Mystery-shrouded cornerstone replaced at tri-state corners

A year and a half ago, in the midst of a heated war of words over whether Georgia should rightfully have access to water from the Tennessee River, the century-old stone marker showing the state line corner between Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama disappeared.

photo Staff Photo by Angela Lewis/Chattanooga Times Free Press Hank McLelland, left, and Robert Cagle watch as Sam Lavender, right, mixes concrete around a marker at the intersection of the Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama state lines Tuesday on State Line Road.

On Tuesday, a tri-state survey team replaced the marker that keeps Georgia a stone's throw away from the river.

"We just felt like we needed some kind of official monument placed here to mark the corners of Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama because the rock that was here was a pretty noticeable rock that someone removed," said Jim Hunt, chief of survey operations for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

The marker signifies what surveyors call "a true corner" between the states and helps surveyors establish boundaries, said Hunt, who initiated the new marker's setting.

The original marker, dubbed the Camak stone in honor of Georgia mathematician James Camak, disappeared in the late summer of 2007. No evidence has cleared up what happened.

The stone was first set in 1826, the year Camak made a second calculation to mark the 35th parallel - the guide established by the U.S. Congress in 1796 to mark the boundary of the new state of Tennessee.

But Camak erred.

The Global Positioning System of the day was stars and surveying tools were rudimentary: chains, compasses and pages upon pages of mathematical tables.

In the end, Camak set the boundary about a mile south of the real 35th parallel.

Had the line been designated correctly, it would fall about in the middle of the main channel of the Tennessee River near Nickajack Cave.

On Tuesday, the men setting the new marker - complete with brass topper aligning the state's borders as they are known today - said their effort has nothing to do with Tennessee and Georgia's ongoing squabble to take water for thirsty Atlanta from the Tennessee River.

"Tennessee and Georgia should be doing this. Because it's so important, legally and everything else. But Alabama's doing it," said Bill Morton, author of "The Story of Georgia's Boundaries: A Meeting of History and Geography."

Bart Crattie, a surveyor from Lookout Mountain, Ga., started what became known as the border war when he wrote an article about the flawed survey in 2007 for a magazine of the surveyors historical society.

"Alabama's a good neutral party for this," Crattie said.

Morton, a physician and attorney who came to the stone's setting because of his interest in history and his book, suggested the group should have brought wine to christen the new marker.

"Moonshine would be more like it," joked Robert Cagle, a Tennessee surveyor and officer of the Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia Land Surveyors Historical Society.

It was home-made liquor, some historians say, that played a role in the stone's first flawed setting.