Kennett Square to Landenberg, PA

This is a trail that has been on my to-do list since - forever. It's local to me and I can jump on and off just down the road from where I live anytime. To do the MDT in its entirety, though, has been a goal of mine for a long while. It runs for 200 miles from Chadd's Ford, Pennsylvania to Whiskey Springs, PA covering, very roughly, a section of routes taken Mason and Dixon as they surveyed for the PA/DE 'Arc' and the boundary between PS/MD/VA. I've given myself the goal of completing the trail between Memorial Day and Labor Day and inviting friends along to share in my weekend walks. 

For the purposes of this blog, I'll describe our hikes according to the Mason-Dixon Trail System maps, numbered 1 through 10. Since I decided to start in Chadd's Ford, PA I'm going in reverse so will begin with Map 10. And, since I am still nursing a hurt foot from a previous hiking crash with coonhounds in the dark on cold and snowy night, I am doing the maps in two parts, at nine to ten miles a section. That said, I'll combine two hikes per post, until my foot heals completely and I can hike a whole 15 - 18 miles in a day. 

So let's start the Map 10 post with some music...

And you can sing along if you want...

I am Jeremiah Dixon
I am a Geordie boy
A glass of wine with you, sir
And the ladies I'll enjoy
All Durham and Northumberland
Is measured up by my own hand
It was my fate from birth
To make my mark upon the earth

He calls me Charlie Mason
A stargazer am I
It seems that I was born
To chart the evening sky
They'd cut me out for baking bread
But I had other dreams instead
This baker's boy from the west country
Would join the Royal Society

We are sailing to Philadelphia
A world away from the coaly Tyne
Sailing to Philadelphia
To draw the line
A Mason-Dixon Line

Now you're a good surveyor, Dixon
But I swear you'll make me mad
The West will kill us both
You gullible Geordie lad
You talk of liberty
How can America be free
A Geordie and a baker's boy
In the forests of the Iroquois

Now hold your head up, Mason
See America lies there
The morning tide has raised
The capes of Delaware
Come up and feel the sun
A new morning is begun
Another day will make it clear
Why your stars should guide us here

We are sailing to Philadelphia
A world away from the coaly Tyne
Sailing to Philadelphia
To draw the line
A Mason-Dixon Line

(Thank you, Ken)

So why is there a Mason Dixon Line anyway and why would Mark Knopfler sing a beautiful song about some guys making a line? For lots of reasons, which I'll explain as these posts go along. For starters Jeremiah Dixon and Charles Mason were hired by The Crown in 1763 and again in 1768 to delineate the boundaries between Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia (before there was a West Virginia). A bloody and senseless boundary war had been on a slow-boil  since the mid-1730s and frankly, everyone was getting tired of it and for peace-sake, needed the line drawn and marked to end the hostilities.

Gangs of defiant Marylanders plundered farms and property and murdered people they considered squatters. In retribution, angry Commonwealth settlers formed militias and took their revenge upon the Free Staters doing much the same, for over thirty years. Local authorities, tradesmen, and farmers pleaded with governors for relief. The Crown was petitioned for help which delivered two talented and very brave surveyors from the Royal Society, Mason and Dixon.  More later, now for Map 10 adventures...

Such a simple little sign for such a famous walk! Chadd's Ford, PA

On the first section hike of Map 10 (May 24, 2014)  I chose a nine mile section from the Brandywine Museum in Chadds Ford to Kennett Square, PA with a car parked at the Stateline Preserve on Marybelle Lane. Kim and Hilary joined me  and after we ran the shuttle car, we started together at the Eastern Terminus sign next to the RR tracks and west bank of the Brandywine across from the museum. It was a little sign, but it was adorned with the blue blaze with a triple blaze on the telephone pole above indicating The End or The Beginning, whichever way you hike it.

Off we go! (Pic by Kim)
First word to the wise: there is a lot of road walking to this hike, and it doesn't necessarily follow the actual boundary between PA, MD, and DE. For the most part, trail planners did their best to connect  natural areas, and thus actual trails, via the blue blaze but still be very careful on roads. We saw very little traffic on the small rural roads our first day, but crossing the bigger thoroughfares was tricky and there are no crossing signs for motorists to be alert for hikers. In some neighborhoods drivers looked at us like we were fools, unaware we were actually on a delineated trail.  A lot of folks thought Charlie and Jeremiah were fools too, only they had to contend with armed militias and very angry Indians.

Black willow point the way through the Brandywine floodplain where the trail is up on boards.
We are not far from Philadelphia where Mason and Dixon waited out a brutal winter to start their work. The south-eastern PA landscape is rolling, a mix of old farms and mill towns. This is the heartland of American horticulture, where colonial botanists from Philly and Wilmington collected American native plants and shipped them to collectors in Europe. Many 20th century country estates boast incredible botanical gardens, including Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square and Chanticleer in King of Prussia. Nurseries and gardens are everywhere.

Rail stop to check the map. Note the blue blazes on the guardrails and wall. (Pic by Kim)
Stinging nettle. Ouch. Lots of it by the river!

Native plants interested the colonists immensely. With remaining Lenne Lanape and Nanticoke nearby in the early years of European settlement, Dutch, English, German, and Swede settlers learned from the native people which plants were good for certain ailments, and which could be grown for food. Likewise, many European plants came over with the settlers, mostly by accident, on the shoes, boots, hooves, and feet of people and livestock disembarking in the Delaware ports. Our hike revealed a naturalized mix of European and native plants along the Brandywine, tucked into garden beds, and growing along roadsides.

Road walking took us through the historic heartland of American horticulture.

Beautiful farmlands, much of it in preservation programs. (Pic by Hilary)

This is Wyeth country, the landscape that inspired generations of painters. A large collection of the family work is displayed in the Brandywine Museum, where we parked our cars at the start in Chadd's Ford. N.C. Wyeth's studio is nearby as well. I could imagine him wandering these hills and fields assembling his landscapes.

"Chadd's Ford Landscape" N.C. Wyeth, 1909

 Meadows and grasslands everywhere - right out of a Wyeth painting.
Beautiful grass meadows for haying, wildflowers, pollinators, and birds.
So that I do not lead you astray with our beautiful pictures, thinking that we were hiking through this incredible agrarian landscape the whole way, most of this section was road walking. The old country roads here were built for horses and carriages originally and not much has been done to widen some of them for modern cars and trucks. Meaning, little or no shoulder on which to hike, and high berms to jump up on. There were several times we had to hop into the woods to make room for cars.

Kim (ahead) and me (following) on edgy road edge. Cheryl's pic.

The second leg of Map 10 (May 31, 2014) took us through a short section of woods starting at the Stateline Preserve and through a variety of housing: a two hundred year old mill town, ticky-tacky developments, McMansionboros, and elegant gentrified estates. All of it by road. Hiking partners today included Kim who has now become the pro at finding blue blazes and Cheryl, taking a Saturday break from leading canoe trips at a nature center in Harford County. By the end of this stretch we three were very good at hopping deftly out of the way of cars and trucks. Much more traffic than last week, but hey - we found a WaWa that had free ice and ice cold chocolate milk.

I collect photographs of Quaker Meetings so this was a great chance to sit on the cemetery wall and talk to a Friend.

This is historic Quaker country where meeting houses and Quaker schools are still as common as they were hundreds of years ago. I try to take pictures of meeting houses for my elder Friend friends, sisters Alice and Mary Ellen who live near me in northern MD and south-central PA. When we visit they like to look through my growing collection of photographs and once they requested I give a powerpoint presentation to their social group of Quaker ladies (what a hoot!) who named every Meeting and knew at least one person who was a member at each one. They know their history and communities!

Red Clay Creek complete with trout and fringed with summer phlox.

Along the way to the White Clay Creek State Park and Preserve we passed an odoriferous mushroom facility. One must remember that in northern Delaware and Southeastern Pennsylvania, mushroom facilities are common. And smelly. But hey, the finished soils are incredible for raised beds and gardens. It seemed everyone who grew lovely native gardens and beautiful flower beds had a thick top dressing of this rich black soil. All I can say is that it grows the biggest tomatoes in the world.

Landenberg, PA - the corn is coming in nicely.
The takeaway from Map 10 is 'Beware of Drivers" and don't forget to look for blazes. With summer growth now filling in the road edges and wooded trails, some of our blue blazes were hidden behind vines and understory. In a few cases, the blazes were stenciled on pathways or on the back of stop signs. We only wandered off trail a few times but it was easy to backtrack and find our way.

The finish of Map 10 at the edge of White Clay Creek State Park and the WCC Preserve. 

Kim and Cheryl hiking MDT on 5-31 to White Clay Creek Preserve.
On to Map 9 to take the MDT from White Clay Creek State Park to Elkton, finishing the 'Arc' of northern Delaware and dipping into Maryland!


Wikipedia gives a down-and-dirty summation of the Mason Dixon Line history

For science and engineering geeks (like me) who love cartography and map-making, Edwin Danson makes the work of  Mason and Dixon a truly astounding feat, deserving of this almost mind-blowing technical account of the tools, techniques, and trade of colonial surveying: 

Danson, Edwin (2000)  Drawing the Line: How Mason and Dixon Surveyed the Most Famous Border in America. Wiley Publishing.

The map set can be purchased from the Keystone Trails Association through their online store:

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