Jackson County, MI
Surveying Michigan


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JACKSON, MI – Two centuries ago this year, something monumental happened in the wilderness that became Jackson County.

     "Wait a minute," you might say. "Jackson County had nothing in 1815 except native tribes, large mosquitoes, and untamed nature."

     True enough, but history happened when government surveyors arrived to mark a spot at what's now the northern boundary of Rives and Henrietta townships.

     That spot was ground zero for surveying Michigan. Virtually every property description in our state is still measured from that "initial point."

     "That's nice," you might say again. "But what's the big deal about surveying?"

     First, the 1815 survey was an adventure.

     Six survey crews did work complicated by fears of hostilities with Indians. Natives had seen enough frontier expansion to know surveyors were followed by floods of settlers.

     Surveyors slogged along a meridian line north from Defiance, Ohio, and an east-west baseline starting from what is today Eight Mile Road in Detroit.

     The initial point was established in October, weeks before surveyors quit for the winter. They recorded being "completely worn out" after "wading in ice water for three days."

     Survey work went on for years. It opened Michigan's interior to settlement, and shaped life in ways we rarely consider. Among other things, surveyors laid the foundation for township government, school districts, and straight country roads.

     Surveyors also made a mistake. The east and west baselines missed at the meridian line by 935 feet, giving Michigan the distinction of having two initial points. That mistake explains the slight jog in the boundary between Jackson and Ingham counties.

     Michigan government owns the initial-point site and 40 years ago had big plans for a historic park. But the Meridian-Baseline State Park was landlocked, so two monuments there remained inaccessible to the public for decades.

     Suddenly, the little-known and landlocked park has received unfamiliar attention.

     The Michigan Department Natural Resources purchased property off Meridian Road two or three years ago, so the monuments are no longer landlocked, said Gary Jones, park manager.
Then a local group called 1815 Surveying Michigan formed spontaneously in 2014 and began proposing 200th anniversary plans.
     Encouraged by the surge of interest, the DNR built a gravel parking lot in the fall. It hopes to team with Boy Scouts to open a half-mile trail from the parking lot to the monuments this year.

     The 1815 Surveying Michigan group intends to organize a 200th anniversary event in October, and it is raising $5,000 for a historical marker. Tax-deductible donations can be made through Ella Sharp Museum.

     What happened 200 years ago? That's when Jackson County and Michigan stopped being uncharted wilderness and started being the place we know today.

     It was a monumental change that deserves being remembered.

-- Contact Brad Flory at brad@lifeinplaid.com

Reprinted with the permission of the Jackson Citizen Patriot and mlive.com.



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