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Scenery is breathtaking on search for land markers

In late May, I joined 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 next 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 steep, I 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 is from a survey taken in about 1900. These are small cement prisms with about a 6-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.

Surveyors told us the coordinates for the southeast marker of the Holland Land Survey, but our earlier search had failed. So we returned to the Allegany County Village of Alma and took Pump Station Road south to a closed dirt road that leads west into the bush. We were not trespassing: Jerry obtained permission to hike here.

It was a beautiful day. I could hear the cheery-cheery-chorry song of a mourning warbler, the latest of the migrating warblers each spring. We saw or heard a half dozen other warbler species and other woodland birds before the day ended.

This road is reasonably level because it follows the contour about halfway up to the ridge to our south. When there was a break in the trees, we could look down at the valley to our north several hundred feet below us. The view was 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 were in abundance: 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 were a few here far from their usual roadside location. Deeper in the woods we found Jack-in-the-pulpit and columbine.

We came across interesting evidence: a dead porcupine; turkey feathers and bones; and several garter snakes that reluctantly retreated.

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

We didn't find the Ellicott marker, but a few days later Jerry phoned to tell me excitedly that he returned and found it. He forgot to take his camera, however, so we'll return once again.?

email: insrisg@buffalo.edu