Monument Memorials

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It is evident from early versions of the Manual of Surveying Instructions distributed by the General Land Office that the placement of memorials along with the government monuments was deemed important. In its simplest terms, a memorial is something that serves to preserve the memory of something else. Therefore, placing an additional item along with the main monument would hopefully help to later determine the true location of the corner should an ambiguity arise due to missing, multiple, or unclear monumentation.

The Oregon Manual of 1851 as well as the Manual of 1855 suggested a stone, a portion of charcoal, or a charred stake was to be placed in a small cavity directly below the earth mound to serve as a witness for the future. The verbiage went on to recommend that the deputy surveyor plant tree seeds (preferably those of fruit trees adaptable to the climate) midway between each pit and trench which would then hopefully take root and create a small clump around the corner position. The planting of such seeds and the species of the tree from which they were derived was to be truthfully recorded in the notes. This practice of planting seeds was absent in the subsequent Manual of 1864. Although the reason for the absence is not stated, the obvious fact that the growing trees or their roots could likely alter the position of the monuments was probably the reason for discontinuing the planting of seeds. Obstructing the line of sight or the difficulty of occupying a monument with an instrument would have also been a factor for their demise.

As the Public Land Surveys continued across the United States, confusion existed among U.S. deputy surveyors as to whether the GLO actually required a separate charred stake to be driven alongside the corner post, or if merely charring the sharpened end of the post itself achieved the same result. The early manuals of instructions were often written and then rewritten after recommendations from those working in the field suggested that certain changes should be made. Many surveyors chose the latter method of just charring the end of the corner stake even though their notes state they deposited a "charred stake," which might infer it was a separate item from the actual post. Unfortunately many of these posts were only smoked instead of being thoroughly burned, which did little to achieve the desired purpose. The Manual of 1864 specifically stated that the charcoal-charred stake or marked stone was to be placed 12 inches below the surface, against the north side of the post when the deputy was running north, and against the west side when the deputy was west. Whatever the case, the charred end of a wooden post or stake, when found, has proven invaluable to surveyors who search for pits and mounds where stones were not used. Long after the wood had decayed or had been taken out of the ground, the small piece of charcoal that remained where the stake had also been driven served as a memorial to the original corner location.

A large amount of the Public Domain had already been surveyed before the Manual of Surveying Instructions of 1902 specifically described the use of memorials to a greater degree. The specific use of memorials, buried 12 to 24 inches below the surface at the corner, such as glass or stoneware, potsherds, marked stones, cast iron, charcoal, or charred stake made a reappearance in the Manual of 1902. County surveyors across the United States who were retracing the original GLO surveys had already found the benefits of placing various types of material beside or underneath surface monuments, since landowners were being suspected of moving the visible monuments. The average person who had enough effrontery to move and then correctly orient a section corner based upon its markings was most likely not aware that a memorial had also been placed below the original location.

In the beginning of the 1900s, Nebraska State Surveyor Robert Harvey started using red building bricks that he personalized with his initials and the date before placing them next to the corner monument. For one corner mound that he had spent a considerable amount of time finding in the Nebraska Sandhills, he also placed pieces of a grindstone, crockery, queensware, glass, iron and cinders all in the same hole. The center of original witness pits were drilled with a 2-inch diameter hole and then filled with lime or pulverized brick to a depth of 30 inches. Once when Harvey had run out of monuments in a desolate area, he procured and used a broken steel sickle bar used for mowing hay for the monument. A marked brick was placed on the north side, and seventeen sickle guards from the bar were placed on each of the north, south, and west sides of the corner as additional memorials leaving no doubt for a future retracing surveyor that the right corner had been found.

The use of scribed red brick memorials caught on with later deputy state surveyors, who would also place them next to the corner monuments. State Surveyor Hugh Dillon was a bit more creative and poured concrete into muffin pans to make concrete "biscuits" with his initials and date. The early use of these memorials has proven to be invaluable when multiple monuments of the same type of material have been found in the same vicinity and a determination has to be made as to which was the accepted monument.

The current Manual of Surveying Instructions of 1973 describes the use of memorials in chapter 4, paragraph 91:

"Where there is no tree or other bearing object,…and where a mound of stone or pits are impracticable, a suitable memorial is deposited alongside the monument. A memorial may consist of any durable article which will serve to identify the location in case the monument is destroyed. Such articles as glassware, stoneware, a marked (X) stone, a charred stake, a quart of charcoal, or pieces of metal constitute a suitable memorial. A full description of such articles is embodied in the field notes wherever they are employed as a memorial. When replacing an old monument with a new one, such as substituting an iron post for and old marked stone, the old marker is preserved as a memorial."

Memorials with an encased magnet such as the DEEP-1 underground magnetic markers supplied by Berntsen, Inc., are specifically designed for the surveyor to place near corners and reference ties. These 2.5-inch tall plastic capsules are color-coded to aid in determining which monument or reference tie has been found (for example, clear symbolizes a corner monument, metallic silver a NE quadrant, fluorescent pink a SE quadrant, fluorescent blue a SW quadrant, and fluorescent orange a NW quadrant). Some state organizations have implemented this color-coded system into their monumentation standards.

The use of memorials has played an important, but mostly unnoticed, role in monumenting the boundary corner locations of our country. Surveyors who have the responsibility of preserving corner locations should be implementing the use of memorials in addition to setting reference ties. There is probably no other more important role for the boundary surveyor than that of establishing permanent and accurate evidence of the corner location.

Jerry Penry is a Nebraska licensed land surveyor and a frequent contributor to The American Surveyor.

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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