Borderlands

 

(This 1108th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on June 17, 2012.)

 

Jerry Lazarczyk entering data for a border stone marker

G.Rising photo

 

In late May I join my friend Jerry Lazarczyk on another search along the New York-Pennsylvania border for Holland Land Purchase markers. This project has grown from our interest in finding more about Joseph Ellicott's hike around the purchase boundary in the fall of 1797 and his survey the following year of our region with a team of 150 men.

 

I find these outings especially interesting because they combine natural history with the early social history of New York State. Also, because the topography along this state line is highly irregular (aka steep), I also find our hikes physically challenging.

 

There are three kinds of markers along the state line. The most numerous are orange ribbons probably tied by contemporary surveyors. Some were almost certainly set by students from the technical schools in Alfred who are assigned the task of surveying the state line.

 

The second group are from a survey taken in about 1900. These are small cement prisms with about six-inch cross section. They stand less than a foot high.

 

The third markers are the rarest. They are from Ellicott's original survey. Some have been removed: one, for example, is in the museum in Allegany State Park. Jerry has found several; I have yet to see one.

 

Although a few of the markers are in the open - we found one in the front yard of a Pennsylvania home - most that remain are deep in the woods and are often covered with vegetation. We use extremely accurate GPS devices to locate where the markers have been recorded, but even knowing where they are within a few feet, a search for a marker is often unproductive.

 

And that is why we are here on this morning. Surveyors have told us the coordinates for the southeast marker of the Holland Land Survey but our earlier search has failed. So today we have returned to the Allegany County village of Alma and taken Pump Station Road south to a closed dirt road that leads west into the bush. We know that the marker is within a few rods of this trail about a mile away.

 

We park and off we go. We're not trespassing: Jerry obtained permission to hike here.

 

It is a beautiful day. Although it is in the high 80s in Buffalo, here we're higher and often shaded, thus at least ten degrees cooler.

 

Even before we leave the car I can hear the cheery cheery chorry song of a mourning warbler, the latest of the migrating warblers each spring. We'll see or hear a half dozen other warbler species and other woodland birds before the day is out.

 

This road is reasonably level as it follows the contour about half way up to the ridge to our south. When there is a break in the trees we can look down at the valley to our north several hundred feet below us. The view is bucolic: open fields and woodlots, a few houses and outbuildings, Honeoye Creek meandering through marshy thickets, and what appears to be unbroken forest farther to the north. On an earlier search we had to cross that creek on a beaver dam to head up this same steep slope.

 

Wildflowers are in abundance. I know some and Jerry points out others: both orange and yellow hawkweeds, Solomon's seal, foam flowers, cinquefoils, wild geranium and oxeye daisy as well as sensitive, Christmas and maidenhair ferns. This is the brief season for dame's rocket and there are a few here far from their usual roadside location. Deeper in the woods we find Jack-in-the-pulpit and columbine.

 

We come across interesting evidence: a dead porcupine, possibly killed by a fisher; turkey feathers and bones; several garter snakes that reluctantly retreat into the rocks.

 

The easy walk over, we head up a slope of at least 50. I surprise myself by making it all the way to the top of the ridge. Then back down a few yards to where Jerry digs up one of the border markers from 1900.

 

We don't find the Ellicott marker but a few days later Jerry phones to tell me excitedly that he returned and located it. He forgot to take his camera, however, so we'll return once again.-- Gerry Rising