Where exactly is the Mason-Dixon Line?

I grew up in Indiana, north of the Mason-Dixon Line.  While I’m a Yankee by birth, my family on my mother’s side moved to Indiana from Tennessee.   When my mother grew up, there was a steady stream of Barrett and Ritchie family members driving between Indiana and Tennessee to visit one another.  I also have an ancestor, William Barrett Travis, who fought at the Alamo.  So, I’m a Yankee with southern ties.

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Having lived in both the north and in the south, I was curious about where exactly the Mason-Dixon Line was and if indeed it was a real geographical line or just something that people talked about.

In popular usage, the Mason-Dixon Line symbolizes a cultural boundary between the North and South and often makes reference to the Civil War.  But in reality, the Mason-Dixon Line existed 100 years before the war between the states.

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There was a land dispute between the Penn family of Pennsylvania, and the Calvert family of Maryland, over the border between the two (British at the time) colonies.  In 1763, the two families commissioned Englishmen, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, to do a survey to solve their 80 year, three-generation-long property dispute.  Both families had been deeded land by British kings but the deeds overlapped.  Mason and Dixon were hired to settle the dispute once and for all.

Mason was an astronomer and Dixon was a surveyor and they used celestial measurements to determine an accurate 233 mile-long boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland, as well as an 83 mile-long boundary between Maryland and Delaware.  It took them four, almost five years to accomplish this task and Charles Mason kept a hand-written manuscript journal that now rests in the National Archives in Washington D. C.

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In his journal, Mason detailed facts about the American Frontier at the time as well as information about the work he and Jeremiah Dixon were doing. Mason’s journal provides the most complete record of the survey and its progress. The journal includes his astronomical observations, personal notes about the American frontier, and his notes about his experiences in colonial America.

Mason and Dixon started their work in the southwest corner of present-day Delaware.   As they surveyed, they measured distances with wrought-iron chains and computed distance, heights, and angles using trigonometry.  They had a team with them which included Native American guides, tent carriers, chain carriers, and ax men who cut trees for them.  They faced snakes, wild animals and the elements as they made their 233 mile trek to the north and west.

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The new border was marked with large blocks of limestone; some weighing as much as 600 pounds. Although most of the stone markers have disappeared over time, there are efforts by state officials and history buffs to protect the 81 original markers that remain.

mason dixon line map The Mason-Dixon Line was resurveyed in 1902 and found to be surprisingly accurate.  It is still a demarcation line for four U. S. states…Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia.

So how did the Mason-Dixon Line become associated with the Civil War?

The southern plantation owners relied on their slaves to produce cotton and tobacco and other crops.  Southerners saw the actions of the northern states to abolish slavery as a threat to their way of life.  Abraham Lincoln had already spoken out against slavery before the election, so the South was not happy when he became our 16th president.

The Civil War began after seven states which permitted slavery decided to secede from the United States after Lincoln’s election in November of 1860.  These seven states…Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas…created their own government in February of 1861 and called themselves the Confederacy.

President Lincoln took office in March of 1861, and the United States rejected the secession and declared the Confederacy illegal.

The Civil War began in April of 1861 and four more states…Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia…joined the Confederacy.  Later, Kentucky and Missouri joined the Confederacy although neither state officially seceded from the United States.  The Mason-Dixon Line came to symbolize the boundary between the slave states of the Confederacy and the non-slave states of the Union.  The division line began in the east where Mason and Dixon had created it, and then extended westward to and along the Ohio River to the Mississippi River and then farther west to Kansas.

Fortunately, this boundary is a thing of the past, but it still reminds us of a very divisive and difficult time in our nation’s history.

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Author’s note:  Check out the song link in the comment about this post by my friend, Ron Webster.  The song is “Sailing to Philadelphia” by Mark Knopfler and is about Mr. Mason and Mr. Dixon.



Wash Day

Writing about my dishwasher adventures last week got me thinking about other appliances and the days before we had them.  Long before the clothes dryer was the clothesline.  When I was a girl, everyone had a clothesline in their backyard.  Laundry was done once a week and you always knew your neighbor’s “wash day” because of the clothing and sheets and towels gently swaying in the breeze on their clotheslines.

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I remember many a summer day as a girl, following my mother out the back door of our house to hang the wash.  She carried a basket full of wet clothes fresh from the washing machine, and I carried the bag of wooden clothespins.  I stood next to her handing her clothespins as she moved down the clothesline hanging piece after piece of wet clothing and linens.  As we shared those times together, I learned about the closeness and satisfaction that comes with working on a project with someone else.

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Most clothesline structures had two metal (steel or aluminum) posts that were about six feet high and were placed 20 to 25 feet apart.  The clothesline, which was made of rope, cord, wire or twine, was strung between these two posts.  Some folks had umbrella clotheslines that were circular in shape and took up much less space in the backyard.

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Our clothesline had posts made of steel that were T-shaped, and they had three lines stretched between them.  That way, things like sheets and towels and pants could be hung on the outside lines, and the more private items like pajamas and undergarments could be somewhat hidden hanging on the inside line.  When I was a small child, my brother and I used to point and giggle when we would see the neighbor’s underwear hanging outside on their clothesline.

Since heavy wet items such as blankets and towels could make the clothesline sag, my mother had a 2” x 4” wood board with a notch in the top that she would slide under the heavy line to prop it up and keep the wet laundry from dragging on the ground.  I confess that I might have talked my little brother into hanging onto the clothesline with both hands while I propped it up so he could swing from it.  I might have done that.

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And oh how quickly we would run for the backyard if a sudden storm should blow in when the clothes were still out on the line.  My mother and I would run up and down the clothesline trying to grab the clothes before the rain started to fall.

We had an electric clothes dryer too, but my mother preferred to use it only in the winter when it was cold and snowy in the Midwest where I grew up.  She said that hanging our clothes out in the warm sun on the clothesline saved us money by not using electricity and “made our clothes smell good.”

My grandmother also had a clothesline in her backyard and hers was between her house and the barn.  Much like I did at home with my mother, I would help my grandmother hang the laundry.  Later when I became a teenager, I loved to hang the clean laundry on the line for her.

When I was very young, my grandmother would lay a quilt on the ground underneath her clothesline and then she would hang another quilt over the line to make a fun and secret hideout for my cousins and me.  We would sit in our clothesline tent and talk about all the things that young girls and cousins talk about.  Now and then, a stray chicken or duck would wander up from the barnyard and peek in at us…and then how we would laugh!

I didn’t have a clothesline when my own kids were small, but I used to make a cool fort for them by hanging quilts over the dining room table.  They spent many hours playing in those forts, especially on cold winter days when the weather kept us indoors.  I think my grandmother would have been proud of my version of her clothesline tent!

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*Author’s note:  The first version of a clothes dryer was called a “ventilator” and was invented by a Frenchman named Pochan around 1800.  It worked by hand cranking a clothes container that was pierced with holes and suspended over a fire.  Clothes would either burn or dry and if they did dry, they smelled like smoke.

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Later, in the 1930’s, an American inventor from North Dakota named J. Ross Moore developed a design for an electrically-operated clothes dryer.  By the 1950’s, many Americans were buying electric clothes dryers for their homes.  Today, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, there are 89 million clothes dryers in homes in the United States.  And, if you look for them, you can still find a few clotheslines in backyards across our country.

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Necessity…The Mother Of Invention

Because of the name of my blog, I often think of my grandmother when I write my new posts.  I wonder sometimes what she would think of the things I write.  I don’t remember her being a big reader…she was a farm woman and there was always work to be done.  But remaining true to the theme of my blog, when I walk down the lane, I write about what’s going on in my life or what’s on my mind that day.


This past week I’ve been thinking about appliances…dishwashers specifically…and I’ve been thinking about them way more than I ever wanted to think about them.  Did you know that the standard size of a dishwasher is 24” wide?  And that there is a noise level scale for them with anything rated at 45 or lower being very quiet when running and thus more expensive?  Exciting, I know.

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Photo by Jeff Hull, Corinth Texas

So my problem child appliance…my dishwasher…gave out after four years of not trying very hard.  In the past four years, it’s been repaired twice.  Of course, the first time was right after the one year manufacturer’s warranty had expired…and then I had it repaired a second time a year ago. Two weeks ago, it started giving me attitude again.  I would start it, then after 15 or 20 minutes, it would stop working and give me an error message.

Oh it still looked good.  It was one of those stainless models with the brushed finish…pretty, sleek…lazy.  Appliances are one of those things that should be seen and not heard.  They should do their job without fail and they shouldn’t require a lot of attention.

This dishwasher was simply one of those pretty boys who looked good but didn’t want to work.  With only three of us in the house, it didn’t have to work very hard.  But, it didn’t want to work at all.  It wanted to simply sit in the kitchen and look good.  It was a slacker appliance. So, as they say, all good things come to an end.  The slacker got the hook this week.

I think sometimes we take things for granted until they are suddenly not there or not working…think appliances, cell phones, laptops, cars.  We have so many modern conveniences because someone at some point in the past had a need and a vision to invent something useful and…we all benefit.

Dishwashers are not that old in the timeline of history.  The first one was invented by a woman from Illinois, Josephine Garis Cochrane, in 1887.  Now Josephine was a wealthy woman and didn’t actually do dishes herself, but she gave a lot of dinner parties and her servants were chipping her fine china so she came up with a solution.  What is that old English proverb…”necessity is the mother of invention.”  Necessity is certainly a great motivator.

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Anyway, Josephine measured her dishes and designed wire compartments and racks that she placed inside a wheel inside a copper boiler.  A motor turned the wheel and hot soapy water squirted up from the bottom to wash the dishes.  Josephine’s friends were very impressed and they wanted her to build them a “Cochrane Dishwasher”.

Soon other people heard about Josephine’s invention and restaurants and hotels in Illinois began ordering this new dishwashing machine.  Josephine patented her design and started the Garis-Cochran Manufacturing Company and went into production. Her dishwasher was unveiled at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and won the top prize for best mechanical construction and durability.

A bit later, the first modern dishwasher was invented in England in 1924 by William Howard Livens.  It was similar to today’s dishwasher but it didn’t have a drying element and it was portable, because built in dishwashers didn’t become commonplace in homes until the 1970’s.

I remember when my family first got a dishwasher.  It was in 1972 and my parents brought it home on a Saturday.  It was on rollers and we could move it around the kitchen.  It was loud when it ran, but it was a beauty.  When we wanted to use it, we rolled it over to the sink and attached a hose to the kitchen faucet.

I was the oldest child in my family and one of my chores was to wash dishes after meals.  That dishwasher changed my young life for the better.  During my teen years when my social life was a priority, that dishwasher helped me get my kitchen chores done quickly so I could get out the door to the roller skating rink or the movies or the dances.

I bought a KitchenAid this time because of its high rating for not needing service.  It’s funny, but the appliance sales people know which of the dishwashers are slackers and which ones aren’t.  They all rolled their eyes and nodded knowingly when I told them the brand I had before and about all the trouble I had getting it to work.

Anyway, Josephine’s company Garis-Cochran Manufacturing later became part of KitchenAid, which then became part of Whirlpool.  I love my new Cochran dishwashing machine…and I expect it to keep working…quietly.

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DO Drink The Water!

In January of 2013, I went to Greenville, Mississippi for one reason and one reason only.  I went there to drink the water.  If you’re a writer, you might already know why.

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Greenville sits about halfway down the west side of the state, right on the Mississippi River.  It’s Delta country and if you cross the Mississippi there on the very long, four-lane cable stay Greenville Bridge, you are in Arkansas.

We had gone to Arkansas for a visit with my husband’s family that weekend, so by the time we got to Greenville, it was Sunday night, it was dark, and the streets were pretty well rolled up.  It looked like something out of an old movie or a Faulkner novel.  (Faulkner was from Oxford, Mississippi but would go to Greenville to write.)  The town was old, almost surreal looking in the darkness as if time had paused to wait for daylight.

We drove around awhile looking for a restaurant that might be open but couldn’t find anything.  Finally, we found a gas station/convenience store on one of the main roads that still had the lights on.

My husband and I went in and found the restrooms.  I turned on the water in the sink and yep, it was a brownish color just as I had heard.  I cupped my hand under the running water and I drank as much as I could hold.

Back in the car, my husband asked, “Do you feel any differently?”

“No, but time will tell.”

So why would I drive 400 miles to drink brown water from a convenience store public restroom you ask?

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Because back in 2002, I read a magazine article that said if you drink the water in Greenville, Mississippi, you will get a book published.  It is folklore, or knowledge, or perhaps simply hope, amongst wannabe published authors.

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Greenville is a town of about 34,000 people and on their city website, they talk about their legendary water and they have a list of all the writers who are either from Greenville, or who come there to live and write.  The Greenville library even has a permanent exhibit devoted to 15 – 20 of its best-known writers.

Writer David Cohn (who is from Greenville) once wrote in a piece for The Atlantic Monthly, that there are more published writers per capita in Greenville than in any other city in the United States.

So, I went to Greenville to drink the water and within a few months I was sent a contract for my first book.  I didn’t actually accept the contract because of my personal need for creative control over the artwork, but what it did was reinforce my opinion that the story was indeed worthy of being turned into a book.

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Making my book, The Button Box, a reality has been a labor of love, and along the way, as a bonus, I picked up some wonderful new friends.  During that same period of time after my visit to Greenville, I was asked to write for Lifestyles of Denton County Magazine and then one of my sons casually said, “Mom, you should really write a blog.”

I don’t know what the deal is with the water in Greenville, Mississippi, but what I do know is that ever since I went there and drank it, the words have been tumbling out of my mind, sometimes faster than I can type.  I can’t turn it off.

Did I drink creativity that day?  Who knows?  All I know is that if this stream ever dries up, I’m heading straight back to Greenville, Mississippi to drink the water again.  In fact, I will plan better the next time and I’m going to bathe in it too.

Author’s note:  Greenville’s water comes from the Cockfield Aquifer, from eastern Mississippi. The water filters through three ancient cypress swamps, picking up particles from wood and vegetation which are thousands of years old. These particles are dissolved in the water, giving it the brown color.  According to the www.livescience.com website, aquifers are underground layers of rock that are saturated with water which can be brought to the surface through natural springs or by pumping.

They could install a filtration system to make the water clear, but the people of Greenville like their water brown.  They say it tastes good, doesn’t stain, and makes skin and hair soft…in addition to having its legendary effect.

Some of the writers from Greenville, Mississippi:

William Alexander Attaway

Charles Bell

Kate Betterton

David William Beckwith

Hodding Carter II

Hodding Carter III

David L. Cohn

Louise Crump

Ellen Douglas

Shelby Foote

Walt Grayson

Brooks Haxton

Charlotte Hays

Gene Holiman

Angela Jackson

Michael Johnston

Ron Kattawar

Bern Keating

Larry Looper

Beverly Lowry

Gayden Metcalfe

Jere Nash

Roger Obye

Walker Percy

William Alexander Percy

Julia Reed

Jessie Rosenberg Schell

Carolyn Stern

Ben Wasson

Wade Wineman

Author’s note:  May 2, 2016…Based on feedback from current and former Greenville residents, I have added names of other writers to this list.  I have also had the pleasure of speaking with Kay Clanton, director of the public library in Greenville, Mississippi today and I will be donating copies of my books!

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