Granite State of Mind, #11: Four Corners Marker, Exeter-Stratham-Hampton-North Hampton
In colonial days, it was customary for New England town officials to meet periodically for a perambulation of shared town boundaries. This was a holdover from the English common law ritual, the "beating of the bounds" that reinforced property lines and encouraged continued good relations between neighboring villages. It's a custom still observed with some gravity in New Hampshire, codified in state law: "RSA 51:2 Perambulation of Town Lines - The lines between the towns in this state shall be perambulated, and the marks and bounds renewed, once in every 7 years forever, by the selectmen of the towns, or by such persons as they shall in writing appoint for that purpose."
In 2001, early in my second year on the Exeter Board of Selectmen, I was able to join with officials from three other nearby towns to trace the boundaries of our jurisdictions. Three old stone signposts mark the line between Exeter and Hampton, but the middle one is my favorite. About forty yards in the woods off Route 111 is a four-foot tall, rectangular granite plinth that marks where four towns meet. There's much ado about the American southwest, where New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah share a vertex. But here is a much older boundary, the point at which one could visit Exeter, Hampton, Stratham, and North Hampton all at once. Each side of the stone marker bore the graven marking of E or H or S or NH to indicate which town's territory ended there.
New England in general, and New Hampshire in particular, are places of long-held customs and strongly-cherished heritage. The roots here go deep, and elected officials would do well to remember that sometimes you need to do more than talk tough about walls and borders - you've got to walk the line and know the land and understand the history of the people and places you would claim to represent. And it doesn't hurt, every seven years or so, to trudge through the snow with your neighbors and remember that history together.