Yesterday I stumbled on what has to be the most wonderfully narrative data set I’ve ever seen: NOAA’s listings of the location of geodetic markers across the U.S. and territories. These markers are used by survey teams as reliable and official starting points for surveys of building and road projects, an important resource in the pre-GPS era. The data includes the usual bits of information such as date placed, a reference number, the kind of marker (23,760 were set in boulders). But what was so exciting was not the hard data, but the written descriptions of where to find the markers. Above are two descriptions of markers from Manhattan, buried in a PDF I found on a message board – the start of the rabbit hole. But NOAA has nearly 800,000 of these listings available online, so of course I scraped all of them.
This marker in Wallowa, Washington placed in 1926 is a great example, including careful measurements with an almost poetic place description.
“Described by Coast and Geodetic Survey 1946 3.1 miles north from Joseph. About 3.1 miles north along Oregon State Highway 82 from the post office at Joseph, SE in the top of a concrete syphon box on the southwest side of the highway, about 300 feet east of a large red barn with a sign facing highway reading Home Ranch of E.H. Eggleson. 109 feet southeast of the center line of a cross road junction, 40 feet southwest of the center line of the highway, about the same elevation as the immediate road level.”