the gateway to Cape Hatteras National Seashore, in the middle of woods
inhabited mostly by ticks and deer, there is now a monument honoring
the only remaining original baseline for surveying on the East Coast.
Among all the intriguing history on the Outer Banks, there may be none that seems so prosaic.
all know this may not mean a lot to very many people, ” Charles Brown,
a state Department of Transportation location and surveys engineer,
acknowledged during brief comments at the monument unveiling on Friday,
“but it means a lot to us surveyors.”
What at first blush sounds
duller than watching something measured – that is, people talking about
measuring – turned out to be a fascinating American can-do story
inspired by Lewis and Clark and carried out by visionary Thomas
Created in 1807 at Jefferson’s behest, the
U.S. Coast Survey was the nation’s first agency dedicated to a
scientific project, according to a press release from the N.C. Society
of Surveyors. The agency’s mission was to survey the coast.
Ultimately, the work led to the nation’s first accurate maps.
The men did their calculations with a surveying instrument and comparisons of astronomical observations with the time.
a team of North Carolina surveyors located and re-measured the 6 ¾-mile
baseline -- small granite blocks marking each mile - at Bodie Island in
2002, they found it to be remarkably accurate.
“The fact that
they were out there with the tools that they had, and what they were
able to accomplish,” said director of the National Geodetic Survey
Juliana Blackwell, “I think it’s just phenomenal. I’m thankful that I
didn’t have to do it that way.”
Once the baselines were
established, they were used to triangulate to extend further out,
eventually connecting to other baselines. They enabled mapmakers to
create navigational charts and topographical maps.
perhaps, the Bodie Island leg of the project, which was the second,
behind Fire Island, was hindered by a huge storm in 1846 -- the one
that carved out Oregon Inlet – and tragic losses at sea. One of
the casualties was the brother of the agency’s then superintendent,
Alexander Bache, who was the great-grandson of Benjamin Franklin.
brother, George, was the commander of a Navy ship that had been out in
the Gulf Stream. He and 10 other men were washed overboard, but the
ship survived the storm. The baseline, however, was separated by
the new inlet, forcing it to be shortened almost two miles, stretching
just north of the new inlet to below Nags Head.
Stalls, a retired DOT surveyor, standing by a block of granite marked
“Base No. 4” and another flat block with a center stake, said that it
took 10 days to do the measuring of mile markers, using two metal bars
Stalls, who in 2000 helped discover the first
marker, said that work done by the coast surveyors served as the
backbone of all the future mapping and surveying. And the Bodie
site, known formally as “Bache North,” is so valuable because it
preserves the work of the agency, now the National Geodetic Survey, and
stands as a record of their precision.
The Bodie baseline is
the only one along the East Coast with all its original markers. The
plaque unveiled on Friday recognizing the agency’s contribution was
donated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
had to be the best that they could do because everything else depended
on it,” Stalls said. “These other bases, they’ve all been compromised.
They’ve all been victims of erosion and development.”
Thompson, chief of the North Carolina Geodetic Survey, said that it
says a lot about the skill of the early surveyors that GPS is
essentially doing just what they did.
“Instead of looking at
the stars, GPS is looking at the satellites,” he said after the event.
“This was the foundation for what we have now. It built the framework
for the navigational maps of the shoreline in the 1850s.
“This was the reference line for all that work.,” he said. “That’s why we’re so proud of this.”
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