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Your State Border Might Not Be Where You Think

The boundaries of your state might not be as solid as you imagined

Image: Tom

Chances are, at one point in your education, you had to craft some sort of diorama, book report or interpretive dance about your home state. But did you know that the boundaries of your state might not be as solid as you imagined?

Take South Carolina for example. Students there could probably tell you that the border between their state and Georgia is the Savannah River. But in 2000 surveyors realized that the river had wandered a half mile away from the path on the map. Life’s Little Mysteries has more examples:

Just north of there, North and South Carolina are currently working together to re-monument their shared border. “The boundary was first surveyed between 1735 and 1815,” said Gary Thompson, chief surveyor at the North Carolina Geodetic Survey. “Originally, a few stones were placed at endpoints, but most of the markers were trees. The maintenance of the line wasn’t updated, so over time that evidence of the boundary has faded away.”

Figuring out where that boundary is has required tromping through archives of land transfers, deeds and other documents that indicate state markers. They started redrawing the border in 1990 and still haven’t finished. They’re hoping to know just where North Carolina stops and South Carolina ends in the next two years.

Georgia and Tennessee have fought over boundaries, too. Since 2007, the two states have gone back and forth about a boulder that marks the state line. Georgia says the boulder should have been placed squarely in the middle of the Tennessee river, giving both states access to the water. But Tennessee is having none of it. They call Georgia’s river claim “a heinous assault on the sovereignty of Tennessee.” The Times Free Press, a newspaper in Tennessee, wrote back in 2008:

Attacking Georgia’s effort on legal and political grounds, the Tennessee resolution calls Georgia’s effort an “election-year ploy” that is little more than a “veiled attempt to commandeer the resources of the Tennessee River for the benefit of water-starved Atlanta, which is either unable or unwilling to control its reckless urban sprawl.”

Tennessee Rep. Gary Odom, then House Majority Leader, told the Free Press:

“What I thought was a joke has turned out to be rather disturbing,” Rep. Odom said. “I thought it was important that the Tennessee General Assembly declare that we would not engage in any talks with Georgia regarding giving them a piece of Tennessee. That would be absurd.”

So all those people with their state tattooed on had better be okay with some uncertainty.

More from Smithsonian.com:

170 Years of America’s Evolution In One Animated Gif

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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