Volunteers Work To Save D.c.'s Oldest Monuments (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Volunteers Work To Save D.C.'s Oldest Monuments

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:02
We begin with that first one I mentioned, defining the borders of our fair city. Now, if you ever looked at a map of D.C., you've probably noticed that the boundaries of our nation's capital form a diamond. These days, that diamond is technically missing a corner in the southwest. That's the piece of land that Congress handed back to Virginia in the 1840s. But that diamond was whole back in 1791, when it was created by a surveying team led by Major Andrew Ellicott.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:29
Along that diamond's borders, Major Ellicott's team placed 40 stones, all made of sandstone from the Aquia Creek quarry. That's the same place we got stones for the U.S. Capitol and the White House. The boundary stones, as we now know them, are the oldest monuments in D.C., and the first ever purchased by the federal government.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:47
Here's the thing, though, after more than 200 years, the boundary stones and the iron fences put up in the 1900s to help protect the stones have seen better days. Which is why since 2010, a group of volunteers has visited the stones every May and October to do preservation work. In this case...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN

00:01:10
Whatever stays on could be painted over.

MR. STEPHEN POWERS

00:01:12
Yeah, just keep scraping.

SHEIR

00:01:14
Scraping off the fences' crumbling paint so it can be replaced with a rich hunter green shade.

POWERS

00:01:19
I'm going to get more workers over here, though, because the Southwest #1 and Southwest #2 are just about done now. So we'll get some of those volunteers and move them around.

SHEIR

00:01:28
We're in northern Virginia, at the edge of a yard off King Street, at the stone site known as Southwest #4.

POWERS

00:01:34
And I want to see where I am on 5 and 6.

SHEIR

00:01:38
Our volunteer wrangler here is Stephen Powers. Powers grew up in the D.C. area. And a handful of years ago, he decided to take his children to visit all 40 stones.

POWERS

00:01:46
As I started taking them to the stones, I got what I call stones fever. And I took over 3,500 photos of the stones, and did condition studies of them.

SHEIR

00:01:57
Since then, he's become acting co-chair of what has got to be my favorite acronym of all time.

POWERS

00:02:03
NACABOSTCO.

SHEIR

00:02:04
Which stands for?

POWERS

00:02:05
The Nation's Capital Boundary Stones Committee. It's made up of close to 30 different groups, local governments, historical societies.

SHEIR

00:02:13
Not to mention organizations like the American Society of Civil Engineers - National Capital Section, and the Daughters of the American Revolution, who actually first put up those fences. NACABOSTCO seeks to do two things. One...

POWERS

00:02:25
Raise public awareness.

SHEIR

00:02:27
And two, unite the boundary stones under one owner.

POWERS

00:02:29
The federal government.

SHEIR

00:02:31
Because currently, the stones on the Maryland-D.C., border fall under the auspices of the DDOT.

POWERS

00:02:36
The District Department of Transportation.

SHEIR

00:02:38
Which says it doesn't have funding for restoration or preservation. And in Virginia...

POWERS

00:02:43
When the government retroceded the lands, also retroceded the stones. So the Virginia stones are all owned by that individual landowner, many of them are in private yards. One of them is in a church parking lot. And the owner of that land actually owns those stones.

SHEIR

00:03:02
So, right now, NACABOSTCO is working on an application to submit the stones for National Historic Landmark status.

POWERS

00:03:08
That would create federal funding and an ownership. And these stones would no longer be orphaned and forgotten, and would lead to them surviving for future generations to enjoy.

SHEIR

00:03:20
Because in a way, it's kind of shocking this generation has been able to enjoy the stones, or the ones that remain, anyhow. See, originally, there were four cornerstones, and then nine stones on each 10-mile leg.

POWERS

00:03:32
Thus, there's 40 sites and stones.

SHEIR

00:03:35
But four of those sites no longer have their original stones. Instead...

POWERS

00:03:39
One has a plaque.

SHEIR

00:03:40
Two feature replicas.

POWERS

00:03:41
And the final stone acts as storage and we're hoping to get that one back into the ground. So, 37 of the original stones actually still exist.

SHEIR

00:03:51
And boy, have those stones been through a lot. Stephen Powers says some were used for target practice during the Civil War. Southwest #4 was repeatedly struck by farm plows. And a couple of miles north, on to another stone?

POWERS

00:04:04
Yep. Now this stone you can actually see engraving on.

SHEIR

00:04:08
On Jefferson Street, just south of Columbia Pike...

POWERS

00:04:10
And here is number six right here. We'll go down and we'd make a U-turn and come back around.

SHEIR

00:04:15
Southwest #6 was hit by a car. We're actually -- we're in the median right now.

POWERS

00:04:20
We're right in the middle of the median. The stone is in the median. That's why it was hit by a car back in 1966 and why it's broken in half. We'd like to see this median actually widened, maybe put some more protective bollards or something around it so that another accident wouldn't happen in the future.

SHEIR

00:04:40
That would, of course, require some major engineering. So Powers says it's a good thing the American Society of Civil Engineers - National Capital Section is on board. The organization hopes to designate the boundary stones an ASCE Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. It also hopes to design and raise funds for a public park at the East Corner Stone. The West Corner Stone, south of West Street in Falls Church, already has a park, named for Major Andrew Ellicott.

SHEIR

00:05:05
But, otherwise, Stephen Powers says, the boundary stones are largely forgotten. People either pass right by without noticing. Or, if they do notice...

POWERS

00:05:13
Local residents will come up to us and say: Is that a gravestone? What is that? When we tell them what it is, they get very excited by it.

SHEIR

00:05:23
And the hope, he says, is that the federal government will get excited, too. And, hey, maybe even come down with a case of "stones fever" itself.

SHEIR

00:05:34
If you'd like to visit all 40 boundary stone sites or at least see a map of where they lie, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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