Marking Time highlights one of the more than 2,500 markers that have been installed throughout the state since 1914 as part of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program, operated by PHMC's State Historic Preservation Office.

The modern-day map of Pennsylvania reveals an anomaly most puzzling – a triangular appendage of land extending to the City of Erie and providing the Commonwealth with access to Lake Erie. Early maps show that the original border of Pennsylvania ran south of its present boundary of Lake Erie. Originally, Pennsylvania was fundamentally rectangular, with an undulating eastern border defined by the Delaware River.

After the creation of the United States, Pennsylvania lacked suitable access to Lake Erie – the shoreline granted to the Commonwealth was too irregular for loading and unloading vessels – which was essential for Great Lakes transportation and commerce. State officials hoped to remedy this grave deficiency by acquiring a small triangular-shaped tract of land – later dubbed the “Erie Trian­gle” – along Lake Erie, including the fine natural harbor at Presque Isle (present­-day Erie). However, the Commonwealth was caught up in the conflicting land claims of New York, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, which based their arguments on interpretations of colonial charters. The claimants’ demands for the triangle were further complicated by the Iroquois Confederacy’s claim for this parcel.

Boundary surveys took place between 1785 and 1787, and in 1790 Andrew Ellicott (1754-1820) surveyed the triangle by delineating its eastern meridian. Ellicott was noted for complet­ing Pierre Charles l’En­fant’s plan for the City of Washington, D.C., and for his appointment as surveyor general of the United States in 1792. Ellicott certified the boundaries of the triangle when it was sold to the Commonwealth in 1792 and laid out the new city of Erie three years later.

In 1791, Corn­planter, or Ki-on-twog-ky (about 1740-1836), son of a Seneca woman and a Dutch trad­er, had persuaded the Iroquois to relinquish their claims to the trian­gle, for which they received five thou­sand dollars from the Commonwealth. The embryonic federal government convinced the states to cede their claims to western territories, facilitating the settlement of the conflicting claims. This settlement enabled authorities to determine the final boundary between New York and Pennsylvania, which ultimately yielded the tri­angle affording access to Lake Erie at the harbor at Presque Isle to the Common­wealth. On April 23, 1792, Pennsylvania paid the feder­al government $151,640.24 – about seventy-five cents an acre – to acquire the 202,187 acres which comprised the “Lake Erie Territory.” The transaction was paid for in interest-bearing continental certificates, money so severely devalued that the acquisition of the territory was virtually free.

In recognition of Corn­planter’s assistance, the Com­monwealth granted him several tracts of land on the upper Allegheny River, just south of the New York border, in what is now Warren County. The “Cornplanter Tract,” where he lived out his final days, was not an Indian reserva­tion; it actually belonged to Cornplanter and his heirs. The last Native American community in the Keystone State, the property was submerged in 1964 when the newly constructed Kinzua Dam was built to form the Allegheny Reservoir. Con­structed to control flooding, it is the largest dam east of the Mississippi River, with one hundred miles of forested shoreline.

Today, the old border of Pennsylvania is all but forgotten, save for four state historical markers. The markers, each entitled “Old State Line” and bearing identical text, were erected in November 1946 in Erie County at Wattsburg, McKean, and near Waterford and North Springfield.