City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

June 23, 2017

June 18th

Filed under: Astronomy, Creek's Delta, Uncategorized — canopus56 @ 8:17 am

Meridian Monument and the Survey Land Boat of 1897

External Link to Image

Schematic of Eimbeck’s 1897 land sled for surveying the Salt Lake valley (Eimbeck 1897).

5:00 p.m. When Euro-American colonized new lands in the West, how did they establish their systems of real property ownership which required accurate land surveys? Today, I visit the southeast corner of the Mormon Temple grounds in the delta of City Creek Canyon. There a three-foot tall sandstone obelisk bearing the word “Meridian” stands along with a nearby bronze plaque placed by the Mutual Improvement Association of the Church of Latter Day Saints. This monument is central to the convoluted story of how the official land survey of the Salt Lake valley occurred. This monument on the canyon’s delta played a central role in Utah’s history and in Mormon mythology.

The historical plaque suggests that the obelisk is a replacement for an original marker put there by Mormon pioneer and church leader Orson Pratt in 1847. The 1932 plaque lists its position as Latitude 40°47.747′ N, Longitude 111°52.541′ W. But Pratt’s marker was at the northeast corner of the Temple grounds and it was used by the initial Mormon government of Utah to survey provisional city lots before the completion of an official United States Coastal Survey monument and the 1868 opening of a United States Land Office in Utah (see March 25th). In the 1930s and as is still sometimes heard today, the Mormon Relief Society claimed that the accuracy of Pratt’s determination of the location of the base and range meridian monument was divinely inspired. In 1855, United States Coastal Surveyor David H. Burr established the official sandstone marker at the southeast corner, and it was only a few hundred feet away from Pratt’s marker at the northeast corner. My modern GPS locator, which uses a modern but different coordinate geodetic system, puts Latitude 40°47.747′ N, Longitude 111°52.541′ W about one-half mile away from the sandstone monument. The myth goes that Pratt, a mathematician and astronomer, traveled with the 1847 advance party carrying a then state-of-art Dolland six inch refractor telescope, a mis-calibrated chronometer, and a self-made mileage meter attached to his wagon. Despite traveling over 1,000 miles over uneven prairie and mountains, Pratt was able to determine his position with high accuracy relative to Burr’s subsequent sandstone monument (Y.L.N.M.I. Assoc., 1900 at 343 “only a few feet short”; Giles Letter, Oct. 2nd, 1949, “misinformation in the minds of some of the guides on Temple Square”). This location of the sandstone monument is culturally tied to the adjacent Mormon Temple. The Temple has high significance in the Mormon religion as the physical Temple is viewed by members as the visible base of a celestial temple that extends upwards to heaven. Thus, Pratt’s high accuracy measurement of the temple’s location supports feelings that the Salt Lake Temple’s location is divinely ordained.

A loosefleaf folder in the archives of the University of Utah provides another interpretation (copy in possession of author). Bancroft’s “History of Utah” reports that Pratt originally measured the baseline and range meridian at 40°45’44” N, 111°26’34” W (Bancroft 1890). Pratt’s survey station was not at the existing monument at the southeast corner of the station, but rather his station was at the northeast corner of the Temple. An anonymous memorandum in the Pratt telescope file, reduces the position of Pratt’s station and the position of the 1855 United States survey marker, and concludes that Pratt’s position estimate was off by “0.26” [arcseconds] in latitude, equivalent to approximately 2630 feet, or 1/2 mile, and 27′ 26″ in longitude, equivalent to about 126,210 feet, or 23 9/10 miles” (id). The accuracy of Pratt’s latitude estimate was excellent given his high-quality Dolland refractor and that latitude is amenable determination from a telescope and star chart alone. The accuracy of his longitude measurement, although off by 23 miles, was also excellent for the 1800s. Highly accurate longitude measurement required the arrival of a telegraph wire to Utah through which the relative time of a star transiting directly over the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. and Utah could be determined electronically. The first transcontinental telegram transmission in Utah occurred on October 18, 1861. The United States Coast Survey did not begin to experiment with telegraphic determination of longitude until 1865 (Gould, 1865).

Burr’s 1855 sandstone monument would play a further key role in Utah’s Territorial history. The early Mormon settlers, having originally moved to unallocated lands of the United States in 1847, were understandably concerned that the United States Land Office that issued official federal deeds to homesteads on federal territorial lands would not recognize deeds issued by the Mormon’s unofficial State of Deseret prior to the Utah Territory Organic Act of 1850. The pioneers’ concerns were eventually borne out when the Federal Land Office opened with the arrival of the transcontinental railroad in 1868 (March 25th). The settlers were required to repurchase their lands a second time from the federal government (id). Thus, when United States surveyor Burr arrived in 1855, local government and its citizens were resistant to Burr’s efforts to survey the valley (White, 1983). In 1855, Brigham Young and the Utah Territorial Legislature had not obtained a commitment from the federal government to recognize the pre-1850 church deeds.

Although Burr attempted to execute his official duties, on August 30, 1856, he reported by letter that one of his survey contractors had been beaten by William Hickman, a member of the Mormon “Danite Angels”, and three other men (Burr Letter, August, 30th, 1856, in White at 316). The Danite Angels where known as a extra-judicial gang who worked at the direction of Brigham Young, and statements made by Hickman to Burr indicated that the beating occurred at the request of high church officials (Burr Letter). After further threats (White, 317-319) Burr fled Utah in 1857, and subsequently, this and other events lead President James Buchanan to proclaim Utah in open rebellion against the United States government on April 6, 1858 (Proclamation at White, 319-320). (White also reviews the many disputes regarding the veracity of Burr’s claims.) In part as a result of Burr’s allegations, in 1857, Johnston’s army was then sent by the United States from the east to occupy the territory and to quell with Utah Rebellion. Following resolution of the Utah Rebellion, the technological development of determining longitude with telegraphy and the arrival of the transcontinental railroad spurred further federal land surveys in Utah.

In 1869, George W. Dean and F. H. Agnew of the United States Coastal Survey were sent to establish the official latitude and longitude of the Salt Lake Base Meridian. Two stations used in making his official estimate of the location of the initial point were buried underneath the sidewalk about 117 feet northwest of the Burr sandstone marker under temple granite (White, 329). Those measuring stations were again moved after the 1893 completion of the Mormon Temple blocked necessary sight lines (White, 330). The present official location of the meridian and initial point for the purposes of surveying in Salt Lake City is Dean marker. To confuse matters further, Professor Orson Pratt continued to use his observatory to the northwest of the sandstone monument and inside the Temple grounds walls to make daily measurements of local noon. Those measurements set the official time for the state through 1897. Thus, over time some residents came to mistakenly believe that monuments setting the position of Pratt’s observatory were an earlier official initial point of the the Salt Lake Baseline and Meridian (Giles Letter). White also clarifies that the official meridian for land surveys covering larger regions of public lands in Utah is about 55 feet away and parallel to Dean’s meridian (White, 330). Conversely, the Salt Lake County Surveyor’s Office online information system shows the Dean marker as the corner point for Salt Lake County surveys (Salt Lake County Surveyor 2017). That marker was last relocated in May 2000 (id).

In 1871, the Hayden U.S.G.S. survey expedition came through Utah, and one of Hayden’s task was surveying lands granted to the transcontinental railroads. He was not concerned with surveying Utah. Local peaks such as O’Sullivan Peak on the Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon divide in Salt Lake County commemorate the early Utah photographic work of Timothy H. O’Sullivan, the expedition’s photographer. His early Utah pictures taken on glass plates under seemingly impossible conditions are legendary (see Utah Division of State History, 2017, Link). My favorite of his images is of the upper cirque below Lone Peak at the south end of Salt Lake Valley. Lone Peak, at 12,000 feet above sea level and 6,700 feet in altitude above the valley floor, can be seen from the canyon mouth, my home, and from all other locations in the valley. To the valley, the Peak presents a wall of granite columns, but these protect a glacial “U” shaped upper cirque the size of four football fields. In modern times, hiking Lone Peak involves an hour drive to the south end of the valley, and then an all day 12 hour hike through scrub forests and steep forty degree lower slopes with poor intermittent trails. In the 1870s, O’Sullivan would have taken a day to travel from the city to the south valley trail. Then he would have forced burros carrying several hundred pounds of photographic equipment with glass plates through the impenetrable, trail-less scrub oak. His photographic outing must have taken days to complete. Being a machine age modern, how he returned his exposed glass plates unbroken back to the valley floor seems superhuman. This is the stuff of real western legend and not some pale tale of provado and gun battles.

Kings and Hayden Peaks in the Unitas commemorates Clarence King and geologist Ferdinand V. Hayden, the other co-leaders of the expedition. Wheeler Peak in Nevada commemorates the expedition’s fourth leader, George Wheeler. In 1878, the office of the United States Coastal Survey was renamed the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, and in 1896, Utah was admitted to the Union as a State. In 1897, William Eimbeck of the U.S.C. and G.S. completed his official land survey of north western Utah and laid official township and range markers for the Salt Lake Valley based on the Salt Lake Baseline and Meridian initial point (Eimbeck 1897).

With respect to his second task of surveying the Salt Lake valley in detail, Eimbeck was stymied by the many agricultural ditches that had been dug across the valley. Setting up and moving survey instruments by the usual method of horseback proved unworkable as horses could not cross the deep irrigation ditches. His innovative solution was to build a 56 foot long land boat or sled with catamarans and a central steel keel on which survey instruments could be mounted. Donkeys or horses then easily dragged the boat north an south along the valley and over any ditch obstacles (Eimbeck, Fig. 3, p. 768a). When a new measurement point was reached, metal stilts were ratcheted down, and the entire platform raised into the air and leveled. By this means, the corner monuments for each township and section in the Salt Lake valley were accurately laid.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 18th, 1852, he examines the construction of a hornet’s nest. He observes loosestrife and St. John’s Wort are blooming. On June 18th, 1853, he lists morning song birds: robin, chip-bird, blackbird, and martin. He finds a large toadstool, and notes that eglantine and sweetbrier are blossoming. On a night walk with a near full Moon, he hears whippoorwills and notes that white flowers can be seen by moonlight. On June 18th, 1855, he notes that late season grasses are beginning to flower. On June 18th, 1859, he describes raindrops falling on the surface of the water before, during and after a storm. He sees swarms of gnats.

* * * *

On June 18th, 2003, the City announced its annual prohibition against fireworks north of 11th Avenue and in City Creek Canyon (Deseret News). On June 18th, 2011, Lowell Bodily, Salt Lake Valley Health Department, estimates that there are 3,000 homeless tent camps in Salt Lake Valley, and the Department finds about 15 to 20 camps in City Creek Canyon each year (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 18th, 1995, the City began work on converting the greenbelt at 2nd Avenue and Canyon Road into a park with faux City Creek (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 18th, 1992, Jack Quintana, a groundskeeper at the State Capitol notes that there an explosion of rock squirrels at the State Capitol, and he notes they their population varies on a nine-year cycle (Salt Lake Tribune). The adjacent City Creek Canyon is primary breeding habitat for the squirrels. On June 18th, 1930, William Monson, a smoker who started a fire near City Creek Canyon was fined $5 USD (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 18th, 1900, more than 12 cattle, bearing the Circle-9 brand, were impounded for illegally grazing in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune).

Advertisements

Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.