Border Blunder

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Border Blunder 

By Michael Cull (7/6/1980, AKRON BEACON JOURNAL)

UNION CITY, Ohio and or Ind. - Some of the people in this village of 2,000 believe they have caught the federal government in a 182 year old mistake.

And it is a lulu.

The boundary between Ohio and Indiana, you see, runs through Union City, and the boundary is wrong.  It is wrong by a half mile to the east, from the bottom of the state to the top.

That is about 100 square miles of error.  

It means that acres of farmland and part of at least on town now in Indiana should be in Ohio.  It means that thousands of people who consider themselves Hoosiers are really Buckeyes.

"It's a mess.  There are no ifs, ands or buts about it," says Ronald L. Tynes, community development director for the Ohio side of Union City.

By merely walking across the street, Tynes enters not just another town but another state, with a different local government, and different laws on taxes and liquor consumption.

Even more confusing, for six months a year, Union City, Ind., - population 6,000 - is in a different time zone.

While Ohioans move their clocks forward an hour in the spring to daylight-saving time, the people of Indiana adhere to standard time.  The result in Union City, Ohio-Ind., is a stumble into a time warp, a trip to the "Twighlight Zone."

Mail sent to the Ohio side must have an Indiana ZIP code, because the post office is in Indiana.

And Union City, Ohio, residents, although they have the same telephone area code as much of southwestern Ohio - 513 - must dial that code to call those other places in Ohio.  But they don't have to dial an area code to reach anywhere in the nearest Indiana area, the number of which is 317.

"It's confusing as hell," says Union City, Ohio, police chief Tom Hilderbrand.

THE confusion might end if Tynes, Hilderbrand and others get their way and the Ohio-Indiana border is shifted west to where it was supposed to be set in 1798.  Then, all of Union City would be in Ohio.  The Ohio village would get all the tax dollars now going to the more prosperious Indiana town, where most of the industries are located.  "We stand with everything to gain and nothing to lose," Tynes says.

Mayor Fulk of the Indiana side of Union City says he doubts there will be any boundary change and he believes his fellow townsmen are not excited about the discovery of the surveying error.  "It's not a real hot issue now," he said.  "But if the line were going to be changed, people would be in an uproar in a hurry.

He concedes that two towns separated by a state boundary can occasionally be confusing, what with two police departments, two water departments, two school systems, and so forth.  But he notes the good side:  Union City, Ohio-Ind., has more fire equipment than a "regular" town would have. What with competing fire departments, "It's a joke here that it's hard to keep a cigarette lit in Union City," Fulk said.

But Tynes, chief aide to truck driver-mayor James Nelson, is not optimistic about getting geographic justice.

No one denies a mistake was made years ago, but almost everyone agrees it would be too much trouble to change now.

The federal government - the Department of Interior and the U.S. attorney's office - told local officials it's up to the states to decide boundaries.  Neither Ohio nor Indiana state officials are interested in moving the state line.  According to a letter from the Ohio attorney general's office, a boundary line long recognized "is conclusive, regardless of whether the line was accurately run."

The goof-up was discovered after two men scuffled in front of the Gateway Inn, which is close to the Indiana line, late one night in 1978. If the fight took place in Indiana, then the Randolph County officials had jurisdiction. If it happened in Ohio, it was a case for the Darke County prosecutor.

Lawmen turned to James P. Surber, Darke County engineer, who says he agreed to re-survey the boundary because "I always wanted a damn challenge.  You seldom get a problem like this."

Surber and crews provided by the Ohio Department of Transportation and Randolph County, Ind., re-established the boundary line as it was improperly laid.

In Union City, the line had become vague because of lost markers.  Many citizens believed the boundary was the center of StateLine Street, when it actually was 15 to 18 feet farther west.

The discovery meant the scuffle had occurred in Ohio after all.  Charges stemming from the fight never were prosecuted.

Surber has researched the history of the goofed-up line.  According to Surber, Israel Ludlow - acting under the direction of the federal surveyor-general -- ran a survey line from the mouth of the Great Miami River north so that townships and sections in what was then the Northwest Territory could be sold to settlers.  The line, set in 1798, later became the state boundary.

But Ludlow's line did not go true north as determined by surveying equipment and the stars.  When hostile Indians and mosquitoes slowed surveying, Congress allowed surveyors to use a magnetic compass, not stars, to determine the direction of the line.

The government wanted to get some quick money by selling off the land, says Surber, so it permitted the less accurate surveying method.

The result is that the state boundary is not straight but saw-toothed, and inaccurate by a half mile.

But Surber is not anxious to move the state boundary, even if it is not accurate.  "I maintain the line is where the line is supposed to be," he said.  "It's only a problem if someone chooses to make it one."

Surber notes that Union City, Ohio, officials want the line changed because it would bring them tax money, the same motive the government had for approving the quick survey method two centuries ago.

His assessment of the boundary's chances of being moved?  "Not a snowball's chance in hell."