While we often discuss the new ideas and tools moving the survey industry into the future, it’s important to take the opportunity to step back and appreciate the vast network of impressive monuments that dot our country’s landscapes.
To commemorate the work surveyors have accomplished over the years, we’ve put together three of our favorite national survey monuments. To the average traveler, these markers may appear to be simple measurement points, but the stories and historical context surrounding their placement and purpose gives us a unique look into our national past and a better understanding of our diverse landscapes.
To learn more about our country’s historical survey monuments and hear the stories explaining where and why they were established, pick up a copy of Ronda Rushing’s Lasting Impressions: A Glimpse Into The Legacy of Surveying.
The first high precision underwater monument in the world
In the mid-1980s, the M/V Wellwood a 400-foot steel-hulled freighter struck the Molasses Reef located in the Florida keys, destroying 1,280 square meters of coral reef.
In 2001, limestone and concrete outcroppings were constructed to mimic the natural environment that existed before the accident to encourage new growth and eventually restore the badly damaged area back to health. As the first project of its kind, monitoring its success was crucially important for researchers.
During the summer of 2004, the NOAA National Ocean Service, NGS, and Marine Sanctuaries Program sponsored a 10-inch diameter brass monument be placed at precise coordinates inside the reef––the first underwater monument of its kind on the planet.
Meter tape attachment points around the monument allow researchers to measure the growth and development of the reef while a separate spar buoy anchored to the frame allows boaters on the surface to recalibrate their GPS units to avoid mistakes that could lead them into dangerous areas of the reef.
The “Point of Beginning” for American public land surveying
Although it stands in relative obscurity today, a granite obelisk sitting on the eastern outskirts of East Liverpool, Ohio marks the site of the largest cadastral survey project in history––better known to surveyors as the “Point of Beginning.”
It was here in September of 1785 that Thomas Hutchins, the official Geographer of the United States at the time, began the first survey of public lands to delineate townships and begin selling swaths of land to private individuals.
Although the original point now lies under the Ohio River, subsequent new monuments have been erected and celebrated to remember what would go on to be the prototype for most surveying projects carried out in the western United States.
The American West’s “Four Corners” Monument
First surveyed in 1868, the corners of the Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah territories were initially marked with a simple circular mound of stones. Nine years later, the first permanent marker was put in place, becoming the only monument in the country to mark a common corner between four states.
After subsequent replacements, the Bureau of Land Management poured the existing 32-foot concrete paving block around the monument to create a site where visitors could easily access the monument by foot.
After wearing down considerably since its installation in 1931, the monument was rebuilt in 1992 along with additional amenities for tourists. The current monument contains a 5,000-pound, seven-by-six foot diameter piece of solid granite with an aluminum-bronze state marker bolted into the center.
Although widely regarded as the true meeting point between the states, it’s interesting to note that the monument now lies entirely within the Navajo Nation. Technically, the four states do not actually meet.
If you’re interested in more stories of our nation’s survey monuments throughout history, grab a copy of Rhonda Rushing’s Lasting Impressions: A Glimpse Into the Legacy of Surveying at the book’s product page or website: http://www.lastingimpressionsbook.com/
Photo credit: Ken Lund