Daily Local News: “Star Gazers’ Stone More Accessible to Visitors”
July 29, 2013
NEWLIN — Hikers making plans to visit the ChesLen Preserve or seek the location of one of the country’s most important mapping instruments now have better access to both sites.
The Natural Lands Trust announced recently that a new public parking lot has opened, making it easier to get to the preserve and to the Star Gazers’ Stone, the land marker used by 18th century astronomers Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon to determine the true boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland.
The Cheslen Preserve, much of which was donated to the trust by landowner Gerry Lenfest, now totals 1,263 acres and is one of the largest privately owned nature preserves in southeastern Pennsylvania.
The trust developed the parking lot in conjunction with officials from Newlin. The township had previously used the site for township maintenance vehicles. In exchange, the township now uses the newly opened Lenfest Center on Cannery Road for public meetings.
According to the land trust, the Star Gazers’ Stone is an unassuming quartzite rock measuring no more than 18 inches in height, but one that played an outsized role in the political fates of the nation. For many years, the marker was difficult to access in its spot on Stargazers Road near Route 162. Now, the parking area has access to a trail that makes it easy to visit and appreciate its significance to early colonial history.
In 1763, some 240 years before the advent of GPS units, Mason and Dixon visited the then-wilds of Chester County to end a bloody, 80-year boundary dispute between Pennsylvania and Maryland. Their survey, which established the official line between the two colonies, stands among the greatest scientific achievements of the time, according to a release from the land trust, which owns the Cheslen Preserve.
They made their way to Embreeville, a village near the west fork of the Brandywine Creek outside West Chester, the county seat.
The pair got permission from a local farmer to use his property to set up an observatory from which to make their calculations. A reference point, now known as Star Gazers’ Stone, was placed to mark the astronomical meridian line north of their observatory.
Using a device with a six-foot-long brass telescope that allowed them to establish their position relative to the stars, they spent the winter nights charting the sky. In spring 1764, they ventured due south from the farm with a team of ax men clearing a wide swath through the dense forests. Using chains and levels, they surveyed in straight, 12-mile segments, then made detailed astronomical calculations to adjust to the exact latitude.
All told, the survey took five years — going through farm fields and woodlands, frigid winters and oppressive summers, colonial villages and sometimes hostile Native American territories — before Mason and Dixon were satisfied. They’d established the 233-mile-long boundary line between Pennsylvania and Maryland, and the 83-mile-long north-south boundary between Maryland and present-day Delaware, the trust’s release said.
Star Gazers’ Stone is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, one of 125 sites in the country.
The ChesLen Preserve, much of which was donated to the trust by landowner Gerry Lenfest, now totals 1,263 acres — one of the largest privately owned nature preserves in southeastern Pennsylvania. In addition to its ties to Mason and Dixon’s expedition, the preserve’s historical treasures include a circa-1800 potter’s field — a cemetery that is a remnant of the Chester County Poorhouse once located nearby. More recently, the land was part of the 17,000-acre King Ranch, to which cattle were shipped from around the country and prepared for sale at market.