Dave Welsh and his family visited the Fenwick Island Lighthouse during their vacation, expecting to see the historical mark of the Mason-Dixon Line – widely known as the symbolic divider between the north and south during the Civil War.
But when he arrived at the lighthouse, he was surprised to find that his assumption had been wrong.
“I had always heard that the divider ran through here. But I didn’t realize that wasn’t right, really, until I just got here and looked at the sign,” Welsh said.
The sign on the lighthouse gate explains that the landmark, in fact, designates the eastern-most point of the boundary line that separates Maryland and Delaware — called the Transpeninsular Line.
The Transpeninsular Line was surveyed in 1750, to establish the boundary that runs east-west between Delaware and Maryland. The line begins at the southeast corner of Delaware and extends 35 miles along its southern border, dividing several towns between the two states.
The most well-known of these towns are Delmar, Del., and Delmar, Md., which were named after this divide.
The Mason-Dixon Line was surveyed 11 years after the Transpeninsular Line, by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, to settle a land dispute. But it later, and more famously, came to be known as the divider between the Union states and Confederate states throughout the Civil War.
Despite what some vacationers and locals alike have come to believe, the Mason-Dixon Line actually begins about 35 miles inland, at Delaware’s southwest corner, and runs north along the border between Maryland and Delaware.
Mary Pat Kyle, an expert on Fenwick Island history and author of the book “Fenwick Island, Ice Age to Jet Age,” said many, like Welsh, have assumed for years that the Mason-Dixon Line crosses through Fenwick Island.
“I really don’t know how this rumor got started, but it’s incorrect,” Kyle said. “Since more people have heard of the Mason-Dixon Line, it may have been used to spark interest.”
In fact, some area hotels continue to incorrectly advertise their close proximity to the historic mark of the Mason-Dixon Line, and until recently one motel even went by the name Mason-Dixon.
Kyle said although those who live near the lighthouse no longer associate it with the Mason-Dixon Line, most vacationers and those in nearby towns have yet to learn the truth behind the rumor.