Thanks to the good faith and honesty of Kyle Kristiansen, the young man who unearthed a benchmark disk from Verplanck Colvin’s 1882 Adirondack Survey in a New Jersey field, I had in my possession a triangulation survey bolt marked Station 77.
Colvin and his crew placed thousands of benchmarks, but only about three hundred of these nickel-plated copper triangulation bolts, which I was told were numbered roughly from 1 to 299.
I assumed it would be a simple matter to find records that would positively identify it. I was mistaken.
My examination of online records and reports by Colvin turned up little, but offered a single lead. It was a table from his 1879 Report to the NYS Legislature that showed benchmarks for his 1875 Division of Rods and Levels from Westport to the summit of Mount Marcy. Benchmark 15, located about a mile east of Elizabethtown, was also listed as Station 77. Several of the benchmarks were listed that way, doing double duty as leveling benchmarks but also as triangulation stations. I already knew that Colvin often reused numbers, but while I found other references to benchmarks numbered 77 I could find no reference to a Station numbered 77.
At first I was excited – after all, this was the definitive series of measurements to Marcy’s summit from known elevations in Westport, and these constituted an very important and historic series of benchmarks. Not only that, Colvin described Station 77 as situated “on a large rock on the north side of the road” along the course of present Route 9N. So, this was a disk located not in the back country or on a remote summit but presumably in plain sight, a prize glinting in the sun, waiting to be pried out by some enterprising vandal.
As astute readers will have already gathered, there was a big problem with this theory. Colvin’s Rod and Level determination of Marcy’s elevation occurred in 1875 and Station 77 was unmistakably dated 1882. So, tempting as this explanation was, I abandoned it.
So, still assuming there must be a complete, ordered list of triangulation stations somewhere, I made inquires to the Colvin Crew, the Adirondack Museum and New York State among others. The Colvin Crew was helpful (being intimately familiar with the nature of the issue) but still, no dice.
Ultimately a researcher knows there is no substitute for primary sources, so I had the New York State Archives ship the microfilm of Colvin’s complete field notes for 1882 to Wisconsin and I went to work. I scanned thousands of darkened, fuzzy hand-written pages looking for clues and induced not a few throbbing headaches along the way.
Examination of Colvin’s field notes showed that my previous assumption that he did’t reuse station numbers was incorrect. The various journals show inconsistent use of terminology and taught me that I could not rely on the word station in any way.
But I could rely upon the method of his work. There was a listing of a Station 77 in a rod a level measurement up the Hudson, but this work did not involve triangulation. An extensive survey of Raquette Lake also included a Station 77 but that mark was found in place by the Colvin Crew. Colvin Crew Superintendent Jim Vianna, with whom I corresponded several times, confirmed that the bolt in question was a traverse station mark, not a triangulation bolt. There was extensive triangulation work in the Moose River area, near Wells and in the Macomb Purchase, but no recording of a Station 77. From what I had learned before, given that the triangulation stations themselves were sequentially numbered, this work would have involved higher numbers than 77.
I kept looking, but the reels of 1882 film were running out. I continued to note every reference in the microfilm I thought might be useful, but was still no closer to an answer.
Then at last I found something. In 1882, Colvin had sent an assistant (not named, but likely C.R. Hawkins) to the area of the southern border of the Old Miltary Tract, the Town of Moriah and further south to Lake George to “monument” previous benchmarks and tie them into the triangulation system which Colvin had begun from the shore of Lake Champlain. The specific instructions would more accurately situate and permanently monument critical stations that had been established, but not permanently marked. Permanent markers were nickel-plated copper bolts marked with the year they were verified and the bolt was placed, not the year they were originally identified.
Given where the assistant was sent and where the network of triangles lay in that region, I was returned to Benchmark 15 and Station 77 on the road from Westport. The difference in dates had a plausible explanation!
Do I have a definitive answer? Certainly not. It’s only a best guess. But it’s an exciting one for me. Colvin’s line from Westport to Marcy is one of the great lines in New York surveying history. Not surprisingly DEC has confirmed to me that they want the disk back. They shall have it, with my next trip to the Adirondacks. They are looking at their records to see if they can shed any further light. There is more work I could do as well (such as seeing if other triangulation bolts from the area of Hawkins’ work also bear the date 1882). But I have learned a lot more about Verplanck Colvin and his great Adirondack Survey from his primary materials. That has been a joy and a privilege.
As to how Station 77 ended up in New Jersey, who knows? But I did discover a possible Adirondack connection. The address of the listed owner of a former Christian Girl’s camp, is just a couple of miles from the field in which it was found.
Photo: the Station 77 Triangulation Bolt