A boundary runs through, connects two small towns

August 15, 1998|By Lee May | Lee May,COX NEWS SERVICE

McCAYSVILLE, GA./COPPERHILL, TENN. -- There's a new line in town.

You see it slice through the Hometown Foods IGA and its parking lot, then continue diagonally across the street before scaling the yellow brick building that houses the Copper Emporium furniture store. The long blue line isn't just the talk of the town; it's the talk of two states.

Here in the Copper Basin, known now for tourism and whitewater rafting instead of its once-flourishing copper industry, the North Georgia town of McCaysville (population 1,062) shares a downtown with Copperhill, Tenn. (501). And they share the blue line, rich in irony: Closely approximating the border separating the two states, it was painted to unify the two municipalities and to draw the attention of a new wave of visitors brought in on an excursion train from nearby Blue Ridge, Ga.

Travis Goss, who owns the IGA, calls the line "a point-of-interest line, not a dividing line. It reminds us that we have common problems and concerns and that we have to work together."

As Bob Myers tells it, the idea for the line surfaced a few months ago when a "spontaneous group" of about a dozen area residents got together at a coffee shop and began talking about "the common misconception that the Toccoa River is the border" between Georgia and Tennessee. Actually, the state line slices across the river, called the Toccoa in Georgia and the Ocoee in Tennessee.

Not only would a line clear up the confusion about the border, the group believed, but it also would be "an oddity that people could relate to, something to have fun with," recalls Myers, a computer consultant.

So, in early June and mostly at night to avoid traffic, he and others, including artists Rebecca Williams and Marilou Knight, began painting the block-long line.

How's the line working? It's bringing in visitors, say business owners.

"A lot of visitors come in and want to know where the line is," reports Kay Brown, co-owner with daughter Becky Morgan of the Colonial House, which sells antiques. "They love to straddle the line."

Just about everybody around here tells the story of how the official state border -- the one that the blue line closely traces -- is bogus because surveyors back in the 1800s spent too much time sampling from a moonshine still they had wandered upon.

Whether that's the reason for the mistaken survey or just a good story, Georgia rightly has contended that its boundary with Tennessee should be farther north -- at the 35th parallel, as specified in the laws of both states.

"Correcting the boundary would shift a mile-wide strip of south Chattanooga and most of Copperhill to Georgia," says Edwin Jackson, co-author with Marion Hemperley of "Georgia's Boundaries: The Shaping of a State," published in 1993 by the University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

But it's not likely to happen, says Jackson. "Although suit could be filed in the U.S. Supreme Court, rulings of that court in similar situations suggest that a boundary long recognized and accepted will stand, even if later found to have been drawn in error."

It's already highly visible, and organizers want to make it even more notable; plans call for extending the line for several blocks -- over the tops of five buildings. "It'll be fun for small airplanes," says Bob Myers.

Pub Date: 8/15/98

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