The Minnesota Association of County Surveyors gather at Lee’s Monument, which marks the beginning of the boundary on the West bank of the Mississippi River between the Minnesota Territory and the State of Iowa SUBMITTED PHOTO
The Minnesota Association of County Surveyors gather at Lee’s Monument, which marks the beginning of the boundary on the West bank of the Mississippi River between the Minnesota Territory and the State of Iowa SUBMITTED PHOTO
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When members of the Minnesota Association of County Surveyors (MACS) gathered for their quarterly meeting on July 16, surveying history was on the agenda. That’s because this month’s venue was Houston County, where the work of surveying the state began.
Near the southeastern corner of the county, two monuments mark the earliest work in plotting out the land which we now know as Minnesota. The group visited both.
On the northern side of New Albin, Iowa, the iron monument erected by Captain Thomas J. Lee of the U.S. Topographical Engineer Corps in 1849 still stands, even though it has been shifted a bit from it’s original position since that spot is now on private land.
Lee had been sent to the area to mark the latitude of the boundary between the new State of Iowa and the Minnesota Territory. His six foot high cast iron marker was set at 40 degrees, 30 minutes north, which the United States Congress had decreed would become the state line. However, the actual east-west line of monuments which were needed to mark out the border had yet to be set.
The job fell to the 1852 surveying expedition led by Captain Andrew Talcott, which first set up an “initial point” to work from. That’s where the intersection of an east-west line shot from Lee’s post and a north-south line of longitude shot from a known Iowa survey marker met.
A hefty carved wooden post originally marked the initial point. The spot was much more than an official state boundary. From it, township and section corners were calculated which would set property lines for homesteaders throughout Minnesota and the Dakotas.
Talcott was ordered to establish township corners at six mile intervals, and check his latitude through a set of careful celestial observations taken not farther than 48 miles apart. There were eight stations established for that purpose.
A restored initial point replica marker was dedicated on the site in 2010, complete with an informational kiosk.
“The MACS meet all over the state, but generally, they don’t make it to the extreme southeastern counties because it’s not that convenient,” assistant Houston County surveyor Tammy Mauss said.”In the 20 years I’ve been here, they’ve only visited once before....
“I think the draw was being able to tour Lee’s monument and the initial point. It’s kind of a big deal in the surveyor world. For all of them that’s kind of a cool thing to see. They got to see where it all started.”
The Talcott expedition was a big undertaking, with 43 men sent out to do the field work. The countryside was still wild, with one account stating that the group only found one farm along the entire Minnesota border. That farmstead was in what would become Houston County, owned by Henry Robinson about four miles west of Eitzen (Des Moines Sunday Register, July 12, 1970).
Mauss added that the modern-day surveyors use their meetings to compare notes, talk about the latest statutes and rules, and more. Common problems and dealing with difficult situations are always topics of discussion.
One could only guess what Talcott’s crew would have made of GPS receivers, but they’d probably have been more than happy to trade in the backbreaking job of pulling chains through heavy woods and brush, scrambling up steep hillsides and negotiating cliffs for the latest technology.