Crossing the Eastern Continental Divide in Christiansburg

Jim Glanville

To mark the Eastern Continental Divide in Blacksburg, a prominent blue plastic strip has been recently laid down across South Main Street at its intersection with Sunset Boulevard, near the Yassimmo and Ninja restaurants.

A well-written September press release from the Blacksburg Museum and Cultural Center drew the attention of both WDBJ-TV and this newspaper to this blue strip, and they reported on it.

The television station featured an Anthony Romano interview with Tom Sherman, the museum’s vice-president, and this newspaper ran an unsigned, front-page story quoting the lengthy text on the historic marker at the corner of South Main and Sunset. That marker text was written by this columnist.

The Eastern Continental Divide is also called the Proclamation Line, as explained as follows.

The Seven Years War was a global conflict among European powers, principally the English, French and Spanish, fought from roughly 1756-1763 on five different continents.

Sir Winston Churchill labeled it the first world war in a chapter title in of one of his many history books.

The part of the Seven Years War that occurred in the future United States is called the French and Indian War.

It began earlier than on the other continents. The killing by Indians of James Patton near the Virginia Tech Duck Pond in 1755 is usually reckoned as an early event in the French and Indian War.

Hostilities finally ceased with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on February 10, 1763. Under that treaty, the other European powers conceded to England a half billion acres of territory to the north, west, and south of its existing thirteen American coastal colonies. It remains the largest ever land transfer at the end of a war known to history.

In an attempt to manage their newly acquired North American empire, the British set out administrative regions and drew dividing lines on the North American map. These regions and lines were embodied in King George III’s Royal Proclamation of October 7, 1763.

To the west of the colonies, the Proclamation established an “Indian Reserve” and forbade the colonial governors to grant colonists title to “… any Lands beyond the Heads or Sources of any of the Rivers which fall into the Atlantic Ocean from the West.” These forbidden lands were said to lie on the “western waters.”

This Proclamation Line language made the Eastern Continental Divide a barrier to Virginians’ westward expansion and a provocation for the American Revolution that began in 1775.

It is easy to find the Proclamation Line in Christiansburg using the “Town of Christiansburg Watersheds” map, which is readily obtained via an online search for that name. This map shows four watersheds.

Slate Branch watershed, colored red, and Crab Creek watershed, colored green, are on the “western waters.” These watersheds feed the New River and thence the Kanawha, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.

North Fork Roanoke River watershed is colored light blue and South Fork Roanoke River watershed is colored darker blue. These watersheds are on the “eastern waters.” They feed the main Roanoke River that winds though several dammed impoundments on its way to Albemarle Sound in North Carolina and thence to the Atlantic Ocean.

Consequently, any place on the Christiansburg watershed map where a red- or green-colored watershed adjoins a blue-colored watershed is a Proclamation Line crossing.

The busiest of these line crossings in modern times are the two Interstate 81 Christiansburg exits, both of which are (only just) on the eastern waters. At the main Christiansburg exit, the Route 8 Donuts shop is right on the line.

If you travel from that shop onto I-81 and head in either direction then you shortly cross from the eastern to the western waters.

At the I-81 Route 460 exit, there is one line crossing right at the center of the four-leaf-clover of ramps and other crossings close by. These complicated I-81 line crossings are more readily examined on the map than they are described in words.

Further complication arises, because the original land contours have been changed by modern road and highway engineering. So the “divide” cannot be exactly as it was in 1763, and the map does not state whether it applies to historic or modern contours.

Another line crossing is at 2000 N Franklin St. in front of the Sheetz store. Drivers heading down the bypass 460 exit ramp towards the Aldi store cross the Proclamation Line here.

Pepper’s Ferry Road crosses the line from the eastern to the western waters heading towards the New River Mall in front of the Lowe’s home improvement store.

The Sears Hometown Store at the intersection of business 460 and County Drive NE is just on the eastern waters, but driving either way on 460 from there shortly gets the driver to the western waters.

On Motor Mile (Roanoke Street) there is a line crossing from the eastern to the western waters in front of the 84 Lumber store as one drives towards the Long John Silver’s restaurant.

In sum, Christiansburg has many suitable spots to lay down a blue plastic strip and erect a marker to the Eastern Continental Divide and Proclamation Line. Many more spots could be found in Montgomery County, which surrounds both Blacksburg and Christiansburg.

Blacksburg shouldn’t get all the glory for being the only local place with a marker for the Proclamation Line.

Jim Glanville is a retired chemist living in Blacksburg. He has been publishing and lecturing for more than a decade about the history of Southwest Virginia.

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