I am a proud Washingtonian, born and raised. In my adult life, however, I have spent far more time out of Washington D.C. than in it. So when I am home, I make it a point to dig a little deeper, explore a little further and expand my knowledge of the city I call home. My mother, also born and raised in D.C., has become my accomplice on these adventures and we have found some amazing little spots all over the city that if you weren’t looking for, you’d probably never find. This winter, we set out to discover the original boundary stones that marked the surveyed borders of Washington D.C. when it was laid out in 1791-92. And while we haven’t made it to all of them, we have found the four corners and many in between and it has been a fascinating mini-adventure super close to home.
After the Residence Act of 1790 established that a new capital city was to be established along the Potomac River, George Washington was tasked with choosing the exact location. He decided that the new capital city would include the existing towns of Alexandria and Georgetown. Because of this, the allocated 10 mile by 10 mile square would be turned on its side creating more of a diamond shape. Choosing as the southern tip and area called Jones Point at the confluence of the Potomac River and Hunting Creek, Washington enlisted surveyor Andrew Ellicott and astronomer Benjamin Banneker to lay out the boundary of the new capital. Stones were set at approximately one mile intervals marking this boundary.
Today, 36 of the original 40 stones can still be seen in one form or another along the original boundary of the District. Some are now found in Virginia as retrocession of that land in 1846 changed the city boundary but left the original stones intact. Of course neighborhoods have grown up around these stones, so in hunting them down we found these little stumps of history in front yards, school and church parking lots and even in a corner of a cemetery. Once we knew what we were looking for, it became almost like a scavenger hunt straining to see one and be the first to shout “there it is!”.
The South Stone is still located at Jones Point in Virginia, on the property of the historic Jones Point Lighthouse. There are nice markers there discussing the boundary stones, and the stone itself is buried in the foundation. It can be viewed through a glass cap installed for just that reason. It was the original stone so it makes a great starting point for any exploration of the boundary stones.
The West Stone is also in Virginia, and can be found at Andrew Ellicott Park, a nice little neighborhood park set around the boundary stone in the town of Falls Church. It’s a little tricky to find, but we used the address 2824 N. Arizona Street to guide us there.
The North Stone I have probably driven by a hundred times without even giving it a second glance. It is just south of East-West Highway near 16th St and right across from the Summit Hills Apartments. 1806 East-West Highway in your GPS will get you pretty close.
The East Stone was off in the woods, and cannot actually be seen from the road. Right at the corner of Eastern and Southern Avenues is a trail that leads into the woods. Just 100 feet or so down this trail, you’ll find the east stone. It was completely unprotected when we visited.
We probably found about 18 stones total, including one about a half-mile from our house. We’re not done looking for them, but the rest may have to wait until next winter. While the stones are not really impressive in and of themselves, they are a fascinating look back in time to the very founding of our city. There are probably far more interesting things to see if you are on your first visit to D.C, but heading out to find the boundary stones makes a great little trip for those who, like us, are never done exploring. Never stop being a tourist in your own town. Happy Stone Hunting.
www.boundarystones.org is an unbelievable resource to learn more about the stones and help you track them down.