Drive around Mercer County near Princeton, and there's a chance you'll come across Province Line Road. Since you'd be comfortably inland from the state boundaries of the Delaware River and the Atlantic Ocean, you'd be excused for wondering how that name came about. The road certainly isn't marking any contemporary boundary, so what's the deal?
I discovered the cause during a recent wandering on County Route 518. Transfixed by the pastoral scenery, I saw the street sign for Province Line and took a turn to see where it would take me. Rounding the corner, I noticed this on my side of the intersection:
To save your eyes a bit of strain, I'll give you the synopsis. When the English took control of the New York/New Jersey area in 1664, the Duke of York gave New Jersey to two lords, Carteret and Berkeley, who probably never even set foot in the New World. The two then designated local representatives to sell portions of their shares to people who actually lived here, who became known as proprietors. (I shared a little of this in an entry about our visit to Perth Amboy last year.)
Look at the map on the plaque, and you'll see a dotted line above Three Bridges. That's where the fun starts. Naturally, when land is conveyed to new owners, boundaries are decided upon, but when it came to East and West Jersey, the process wasn't as simple as a brief discussion over a map. The Duke had divided the east and west provinces with a diagonal line reaching from Little Egg Harbor on the Atlantic to the spot where New Jersey and New York meet on the Delaware River. Sounds easy, right? It would have been, but that border wasn't officially settled until 1769. You can see the problem.
East-west lines were drawn in 1687 and 1719, but the one that stuck was plotted in 1743 by John Lawrence, now marked by Province Line Road near the plaque I found. Nonetheless, the proprietors of continued to squabble over the boundary for another 140 years. These guys really took their jobs seriously, even after their work ceased to have much relevance from a property-deeding perspective. They could learn a lesson from Steve Chernoski, the documentarian who's tackled the mystery of the line between North and South Jersey. Drive around a bit, ask the locals which side they identify with more, and decide by acclaim.
I read a few years ago that a group of surveyors were using GPS instruments to determine the straightness of Lawrence's line. If they drove the same stretch of Province Line Road that I did, they'd be pretty impressed. Check out how straight it is:
I wish I could report that the full length of the road is as pin-straight and travels clear to Little Egg Harbor, but it's not and it doesn't. About a mile away from where I took this photo, I ran into a dead end and had to resort to an intersecting street. Looking at the map when I got home, I discovered the road makes some twists and turns before terminating near a shopping mall.