COLUMBIA, S.C. — Surveyors re-drawing the North Carolina-South Carolina state line south of Rockingham, N.C., thought they only had a survey done more than 240 years ago to base their work. But a well-kept map done as both states wrestled with prohibition and strict laws on booze has been found.
Alan-Jon Zupan, who does historical research for the re-survey, said the map indicated the work was done in 1905, but it didn't say why state officials and those in Scotland and Richmond counties in North Carolina and Marlboro County in South Carolina went to all the trouble to look at the state boundary again.
Zupan went through some old newspapers and figured out the main reason was alcohol.
In the early 1900s, South Carolina had created a unique system to sell alcohol called The Dispensary, which put the state in charge of making, bottling and selling all liquor within its borders. Only one store per county was allowed to sell booze.
North Carolina had more liberal alcohol laws, although the prohibition movement that would culminate with a vote in 1908 banning liquor in the state was quickly gaining ground. Richmond County would pass its own ordinance banning alcohol as the survey was taking place.
"The survey was done primarily to determine whether barrooms and distilleries ... were in South Carolina or North Carolina," Zupan said at a recent meeting of the commission dealing with the resurveying of the entire state line.
The surveyors in 1905 expressed several of the same frustrations their modern counterparts have had as they spent the past 15 years redoing work that was mostly done in the 1700s. Back then, surveyors noted the state line by cutting trees with hatchets, leaving the border unmarked in a generation or two.
In giving the North Carolina governor an update on his progress in 1905, surveyor J.E. Purcell summed up his work by writing "a great deal of trouble and unpleasant experience on the state and county lines."
Zupan said South Carolina surveyor R.L. Freeman wrote something similar.
"The reason for the resurvey is merely to establish where the line really is," Zupan said reading from Freeman's letter. "Sound familiar to what we're doing these days?"
In the end, the survey didn't solve a lot of problems. South Carolina would get rid of The Dispensary in 1907, allowing counties to decide whether to sell liquor on their own. Marlboro County went dry. In North Carolina, statewide prohibition passed with 62 percent of the vote in May 1908.
But even in the few years in between, people find creative ways to get past authorities trying to uphold liquor laws. One man who found his still in South Carolina when the state line was redrawn simply moved it to North Carolina, Zupan said.
"After the line was surveyed, there was a fellow named Quinn who ran one a barroom, and it just so happened the re-established line ran between his barn and his house," Zupan said. "So when the North Carolina authorities came, he moved his liquor to his house, when the South Carolina authorities came, he moved his liquor to the barn."
And then there was an entrepreneur who put in a true state line bar just over the boundary in North Carolina, Zupan said.
"He was so close to the line," Zupan said, "that it was said you could walk up to the line, reach across and buy liquor."
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