First Guide Meridian East

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As far as significant monuments go, the GLO limestone located at the First Guide Meridian East with the intersection of the Kansas and Nebraska border ranks very high in significance for those two states. Its importance, however, had largely been lost with the passing of time while it remained buried beneath a remote county road, virtually unnoticed until the sesquicentennial anniversary of its placement.

A few years ago I began researching the life of U.S. Deputy Surveyor Charles A. Manners who established the First Guide Meridian East as well as other important lines in the territory of Nebraska. Unlike other guide meridians, the First Guide Meridian East was established on a true line of longitude completely through the states of Kansas and Nebraska. There are no offsets at the standard parallels to correct for the convergency of meridian lines merging together. This line is located 48 miles east of the Sixth Principal Meridian between Ranges 8 and 9 East. The significance of the monument is that the Sixth Principal Meridian, which controls the surveys in the states of Kansas, Nebraska, most of Colorado and Wyoming as well as part of South Dakota, was actually set from the First Guide Meridian East monument instead of it being set from the principal meridian, which is usually the case.

In early 2005 I began organizing a small group of interested surveyors to remonument the limestone corner. Fellow surveyor Steve Brosemer from Kansas was very instrumental in organizing the surveyors from his state while working with the Kansas Society of Land Surveyors (KSLS). I worked closely with the Professional Surveyors Association of Nebraska (PSAN) and the Southeast Nebraska Land Surveyors Association (SENLSA). Our goal was to gather at the site exactly 150 years from the date the stone was placed. On March 19, 2005, a reconnaissance party of seven surveyors, Steve Brosemer and Lynn Engle from Kansas, and Gene Thomsen, Bill Wehling, David Doering, Chris Witulski and myself from Nebraska met at the site to determine if the 1855 stone was still there. We found the top of the limestone buried 26" beneath the road surface matching the size stated in the GLO notes and oriented in a northeast-southwest direction. The height of the stone, however, was found to be 30" instead of the stated 48". At some point the top had been broken off and the rest buried when the road surface was built up. We were confident we had the same stone that had been placed by Manners in 1855.

Vintage Chains & GPS
Surveyors, local citizens, historians, and reporters began to arrive early on June 24, 2005, to commemorate the anniversary of the placement of the stone. The setting was nearly ideal, being completely away from any highways or heavily-traveled roads. The closest towns are Summerfield, Kansas, located six miles to the east on the state line, and Liberty, Nebraska, located one mile west and five miles north. Each town has only a few hundred residents. At the intersection, the four quadrants were filled with fields with waist-high corn.

By 8:30 a.m. the monument was already being excavated by a few eager surveyors determined to be the first on the scene. By 10:00 a.m. the crowd had swelled to at least 200, each taking their turn to photograph the important stone as the temperature began to rise to the expected 95-degree summer heat. The remonumentation soon followed by placing a commemorative brass disk manufactured by Berntsen International, Inc. into the top of the stone. Then a protective cast-iron monument well was placed around the disk and a concrete pad poured to secure it in place. At the same time that the events were taking place at the monument, several crews began measuring with vintage link chains the first mile going south into Kansas on the Guide Meridian. Their goal was to see who could most closely measure this mile when compared to a distance obtained by GPS.

Around noon the outside ceremony was finishing up, and most of those present had retreated to the Liberty American Legion Hall in preparation for the historical talk and to escape the heat which proved to live up to the predicted forecast. Steve Brosemer detailed the events of U.S. Deputy Joseph Ledlie, who surveyed south from the First Guide Meridian East monument and remained surveying in Kansas through 1856. I detailed the life of U.S. Deputy Surveyor Charles A. Manners, who surveyed north into Nebraska and returned each successive summer until 1859. Ledlie was a surveyor from Springfield, Illinois, in Sangamon County, while Manners was a surveyor from nearby Taylorville, Illinois, in Christian County.

In addition to the significance of the location of this monument, it also has an interesting history since it was originally located approx. 4,170′ to the south in Kansas for the first six months of its existence. Surveyor General John C. Calhoun had been instructed to quickly contract the work of establishing the base line between the territories of Kansas and Nebraska that had been created in 1854. The goal was to first establish a point on the west high bluff of the Missouri River at north fortieth degree of latitude. This would be the starting point from which the great arc of the earth would be run west on this latitude a distance of 108 miles to set the Initial Point of the Sixth Principal Meridian. Captain Thomas E. Lee of the U.S. Topographical Engineers determined the location on the bluff with the assistance of U.S. Deputy Surveyor John P. Johnson, who had been awarded the contract to survey the 108-mile base line to the Initial Point.

Johnson was a Harvard graduate who had vied for the Surveyor General’s position against Calhoun, but was not selected. To appease Johnson and his backers in the politically-charged atmosphere of that day, Calhoun awarded him the contract to survey the base line, which he performed between November 16 and December 5, 1854. As far as anyone knew, the corners at half-mile intervals dividing the two territories and controlling the eighteen ranges east of the Sixth Principal Meridian were set.

Kansas and Nebraska were quickly becoming political pawns in the game of seeing whether they would become slave states or free. To influence the vote, many easterners (particularly from Missouri) began to pour across the borders and establish residency in the unsurveyed land. Those legitimately seeking a new home with the best locations also began to cross the border from Iowa and Missouri. The situation of the many squatters now upon the government land quickly became a serious concern. Calhoun revised his plan of surveying everything east of the Sixth Principal Meridian to the eastern borders of Kansas and Nebraska to that of establishing a guide meridian only 60 miles west of the point located at the Missouri River. It was hoped that the area between the Guide Meridian and the eastern borders of the territories where most of the squatters were now located could be surveyed within the 1855 season.

The contracts for surveying the First Guide Meridian East were awarded to Manners and Ledlie in April of 1855. Manners was to go directly to the point on the Missouri River bluff and replace the wooden post with a permanent cast iron monument. He was then to test the base line established by Johnson the previous fall before arriving at the First Guide Meridian East limestone corner. Ledlie was instructed to go directly to the First Guide Meridian East location and test its specific location. Both men arrived on May 8, 1855, and began their work. By the next day they had uncovered serious errors on the entire base line established by Johnson that were too flagrant to overlook. They had no alternative but to suspend their work and seek consultation from Calhoun.

Johnson, although highly educated, had almost no field experience and his knowledge and use of the solar compass to establish a curved line upon the earth was apparently nonexistent. Calhoun was likely suspicious of Johnson’s work since the instrument had been returned to his office completely out of adjustment from either being dropped or being tampered with by someone in Johnson’s crew. The error by Johnson caused Manners and Ledlie to suspend their work until they returned on June 14, 1855. With both crews working as a check on each other’s work, they completely resurveyed the first 60 miles of the Base Line in 10 days while also tying in each of Johnson’s erroneous corners. The true monument for the First Guide Meridian East was established on June 24, 1855. After returning to Leavenworth for more supplies, the two crews met at the Guide Meridian corner four days later. Manners headed north and Ledlie went south establishing the First Guide Meridian East and the standard parallels going east from this line. The standard parallels in Nebraska are spaced 24 miles apart, while those in Kansas are spaced 30 miles apart.

Manners was already way behind schedule since he had contracted for nearly 340 miles of important lines that season that were to be double chained for accuracy. Before finishing his contracts on November 24, 1855, he had gone through 23 different crew members as a result of sickness, personal disagreements, and two attacks by the Pawnee Indians. The encounter with the Pawnees had not resulted in any loss of life, but had left almost the entire crew so scared that only the original axeman stayed with Manners. The work of Manners in Nebraska and that of Ledlie in Kansas has proven to be the very best in their respective states. Manners, at age 27, was an especially driven man who expected the very best from himself and those who worked with him. The next season he correctly established the Initial Point for the Sixth Principal Meridian on June 11, 1856. Johnson’s monument that was set on December 5, 1854, was found to be 2.18 miles too far south.

Jerry Penry is employed by Lancaster County Engineering in Lincoln, Nebraska. He has been a licensed surveyor since 1994 specializing in section corner monumentation and GPS surveying, and has written numerous surveying articles for this magazine.

A 2.445Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE

About the Author

Jerry Penry, LS

Jerry Penry is employed by Lancaster County Engineering in Lincoln, Nebraska. He has been a licensed surveyor since 1994 specializing in section corner monumentation and GPS surveying. He has presented surveying seminars with a historical aspect combined with modern day application. His special interests in this field include extensively researching historically relevant information, making the original surveyors' work come alive. His meticulous research and thorough writing sheds light on the original surveyors' tools, conditions and limitations. He is also very knowledgeable in various other historical matters including railroad history. He has written numerous surveying articles for newsletters, magazines and journals, and has authored or co-authored several books including The Chicago and North Western Cowboy Line: A History of the Longest Rail-to-Trail Project in America, and The Sunrise Serenade: A World War II Bomber Crew Story. Contact Jerry Article List Below