Mason-Dixon Historical Park: a timeline

The 295-acre Mason-Dixon Historical Park sits along the banks of scenic Dunkard Creek in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The park is the site of Mason-Dixon 250 in 2017, a celebration to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the end of the renowned Mason-Dixon Line survey. Come along for a walk in the footsteps of history as we explore the past in the park:



-- Compiled by Betty L. Wiley from park records

October 1767:  Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon stopped their survey on this property because their Native American guides refused to continue. Indian agent Johnson had negotiated safe passage and it ended here. As their final marker, Mason and Dixon erected a 5-foot post and heaped stones around it nearly to the top.The the surveyors fell 21 miles, 761.9 feet short of their goal -- the present-day southwest corner of Pennsylvania.

1883: During a resurvey of the West Virginia and Pennsylvania borders, a team lead by Cephas H. Sinclair placed a stone marker in the precise spot that Mason and Dixon had erected their final earth and stone  monument. This stone remains today atop Brown's Hill.

Oct. 15, 1968: Dr. Eldon P. Tucker, a retired Morgantown physician, became interested in the history of the Mason-Dixon Line. He talked with Dr. Hughlett Mason, who had transcribed the original Journal of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. They confirmed that the last marker placed by Mason and Dixon was on Brown's Hill.  Apparently local residents were not aware of this. Dr. Tucker started working to get national landmark status for Mason and Dixon's stopping point.

Jan. 6, 1969:  Charles and Delores LaPoe, owners of the 397-acre farm, sold their land to Consolidated Gas Corporation (Hope Gas) to be developed as an industrial park. Hope Gas then leased the LaPoes the house and property for 10 years, and they could stay there until the industrial park would be developed. Later, the lease was extended until March 1984.

The newly formed Monongalia County Development Authority was promoting an industrial park on part of the property, the 130 acres south of Buckeye Road (where the LaPoe Village mobile home park now exists.)

Efforts to attract industry failed because the property can only be reached by crossing one of two bridges over Dunkard Creek, and the bridges were old and not adequate for industrial use. One company was prepared to move in and the state of West Virginia promised to build a bridge, but never did. So that company went elsewhere.

Time passed, and in 1974, the poor condition of bridges also resulted in local demonstrations by parents who protested their children having to get off the school bus and walk across the bridges.

Also, there were protests against the development of industry on the land south of Buckeye Road, where an AD 900 Monongahela village Native American site is located.

Feb. 2, 1969: A feature story was published in the local newspaper about Brown's Hill and the marker of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Spring 1969:  Dr. Eldon Tucker began arranging meetings with the Monongalia Historical Society, Hope Gas, the West Virginia University engineering school, and national, state, and local politicians promoting the idea of having a public park on the property around the Mason-Dixon marker, since the property now was owned by Hope Gas and not a private family.

Dr. Tucker kept working on the park idea for the rest of his life, through 1975. Response was favorable. The bicentennial year, 1976, was approaching and there was legislation permitting every state to establish a new park ]to commemorate the nation's 200th year. The Mason-Dixon property was a perfect place to do this. Dr. Tucker was also on the Monongalia County Bicentennial Committee promoting a new park.

Hope Gas officials wrote favorable letters several times agreeing to donate all or part of the land for a recreational/historical park if and when plans were developed and money made available.

May 4, 1973: Dr. Edward S. Neumann, engineering professor at West Virginia University, and his senior class presented an 88-page study of design recommendations for the park.

Dec. 18, 1973: The Monongalia County Bicentennial Committee wrote to the state legislature about developing a historical and recreational park for the historic Mason-Dixon Line. Highway markers were installed and the site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The letter said Hope Gas will donate the property to a county, state, or federal agency.

April 29, 1974: A letter from Hope Gas discussed meetings and plans for a Mason-Dixon Historical Park and the formation of a nonprofit development company to which Hope Gas could give the land.

May 5, 1975: Mason-Dixon Park, Inc. (MDP), was chartered in West Virginia as a nonprofit corporation. It acquired 501 (c)(3) federal tax status in 1984. Dr. Tucker was elected as the first president, Bertram Waychoff of Waynesburg as vice president, and Mildred Clark of Morgantown as secretary-treasurer. Members were volunteers from Monongalia County, W.Va., and Greene County, Pa.

The new nonprofit organization was ready to receive ownership of the property from Hope Gas, and with ownership, the group would be able to apply for government and private grants to fund development. They were planning to obtain adjoining properties to increase the size of the park, which would make it attractive to become a national or state park.

Feb. 9, 1976: Before seeing his great idea become reality, Dr. Eldon Tucker died at the age of 81.

June 24, 1976: Dr. Earl Core, the new president of the MDP, wrote a letter to Hope Gas asking the company to deed approximately 285 acres around the marker to Mason-Dixon Park, Inc., thus following through on the previous  commitment. MDP officials wanted to go ahead and build shelters and trails, and work to get contributions and grants, and to approach adjoining land owners to get additional acreage.

March 18, 1977: Hope Gas deeded the entire property, 397 acres, to the Monongalia County Commission.

September 7, 1977: By this time, Monongalia and Greene counties had agreed to  work together to develop a two-state park The Monongalia County Commission deeded the 135 acres in Pennsylvania to the Greene County Board of Commissioners (sometimes, the number of acres is not exactly the same as in other documents).

October 1978: The Greene County Commissioners donated $5,000, the first money given for the park development.

April 29, 1979: The American Society of Civil Engineers designated the Mason-Dixon Line as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark and put a plaque in the West Virginia Welcome Center along Interstate 79.

April 1, 1981: The MDP charter was amended adding "Historical" to the name.  Now, it was Mason-Dixon Historical Park, Inc.

1982: Members of the Warrior Trail Association built an Adirondack shelter just north of  the marker on Brown's Hill, the first structure that was constructed in the park. Because the LaPoe family was still living in the park house and MDHP officials did not want to annoy them, nothing much was being done at the park.

MDHP members were making presentations to any organization that was interested. Blacksville Lions Club members Dr. Hugh Shafer and engineer Charles Snider became active in working at the park, and this inspired others.

April 4, 1982: A Morgantown developer optioned the industrial park property and advertised for businesses unsuccessfully. When asked, he said it was a bad location for industry.

Earlier while attempting to establish the industrial par,  the Development Authority was offered a $500,000 federal grant to build industrial park infrastructure. But when the granting agency learned there had been an Indian village site on the property, they demanded an archaeological survey be conducted at a cost of $25,000. The Development Authority refused so the grant was lost.

At the time there was construction of a public water system for the area, the Clay-Battelle Public Service District.  As construction approached the area of the proposed industrial park, it was realized that the industrial park would need bigger pipes for increased water supply and a fire hydrant. The Development Authority scrambled to find funding for this. It finally asked the county commissioners to award the property south of Buckeye Road (appraised at $950,000) that could then use as collateral for a $62,000 loan that would match $310,000 grant to pay for the beefed-up water system. The county gave the property in 1979 with the idea that if the industrial park did not succeed, the land would return to county ownership.

But the Development Authority still did not get the loan, so the county provided the $62,000, saying that the C-B PSD would have to pay it back.  The Development Authority kept the land (see March, 1984).

June 18, 1983: The first sign for Mason-Dixon Historical Park was erected (at the lower entrance) following an annual board meeting. The sign was made by high school students from Waynesburg, Pa.

July 1983: Monongalia County appropriated $7,500 for park development in the coming year. The park was authorized to purchase materials and make improvements as needed. All labor was provided by volunteers.

Consolidation Coal Co. built roadways into the park to plug inactive oil and gas wells before longwall coal mining could begin. The company gave the park $5,000 and made a donation for the earth moving for a parking lot and culvert under the roadway. A archaeological study was conducted in areas where earthmoving was done, and along roads, well sites, parking lot, and the ball field.

Summer 1983: Buckeye Community volunteers, headed by Connie Ammons and Charlene Forquer, held the first Dunkard Valley Frontier Festival in the low area occupied by Mason (now Dunkard) Pavilion, out of sight of the LaPoe home.  The festival has been held every year, but in 2001 when Monongalia County displaced the MDHP Inc., the board moved to Connie and Bob Ammons' property in Pennsylvania, about 2 miles north of the park, and the festival continues there as the Mason-Dixon Frontier Festival.

March 1984:  In their regular monthly meeting (attended by Betty Wiley and Connie Ammons), the Monongalia County Development Authority accepted an offer from the LaPoe family for $50,000 for the 130 acres south of Buckeye Road (which had been appraised for $950,000). When notified later that night,  County Commissioners immediately protested because they wanted the land back, but a delay in sending a letter to the Development Authority resulted in the sale being finalized. The Development Authority gave the Commission the $50,000. The sale stood.  

The sale was illegal, as corroborated by a lawyer who reviewed the files, but a lack of political will on the part of county commissioners resulted in loss of valuable land to the citizens of Monongalia County. They were simply afraid it would be too unpopular to "go after" a private citizen to regain the property.

June 1984: Volunteers built Mason (now Dunkard) pavilion near Dunkard Creek. They used materials purchased by the County Commission.

Connie Ammons volunteered to take care of scheduling pavilion usage. Later, she also took care of ball field usage. A small fee was charged but youth groups used all facilities free of cost.

July 1984: The Monongalia County Commission earmarked $7,500 for the park, the first of many annual grants to be used by MDHP volunteers in developing the park (all the funding provided by the Monongalia County Commission is not necessarily listed in this history). Progress included construction of the ball field, drainage, picnic tables using plastic frames and lumber. All work was done by volunteers.

The MDHP established a tradition of monthly work-days, one Saturday a month.  Lunch was provided by the ladies, as the men did the work of building, digging, running equipment, etc.

Nov. 5, 1985: The county commission leased to the MDHP part of the park property 14.69 acres (800 feet x 800 feet) that included the house. The lease was for $1 per year and was supposed to be renewed every year (it was NOT renewed every year and was generally forgotten for years). The MDHP volunteers worked on the entire park, including the Pennsylvania part, although Greene County's part was managed by its parks department.

The lease allegedly was for liability purposes, as the county insurance did not cover volunteers. In addition, it was to give the volunteers a sense of security, that at last something was in writing saying they had a piece of the action.

The pavilion and ball field were built outside the leased area. The MDHP Inc. had its own insurance on-again off-again due to confusion about whether it was needed.

It was an extremely poorly constructed lease that ended up being detrimental to the taxpayers of Monongalia County. Among other things, it said that if and when the MDHP Inc. would leave the property, the board could take its improvements with them. It is fairly clear that nobody read the lease before signing it, because volunteers desiring to develop the park would not want to remove what they had built; and surely the County Commission would not want that to happen either.  Yet both signed it.

(Jumping ahead, Connie Ammons with the MDHP Inc. board later sued the Monongalia County Commission, wanting either to "remove their improvements" (pavilions, etc.) or be compensated by money.  The lawsuit was frivolous to one who was familiar with the facts.  But the county ended up paying several thousand dollars to settle the suit.)

At the time of leasing,  the Commission budgeted an $8,500 stipend and made an additional $25,000 available. The commissioners at the time were very positive about park development and the value of work done by volunteers.

Spring 1986:  Barn renovation and new roof on barn cost $14,500.  Five pieces of playground equipment were purchased and installed at a cost of $6,760.10.  

During the winter and spring, a heavy-duty picnic table, one chemical toilet (portajohn), and 10 bench-tables were stolen.

Summer and fall, 1986: An oil derrick was erected on the hill where the cabins now stand. The intention was to demonstrate the pumping process. But the derrick was not anchored well enough and a freakish winds toppled it. So the wreckage had to be removed and the project was terminated.

Another project was the pouring of concrete for the basketball court, which could be used for square dances, winter ice skating and other activities. The cost was $5,551.87, paid by the county commission. Many other projects were completed, including the running of electric power to the pavilion.

1987 A basic amphitheater (uncovered stage) was constructed quickly because it was needed for participation in Morgantown Riverfront Park's Mason-Dixon Festival in October. The road along the creek was cleared and ready to be used during that new festival for horse and wagon trips across the Mason-Dixon Line.

The fifth annual Frontier Festival was held Aug 29. It was becoming very popular and people came from far and wide. Free admission and low-cost food sold by the park (soup beans and cornbread for $1) made it possible for many families to attend, even those who were out of work. Park volunteers wanted to make the public welcome and for nobody to be excluded because of lack of money. Even with free admission and cheap food, the park made a profit because volunteers donated most of the food that was sold.

The ball field and pavilion were in nearly constant use.The pavilion was reserved 54 times, the ball field reserved 34 times. And $749.50 was collected in user fees for park upkeep.

Oct. 11, 1987: The first annual three-park Mason-Dixon Festival was held at Morgantown's Riverfront Park and included this park and a Point Marion, Pa., park. Attendees could cross the Mason-Dixon Line on a riverboat or by horse and wagon along Dunkard Creek back to the South Bottom, and received a certificate saying they had crossed the Mason-Dixon Line. The food that was sold included buckwheat cakes and whole hog fresh sausage. The festival was a great success. The new amphitheater was used for performances.This festival, like the Frontier Festival, was free.

1988: The old iron bridge at the east side of the park was replaced by a temporary Acrow bridge (for 25 years).  Many projects were accomplished this year.

Jerry and Sandra Keller and their three daughters were caretakers who lived in the park house. They paid $150 per month to rent the house and it was paid by their labor at $8 per hour and their investment in materials.  Jerry Keller was a game warden.  The oldest daughter was paid for mowing.  The County Commission gave them a 5-year lease. The Kellers proposed the idea of having a Ramp Feast, which became a very popular annual event.

1989: At the Red Barn, restrooms, a dining room and a kitchen were constructed. Kitchen equipment was purchased at a surplus sale.The house received insulation and new windows. Picnic tables were built and trails were cleared.

1990: Contractors gave proposals for completion of the amphitheater. County commissioners from Greene and Monongalia met and inspected the amphitheater and were interested in seeing it completed. But the year passed and no funding was promised for the project.

The ball field was reserved 121 times. The house got new roofing. Many other projects were completed by volunteers and regular monthly work-days continued.

In late fall, 14 students and instructors from the West Virginia College Student Chapter of the Association of Land Surveyors from Glenville State College put in a hard day of work. Hugh M. Shaffer opened up and restored the original 24-foot swath, 150 feet on each side of the Brown's Hill near the Mason-Dixon marker along the original Mason-Dixon Line. They planned to add interpretive signs (but did not).

April 20, 1991: The first ramp feast cleared $356.35 for the park (after paying $96.35 for supplies). Soup beans, cornbread, ham and ramps were popular.  It is believed to be the first ramp dinner to be held in the area. The Kellers were familiar with the Ripley, W.Va., ramp feast and came up with the idea.  

Also in 1991: The ball field was reserved 95 times by 10 teams. Connie Ammons collected $1,382.50 in park user fees. The buckwheat dinner cleared $569.

The ninth annual Dunkard Valley Frontier Festival was held Aug. 24, and a square dance held the night before on the basketball court was well attended.

The 911 Tactical Air Group, a reserve military group, constructed a maintenance road to the marker and signed a memorandum of understanding for continued cooperation in conducting meaningful training projects in the park (not sure what projects).

The campaign continued to complete the amphitheater, which had a $1million price tag. The Monongalia County Commission set aside $15,000 in the 1991-92 budget and Greene County received a promise of $2,500 from Pennsylvania. Volunteers constructed benches at the amphitheater using split oak logs, with capacity for hundreds of people.  

The benches deteriorated quickly and didn't last long. The amphitheater stage had been covered with a big tarp and was not safe to walk on as it was rotting.  About 1997, Monongalia County Commissioner Betty Wiley asked the head of county maintenance, Bobby Doyle, if his guys could construct an amphitheater building on the foundation, which consisted of pylons made of treated electric poles. So they built the amphitheater that exists today, and it was used by various musical performers for several years. Pigeons moved in and it became unusable. About 2015-16, the county refurbished the structure to repel pigeons and in 2017 further improvements were made under a new superintendent.

1994: The Kellers moved out of the park house. Bob and Connie Ammons moved in. They leased it from the county commission rent-free in return for providing park management. They paid their own utilities. Their personal phone landline served as the park phone line and they continued to pay the bill, which in those years required long-distance fees and was usually high (there were no cell phones).  When nobody was readily available to mow the grass, Connie Ammons took the contract and was paid for that job.

2000: At the suggestion of the county commissioners, who were impressed by Connie Ammons's work in promoting and managing the park, the MDHP board of directors started paying Connie $15,000 per year as a contractor from funds appropriated by the commission in the regular annual budget request from the MDHP (this was a year-to-year item that might not always be available, depending on the county's budget).  

2001:  Asel Kennedy, who replaced Betty Wiley as county commissioner, introduced the subject of the expired lease between the commission and the MDHP, and the same badly constructed lease was renewed. It apparently was not evaluated and was very detrimental to the county and the park. It remained necessary to renew the lease every year. Although it only covered 14.69 acres of the park, the MDHP Inc. actually managed the entire park.

August 2002: The Monongalia County Commission decided that it would not renew the MDHP lease, but would instead appoint its own board to run Mason-Dixon Historical Park, in the same way that it appoints boards to run the other two county parks, Camp Muffly and Chestnut Ridge.

This action was seen by the MDHP Inc., after 27 years of dedication to development and management of the park, as a hostile takeover.  Some volunteers accepted the change; some former volunteers who had left the park came back. Most of the MDHP Inc. board members joined with Connie Ammons to leave Mason-Dixon Historical Park, where they had worked for years, to start a new Mason-Dixon Historical Park on her 30-acre property nearby in Pennsylvania.  As a corporation, that groups owns the name. The MDHP Inc. was created to develop the property where Mason and Dixon stopped their survey. Since that group decided to abandon the original project, it may not be legal for that group to keep the name, but the West Virginia Secretary of State was not interested in pursuing the issue.
 
Nov. 5, 2002: Connie and Bob Ammons were required to vacate the house but negotiated an extension of a few weeks. It was a time of turmoil and the MDHP Inc. sued the county, claiming ownership of their "improvements" which, under the poorly constructed lease, they could take with them if they left the park. The very concept was inappropriate, but the end result was that the county paid several thousand dollars to settle the lawsuit.

Frontier Festival participants (vendors, demonstrators, Civil War reenactors, Native Americans), and volunteers sympathetic to former caretaker Ammons and chagrined at being displaced, continue the festival at the Ammons property.  Even after more than a decade, people are confused about the existence of two Mason-Dixon Historical parks.

The irony is that the park is really just two pieces of property in two states.  It is not officially protected or designated as an actual park. There is a need for a small interpretive history museum about the Mason-Dixon Line and that period of time. No museum should be located upstairs in the Red Barn. Many people cannot go up the stairs. An elevator has been discussed but is not practical.  There is not room on the stairs for a chair lift.

Since 2001, caretakers have been Joe Ritter, Anita Channing, and Bill Wilson. Then the job title changed, and superintendents have been Holly Glisan, Justine McCoy (briefly), Jessica Smith, Rachel Mitchell, and J.R. Petsko (current as of August, 2017).
 
Several years ago, the park received permission to sell reprints of Mason and Dixon's Journal. It costs $26.50 (that includes 6% sales tax).

2013:  Monongalia County Commission changed boards at its three parks to the status of "advisory" boards, and appointed a five-member board to Mason-Dixon Historical Park. 

The end

NOTE: This is a brief but hopefully complete summary and open to fact-finding but not to opinion.  Everybody has their own twist to the story.  Only documented facts are included here.