If you have never heard of the ‘Mud Turtle Monument’ you are probably not alone. Yet the placement of this remarkable stone ended a 150 year old dispute between New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont over their shared boundary.
New Hampshire claims all of the Connecticut River along the VT – NH border and this tri-state point was originally placed at the low-water mark, ending at the Massachusetts state line. The monument is still there, only now it sits beneath at least 12-14 feet of water and sand.
Historically the 200-mile Connecticut River’s west bank at the low water mark was considered New Hampshire’s domain and its Vermont boundary. As a series of ten power dams were built along the river, the water height changed. New Hampshire inherited the duty of maintaining most of the bridges across the river.
The last time the “Mud Turtle” monument was uncovered was in 1970 [not 1969 as some articles say] when the Connecticut River’s waters were lowered from the 3rd through the 23rd of October. Willis Parker, Paul Murray and Ernest Murray uncovered the “Mud Turtle” with the aid of Robert Johnson, surveyor. The newspaper notes that several hundred people were able to observe the marker and some signed a guest book. When work was completed on the Turners Falls Dam in Massachusetts, the water was again raised, hiding the monument on the sandy river bottom as it remains today.
It can get confusing, for there are a number of other monuments, a variety of larger ones placed in 1897 that “point to” or reference the original boundary marker, but are not in fact sitting on the actual spot as the Mud Turtle monument does. There are also a series of bronze plates placed later in 1937 (see details in time line below).
1741: The original border line was established on April 16, 1741 with the computations based on surveys use of the compass in daylight and secondary checks made at night using the North Star as a reference. This line was accepted through 150 years and additional surveys.
1895: In 1891 the three states appointed Boundary Commissions to study the problem as disputes had arisen regarding the state boundaries. Following examination and securing agreement among the states, a copper bolt set into a two foot square granite pyramid was secured in the earth to a depth of about eight feet. This “Copper Bolt” or the “Mud Turtle” was placed to mark the spot where the New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts boundary lines intersect.
1897: Additional monuments that record the submerged monument’s location, were erected. A newspaper notice goes into more detail about one of these secondary monuments placed in 1897, and who was involved in survey. The article includes the names of the commissioners and surveyors. From the Londonderry sifter (newspaper) of Friday July 2, 1897, South Londonderry VT, page 5: “The monument that is to mark the locality where Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire adjoin has been completed, and was placed in position last week. It is on the west side of the Connecticut river, in South Vernon, several hundred feet from the actual junction of the three states, the precise point being in the edge of the river. The monument is a block of Windsor green granite, 10 feet 6 inches long and two foot square, and will stand six feet above ground. A stone and cement foundation will hold it in place. The top is flat and polished, and each side is highly polished down four feet of its surface. C. Gonyou of Keene finished the shaft. Commissioners appointed from each of the three states for the purpose selected and purchased the monument, and caused it to be inscribed appropriately as follows: North side: “Vermont– Kittredge Haskins, Lavant M. Reed, James Batchelder, commissioners. Volney C. Barbour, surveyor.” East side: “New Hampshire–John J. Bell, Josiah G. Bellows, Nathaniel H. Clark, Charles H. Roberts, commissioners. Elihu T. Quigley, Ray T. Gile, Surveyors. South side: Massachusetts–Henry Carter, George Whitney, Edward B. Savage, commissioners. Nelson Spofford surveyor. “West side: Erected by states of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, 1897 under agreements made by their commissioners June 13, and October 26, 1894, defining the boundary line between them, established by royal decree 1740. The south-west corner of New Hampshire and the southeast corner of Vermont is a point on the west bank of the Connecticut river on said line, now marked by a copper bolt in the apex of a granite monument, north latitude 42 degree 43 minutes 37.2 seconds, west longitude 72 degrees 27 minutes 32.1 seconds, south 87 degrees 46 minutes 45 seconds, east 582 feet from the center of this marker.”
1932-37: Vermont and New Hampshire asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on where the border between the two states begins and ends. Special Commissioner Samuel S. Gannett studied the question over several years and in April of 1937 submitted his report. 206 disputed miles of line were surveyed. “Using transit, surveying rods, and chains the surveying party settled the boundary line” and placed 91 reference markers, bronze plates or granite shafts planted five feet deep. These are located at the riverside, in front yards, or beside a highway to tell how many feet away in which direction the actual boundary is. The first marker is still considered to be the submerged “Mud Turtle Monument” of this story. The last or final marker is in the northeast corner of Vermont–a bronze tablet cemented into a flat rock in the river, indicating that the boundary is one foot away. Four bridges and three dams have markers pointing out that the boundary passes beneath them. The largest monument is the one between Canaan Vermont and Pittsburgh New Hampshire, also marking Vermont’s northeast corner. [Berkshire Evening Eagle, May 7 1937].
1935: The legislatures of Vermont and New Hampshire enacted laws requiring the attorneys general of those two states to meet at the river once every seven years to reaffirm the understanding of the location of the boundary. The last known meeting occurred in 2012. I have an email out to the NH Attorney General’s office to determine if a more recent meeting has occurred or is planned.
1970: From October 3rd-23rd the water level in the Connecticut River was lowered for work on the Turner’s Falls Dam. At this time the “Mud Turtle” monument was uncovered with the help of a surveyor. When work ended, the water was allowed to rise, and again hide the monument beneath at least 12 feet of water and mud.
December 1972: The Northfield (MA) Tercentenary Committee offered for sale a commemorative coin and plate. The plate showed highlights of Northfield history and included, among other symbols, a drawing of the 1895 “Mud Turtle” monument that formally ended a 150-year land dispute between Massachusetts Vermont and New Hampshire. The newspaper of this year also mentions that the Dickinson (Northfield MA) Library has 4 color snap shots of the Mud Turtle monument taken during that time when the water had receded. I contacted the library and off-hand they have no knowledge of it, but said it may be included in the material of their history room relating to the Tercentenary.
—–Reference and Resources—-
Editor’s Note: the Mud Turtle monument is under water and not visible. The closest land to this monument, on the west side of the Connecticut River, is on private property.
Regarding Photo Postcard: While recently sorting through some old photographs (and thanks to Lori Callahan) my postcard photo of the Mud Turtle Monument was re-discovered. The postcard itself possibly dates as late as 1902, but the photograph possibly was was been taken closer to 1895–the year the Mud Turtle marker was erected.
Drink Beer in Two States At Once – yes, it appears so, in Brattleboro, Vermont.
The Mysterious Island Between New Hampshire and Vermont – nhmagazine.com
Not Down The Middle – CT River Conservancy
Vermont vs New Hampshire – U.S. Supreme Court, 1933
Bound To Be New Hampshire – NHPTV