When Wake County was formed in 1771, its borders were set by landmarks such as “John Beddingfield’s plantation” and “David Mimm’s mill creek.”
But with these waypoints lost to time, there are some disputes about where exactly county lines lie. Now Wake is trying to fix discrepancies along its borders with Harnett and Chatham counties that could affect 122 properties and 27 homes.
Wake and Harnett officials will host a joint public meeting Tuesday, Dec. 5, to talk about potential impacts on residents. They haven’t completed a list of property owners who could be affected, but they say some residents will likely be moved from one county to another.
A difference of a few dozen feet might not seem like a big deal, but county lines help determine where property owners pay taxes, where children attend school and which fire department responds to an emergency.
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The biggest dispute is along Wake’s southern border with Harnett, where both counties claim a 200-foot-wide strip of land near a bend in Rawls Church Road just north of Angier. That border is supposed to be a straight line, but squiggles and gaps were introduced over the years as property owners platted all their land in one county even if it straddled county lines, said Tim Maloney, Wake’s director of planning, development and inspections.
“When a surveyor comes in with a plat, and there’s a jurisdictional line, these days we’ll talk with the neighboring counties to make sure we agree where it is,” Maloney said. “But in the past, that probably wasn’t done. So it became a puzzle of different versions of the line.”
Frustrated by the hassle of dealing with disputed properties on a case-by-case basis, surveyors set out to trace the history of the border and settle, once and for all, where it should be drawn.
That began with an effort to establish the true corner of Wake, Harnett and Chatham counties. If they could agree on that, surveyors reasoned, the straight line that’s supposed to form the Wake-Harnett boundary could easily be redrawn from the corner.
Ron Harding and David Ferraro, surveyors with the North Carolina Geodetic Survey, visited courthouses in all three counties to trace the deeds near the corner back through the centuries. The group is tasked with drawing county lines and establishing the location of other significant state landmarks.
“A lot of times it doesn’t work out because there were fires over the years, but in this case, we actually found this information in Harnett and Chatham counties from March 31 of 1780,” Harding said. “We took that and interpreted it as best we could, because it’s all in cursive writing. They use different measurements, so we had to translate that to feet. We were able to plot that out and see how that fit within the polygons of tax parcels and deeds we have today.”
They also found references to a corresponding landmark in a 1923 deed – an iron rod in a rock pile in the woods near what is today Harris Lake. Harding said the rod had been driven into the ground sometime between 1780 and 1923 to replace a nearby hickory tree that had originally served as the county corner.
After traipsing around in the woods, surveyors found the rod in the rock pile late last spring and realized Wake’s most recent survey had placed the corner 520 feet east of its intended location.
“Our main objective, what we’re mandated to do, is follow the original intent of that boundary line,” Harding said. “That’s why we use the term resurvey instead of re-establish.”
Surveyors plan to adopt the rod as the official tri-county corner and draw a straight line to the southeast to form the Wake-Harnett border. That boundary will replace the mishmash of lines currently in use.
The move will be less consequential for Wake’s border with Chatham County, only affecting Harris Lake and nearby vacant tracts of land, most of which are owned by Duke Energy.
This isn’t the first time Wake has had to dive into historical records to find out where the county ends and its neighbor begins. Wake revised its western border with Chatham County in 1961 and resolved a border dispute with Franklin County to the north in 2009.
To correct the current border disputes, commissioners from Wake, Harnett and Chatham counties would have to approve new boundaries, likely next year.
Uncertainty about county boundaries is common in North Carolina, Maloney said. Urbanizing counties like Wake tend to uncover discrepancies more often, he said, because new development along inconsistent borders requires a resolution.
Wake was originally carved from Cumberland, Johnston and Orange counties. According to an official county history, Wake was formed in 1771 at the request of those living in southern Orange County – now southwestern Wake and eastern Chatham counties – who complained of the “ ‘vast distance’ from their homes to the Orange County seat of ‘Hillsburrah (Hillsborough).’ ”
The colonial government, which believed that smaller counties would be easier to govern, encouraged this subdivision.
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan
The original Wake County
Here’s the complete text of Wake County’s statutory boundaries, as written in 1771 and preserved by state’s Department of Archives and History. This law excludes its northern border with Franklin County, which was established in 1805 when Granville County was formed.
“Beginning at Edgecomb Line (now Franklin County) on Mocossin Swamp, a Mile above James Lea’s Plantation, running a direct Line to Neuse River, at the upper End of John Beddingfield’s Plantation; then to David Mimm’s Mill Creek, between Mimm’s Mill and Tanner’s old Mill; then the same course continued to the Ridge which divides Cumberland and Johnston Counties; then a straight Line to Orange Line, at the lower End of Richard Hill’s Plantation, on Buckhorn (Creek); then the same Course continued Five Miles; then to the Corner of Johnston County on Granville Line; then with the same Line and Bute Line to Edgecomb Line; and along Edgecomb Line to the Beginning; be thenceforth erected into a Distinct County and Parish by the name of Wake County, and St. Margaret’s Parish.”
A joint meeting for Wake and Harnett counties is set for Dec. 5 at the Northwest Harnett Fire Station, 6015 Christian Light Road, Fuquay-Varina. A time has not yet been announced.
Surveyors and county officials will explain the border approval process and take questions from residents about what might happen to them and their properties if the new boundaries are approved.