Two centuries after the Corps of Discovery explored our young country, the National Geodetic Survey helped celebrate their historic journey with a series of commemorative survey markers.
Manufactured by Berntsen International, these oversized (12-inch diameter) markers were placed at locations along the route of the Corps of Discovery, and at other locations significant to the expedition.
We present here two articles about the NGS’s Lewis and Clark bicentennial project. First is a short piece by Nikki Case of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NGS’s parent agency) about a commemorative marker placed at a president’s home in Charlottesville, Virginia. Then read about the setting of two markers in Indiana, where Lewis and Clark set forth on their journey.
Lewis and Clark, Surveyors
By Nikki Case, NOAA
On January 18, 1803, President Thomas Jefferson confidentially requested $2,500 from Congress to establish the Corps of Discovery. This company, now better known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition, was a core component of Jefferson’s vision of national expansion and development. The Corps’ journey of exploration has inspired Americans ever since, and has entered into our national history.
Surveying was an important part of the Corps’ work, and positions were recorded daily along with other information. By the end of the expedition, they had successfully charted large parts of the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains, and the Columbia River watershed.
In 2002, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, in partnership with the National Park Service and others, decided to commemorate this early survey work with a marker set in the West Lawn of Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello.
The marker was set during a ceremony on October 14, 2002. [A formal dedication was held the following January.] Dan Jordan of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation said of the marker, “It’s a wonderful tribute to Jefferson’s interest in science, and a tribute to Jefferson’s vision of Lewis and Clark’s journey.”
In the week following the installation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Geodetic Survey (NGS), and various global positioning system manufacturers positioned the marker to an accuracy of one-half inch relative to the National Spatial Reference System (NSRS).
The engraving on the 12-inch diameter brass marker is taken from the Jefferson peace medal. As they crossed the country, Lewis and Clark presented these medals, called “marks of friendship” by Jefferson, to American Indian chiefs and warriors. A profile of Jefferson is shown on the obverse side of the medal, surrounded by the inscription, “TH. JEFFERSON PRESIDENT OF THE U.S. A.D. 1801.” The reverse side of the medal has the inscription “PEACE AND FRIENDSHIP,” and shows the image of clasped hands with a crossed tomahawk and peace pipe above them.
Similar commemorative medals have been placed across the continent along Lewis and Clark’s route, ending at Fort Clatsop National Memorial in Astoria, Oregon, the site of the expedition’s westernmost base camp.
Nikki Case’s account of the Monticello marker (with photos and station coordinates), along with many other fascinating stories about survey monuments in the U.S., can be found in Rhonda Rushing’s book, Lasting Impressions: A Glimpse into the Legacy of Surveying
, available directly
from Berntsen International.
Lewis and Clark in Indiana
By Mike Davis
In October 1803, William Clark and Meriwether Lewis met at the Falls of the Ohio, now between the cities of Louisville, Kentucky and Clarksville, Indiana. Using the nearby cabin of William’s brother, General George Rogers Clark, as their base, they planned their upcoming expedition, then headed off down the Ohio River to begin their history-making journey.
In 2003, the Initial Point Chapter of the Indiana Society of Professional Land Surveyors, led by chapter president Terry Kendall, PLS, set two Lewis and Clark bicentennial markers in the Clarksville area.
A 12-inch peace medal was installed in Falls of the Ohio State Park.
Along with one monumented just across the river in Louisville, Kentucky, this marker commemorates the men from Kentucky and Indiana
who braved many hardships in their trek to the West Coast with the Corps of Discovery.
The Falls of the Ohio marker is near the interpretive center, overlooking the park’s 386-million-year-old fossil beds. Nearby is a statue of Captain Meriwether Lewis and Captain William Clark shaking hands when they met to go on their journey. In his book Undaunted Courage, historian Stephen Ambrose stated, “when they shook hands, the Lewis and Clark Expedition began.”
As with the other markers set along Lewis and Clark’s route, the Clarksville station was carefully surveyed. So in addition to its historical and commemorative significance, it can provide surveyors with highly accurate positioning. NGS datasheet DH2918
provides information on the Corps of Discovery point at the Interpretive Center.
A smaller marker was monumented at the site of General George Rogers Clark’s cabin, which is also part of Falls of the Ohio State Park. This marker (NGS PID DH2913
) is below a historical plaque that says, “Lewis & Clark Expedition 1803–1806.”
In October 2003, exactly two hundred years after the start of the expedition, dedication ceremonies were held for the Falls of the Ohio markers. The master of ceremonies at Clark’s cabin was Victor McCauley, PLS. J. Ross Mackay, NGS geodetic advisor for Kentucky, presented a replica of the peace medal to each person involved with setting it. More than 500 people attended the event, including state and local dignitaries. Members of the Clarksville Historical Society dressed in period costumes. The next day, Corps of Discovery re-enactors set off in a keelboat and two pirogues downriver to Fort Massac, on their way toward their winter camp near St. Louis.
All the credit for this venture should go to the members of the Initial Point Chapter of the Indiana Society of Professional Land Surveyors who worked on the project during off-hours from their survey businesses. In addition to then-president Terry Kendall, Initial Point Chapter members taking part in the commemorative marker project were Steve Marshall, Eric Rider, Raymond (Andy) Granger, Kirk McCauley, Victor McCauley, Brian Jackson, Harold Hart, Frank Ballintyn, and Mark Gardner.
Mike Davis is an associate member of the Indiana Society of Professional Land Surveyors and a copy editor for The Indianapolis Star. He plans to complete work on a Land Surveying Certificate from the University of Wyoming’s Outreach Program in 2009, and is studying Construction Engineering Management Technology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
This article was adapted from one that appeared in Hoosier Surveyor, Volume 33, Issue 3.
Originally published on September 17, 2008