North Stonington — In the 17th century, colonial settlers built waist-high rock piles through forests and swamps to mark local borders, including the east-west line that divides North Stonington from the three towns to the north.
The piles are still there, but borders with Preston, Griswold, and Voluntown have shifted, differing slightly in each town's maps.
Selectmen here hired a surveyor who tracked down the original pilings and recommends that the four towns return to those old markings to form standard, satellite-confirmed town boundaries.
“Everybody had a random way of drawing their own town tax maps. The town line is where it has always been but nobody has been willing to spend the money to locate it and meld that into their mapping system,” surveyor Donald Aubrey said.
The line Aubrey proposed at a selectmen's meeting Tuesday night would move the border between Preston and North Stonington farther south, ceding a small amount of land to Preston. Voluntown would gain some undeveloped state land. The boundaries would clarify the border between Voluntown and Griswold too, said First Selectman Nicholas H. Mullane II.
Preston First Selectman Robert Congdon was at the meeting and agreed the boundary made sense. Griswold officials had a conflicting meeting and could not attend. Voluntown officials were not present, but Mullane said they were not concerned by the changes, as most of that town's border runs through state land.
The town lines have not been standardized for years, but it's important to address the situation now because some areas in the overlapping maps either are or have the potential to be developed, said Mullane.
“There are subdivisions occurring on the boundary. Therefore, it behooves us to make sure there is a good town survey available,” he said.
There is one home mostly in Preston whose property is partially in North Stonington on some maps. The old boundary puts the whole property squarely in Preston.
Aubrey found the centuries-old piles by trekking through woods and, at some points, swamps that submerged him to the waist.
“There is enough evidence to actually put a straight line down there, which is the intention,” Aubrey said.
Once the towns agree, Aubrey recommends sticking metal rods through the rock piles so they are easy to identify. There are piles made in other centuries as well as Native American burial piles making the terrain confusing to an untrained eye. One of the boundary piles was partially dismantled in colonial days, because it was confused with a burial mound — Native Americans covered cremation sites with stone piles containing the deceased's possessions, Aubrey said.
Griswold First Selectman Philip E. Anthony Jr. was still unfamiliar with the boundary proposal Wednesday afternoon, but said he was open to the idea of working with his fellow selectmen.
As for approving the line, Anthony said, “I guess it depends on whether we're going to gain or lose real estate.”