For those of you who didn’t read the original post, it mentioned that when I was a boy, my siblings and I used to sit and stand on this survey marker while waiting to catch the school bus. I can remember reading the curious marker hundreds of times as a child.
As things go, I got older and I hadn’t thought about that marker in a long time, that is, until recently when we took a family trip to my parents’ house for the holidays. I walked out to the marker with my kids and told them about how it was just part of the scenery during my bus-catching days.
The metal marker is encased in a small cement cube that’s fixed into the ground. Many of you have likely seen markers of this type because thousands of them have been placed around the country by the U.S. Department of the Interior over the centuries. I know of at least one other one, just off Conecuh County Road 15 in Belleville. Someone also told me that there’s one on top of the Overhead Bridge in Evergreen, but I haven’t personally walked up there (yet) to check it out.
These survey markers, which are sometimes called geodetic markers or benchmarks, are placed to mark key survey points on the earth’s surface and are used for land surveying purposes. The marker near my parents’ home was apparently placed there by surveyors I 1971, and the elevation there is 383 feet above sea level.
Beside this marker, there’s a metal sign on a post that reads as follows – “WITNESS POST – PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB NEARBY SURVEY MARKER – FOR INFORMATION WRITE TO THE DIRECTOR U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY, DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR, WASHINGTON D.C. 20242”
I snapped a few pictures of the marker and on the ride home, I got to thinking about what sort of information I might receive if I were to actually write the USGS Director. So later, I did just that. What follows is the letter that I mailed on Jan. 12 in hopes that I could learn more about the marker.
Thurs., Jan. 12, 2012
Dr. Marcia McNutt
Director, U.S. Geological Survey
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20240
Dear Dr. McNutt,
Re: USGS Marker
I hope this message finds you doing well. I know that you are extremely busy, and I appreciate you taking the time to read this letter.
I’ve enclosed a few photos of a survey marker that’s near my parents’ house, just outside of Frisco City, Ala. When I was a kid, my siblings and I would often sit or stand on it while waiting for the school bus. I’ve always been curious about the significance of this marker, and while showing it to my children over the holidays, I noticed that it says to write the USGS Director for more information.
My children are elementary school age, and I would appreciate any information you could send us about this marker. I know they’d get a big kick out of it, and I have to admit that I’m curious as well.
I work for a newspaper in Evergreen, Ala., and I’ll probably write a short column based on the information you send back. I know there are other markers like this across the country, and I suspect that our local readers would enjoy reading about them.
In the end, I really appreciate you taking the time to read this letter and thanks in advance for whatever information you can provide.
When I mailed the letter, I really had no idea if I’d ever receive a reply. For all I knew they received letters like this all the time and didn’t have the time or manpower to respond to all of them.
Fast-forward to last Thursday, when I received a nice e-mail from Doug Thompson, the Chief of the Science Information Services branch of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Office of Communications and Publishing in Reston, Va. His e-mail read as follows:
Thank you contacting the USGS regarding the survey marker on your property. Information about benchmarks and other survey markers for the Eastern U.S. are kept in our Rolla, Mo. office. I have faxed your letter to our Rolla office and have called the office chief to let him know it's coming. You should hear back from him very soon, we all love to inform people about our agency and our science, particularly when it involves kids, you can't start them on a science track too soon.
If for some reason you do not hear back in a reasonable time please contact me directly, my contact information is below.
On Monday, I received a nice phone call at the office from Keith A. Brady, who works in the USGS’s Office of Communications and Publishing in Rolla, Missouri. We talked for nearly 20 minutes about the history of these survey markers, and he told me a lot I didn’t know. He talked about how the markers are vital to mapmaking, especially in regard to the establishment of elevation contour lines on topographical maps.
He also noted that the locations of these markers are indicated on official USGS maps and that they are typically located in places that are easily distinguished in aerial photos, such as along fencerows, heavily traveled roads, etc. You can download these maps at http://store.usgs.gov.
He also said that you can have a replica made of these markers by a company called MountainClimb’s Geo-Situ Summit Bench Marks. These replicas are somewhat expensive, but are popular among mountain climbers. Each replica is inscribed with the name and elevation of the marker and is made based on photos of the original.
I asked Brady if the USGS had an online database for people to search for information about individual markers and he jokingly replied that they had “a very sophisticated three-drawer filing cabinet database system that’s not currently accessible online.” He was good enough to dig into their records and sent me the following information about the marker near my parents’ home. Here’s what it said:
“FRISCO CITY POST OFFICE, 2.1 MI SOUTH OF, ALONG STATE HIGHWAY 21, THENCE 2.9 MI WEST, THENCE 0.6 MI NORTHWEST; 70 FT NORTH OF, AND 0.9 FT HIGHER THAN CENTERLINE OF ROAD AT DRIVE NORTHWEST; 24 FT NORTHEAST OF CENTERLINE OF DRIVE; 11 FT EAST OF POWER POLE; 1 FT WEST OF FENCE; 0.5 FT WEST OF METAL WITNESS POST; IN CONCRETE POST; STANDARD TABLET STAMPED "91 RAP 1971 383" PAINTED "BM 382.6" 382.545 FEET (DATUM OF 1929)”
In the end, I appreciate Brady and Thompson taking the time to reply to my information request. They both seemed eager to share information about the services offered by the USGS, and it was fun to gather more detailed information about a marker that I used to sit on while waiting to catch the school bus.
How many of you out there are familiar with these markers? Do you know of any in your neighborhood? Let us know in the comments section below.