Down through the centuries, border disputes have involved simmering geopolitical tensions that have often led to armed conflict. Thankfully, closer to home, a long-standing border dispute has been peacefully resolved: by moving the Lake Wylie Mini Mart to the state of North Carolina — or more to the point, the state of North Carolina moving to it.
See, beginning on January 1 of this year, the boundary lines between the states of North Carolina and South Carolina shifted.
But unless you live in a few tiny communities along the border, you’ll be forgiven for not noticing. That’s because, for the first time, these two state boundaries have been thoroughly researched, documented and established — resulting in some minor changes in where the new state lines now fall.
Our two states set out together 20 years ago to definitively redraw the elusive 335-mile line from the mountains to the sea. And as the result of a decades-long investigation, the “Joint North Carolina – South Carolina Boundary Commission” issued a report clarifying what the true state lines should be. The technical component of the investigation was undertaken by a Geodetic Survey, conducted jointly by both states. The report issued by the Commission allowed the legislature and the governor to complete the legal process of setting the rightful boundary along our shared 335-mile southern border.
So why the confusion? To understand how we got ourselves into this pickle, we have to go back more than 350 years.
It’s Good to be the King
The Province of Carolina was first carved out of the wilderness by King Charles II, who granted charters to eight English noblemen (known as the “Lords Proprietors“) in 1663. The vast landholdings were given to the lords as a reward for their support of the king’s successful scheme to restore the monarchy after the English Civil War and the execution of his father, King Charles I, for whom the province was named (Carolus is Latin for “Charles.”)
In 1729, heirs of seven of the eight Lords Proprietors sold their interests back to the crown, and King George II separated the northern and southern parts of the original province into two separate royal colonies by extending to the west the 35th Parallel until it met the Catawba River. This horizontal line, which defines the southern border of Tennessee, essentially extended the line that forms the border between North Carolina and Georgia. (The one holdout among the Lords Proprietors, the Earl of Granville, refused to sell his land. But it turned out, he didn’t need to — the Provisional Assembly of the newly-independent State of North Carolina confiscated all the property of British loyalists, including the Granville District, during the American Revolution.)
Confusion over North Carolina’s state boundary arose in all directions of the compass, including those with Georgia and Tennessee; the only state boundaries that were without question were those that ran up against the Atlantic Ocean. And although state lines were established easily enough on paper, they were never completely surveyed or definitively located on the ground — and an arbitrary straight line drawn on a map couldn’t accommodate the asymmetry of the natural topography of the marshes and wilderness areas to be divided. In colonial times, borders were marked using wooden signs nailed to trees, now long-since dead, or by scoring large stones — which have crumbled or been otherwise lost to time.
But using modern geospatial technology, historic maps and deeds, ancient markers, and good old fashioned leg work by professional surveyors, the original intended lines were finally rediscovered and documented. This meant changing the traditionally-accepted lines at certain places, with some unexpected consequences for home owners and businesses located alongs the shifting state lines regarding jurisdiction.
Though some people and businesses moved to South Carolina on purpose, they woke up on January 1st to find themselves now located here in the Tar Heel state. Businesses selling alcohol were suddenly operating in a dry county. And few homeowners even found their homes divided down the middle — with the kitchen in one state and the living room in another.
Taxes, driver’s licenses, school districts, home addresses, voting precincts, utilities service areas, fire districts, business licenses, and even the sales of gasoline, fireworks and liquor all had to been accounted for and resolved with the repositioning of the conjoining state lines. That’s where the state legislatures come in.
Working with our neighbors to the south, in June of 2016 the North Carolina General Assembly passed Senate Bill 575 “NC/SC Original Boundary Confirmation” that resolved some sticky problems associated with altering state boundaries. Governor Pat McCrory made the new state lines official by issuing Executive Order 118 in December of 2016, making the new borders official on New Year’s Day 2017.
For more information, including detailed maps, please read “How the Carolinas Fixed Their Blurred Lines,” by Duke University professor Stephen R. Kelly. Professor Kelly’s article first appeared in The New York Times on August 23, 2014.