Sep 17 2011

Point of Origin

courtesy WikiCommons

One issue I’ve always had when writing games is that I’ll need multiple coordinate systems for one reason or another, and if I don’t keep good notes I’ll lose track of how they relate to each other. In the real world, coordinate systems get defined by surveyors which are used to describe the area they are measuring.  Cartographers take these surveyor measurements and combine them to draw their maps. In order to do this, markers are set out to be used as points of reference.

Since this site gets a handful of foreign visitors, a quick history review… In 1803, Thomas Jefferson negotiated the Louisiana Purchase, in which the U.S. bought a large portion of what is now the U.S.A from France. This is all of the land in the green shaded area to the right.  I personally had not realized that it encompassed part of Canada… apparently in 1818 we gave up our claim to the portion north of the 49th parallel in exchange for Great Britain giving up their claim to the Red River basin. Anyway, the territory had never been very extensively explored which is why the U.S. government sent several expeditions westward to find out what we had bought. The most famous of these was the Lewis and Clark expeditions, but the Pike expedition and a couple others were launched at about the same time for the same reason.

These general exploratory missions were not designed to map the territory however. So in 1815, when after the War of 1812 the U.S. considered granting land to veterans from that war in exchange for their service, the Robbins-Brown survey was commissioned.  Property deeds are worthless unless everyone can agree on where the property being described is located.

Robbins and Brown established the the fifth principal meridian (91 degrees, 3 minutes, 42 seconds West of Greenwhich), and drew an east-west line from the mouth of the Arkansas River. The origin (intersection of the east-west line and the north south-line) of their coordinate system (apparently called an initial point by surveyors) became the reference point for plat maps (official maps which define the boundaries of parcels of land) throughout the western states.

Marker, Louisiana Purchase State Park, Arkansas

The initial point also happens to be located in a swamp.

Although they had noted that two trees were growing at the intersection, and had made marks on trees, the initial surveying parties didn’t leave any type of permanent marker on the point itself. In 1921, surveyors found marks on trees in the swamp left by the original surveyors and identified the two gum trees (‘witness trees’) that had been noted as present at the intersection by the original surveying team. In 1924 the Daughters of the American Revolution put a stone marker at the site, and eventually the swamp was turned into a park by the State of Arkansas.

Boardwark into swamp

I visited the park today, which is about an hour and a half from where I live. I’d previously been to Toltec Mounds [Arkansas] State Park, which has a small museum, exhibits, walking paths, etc… This park has just a very small parking lot, an outhouse building and a wide boardwalk into the swamp which is probably about 300 yards long (round trip approx 1/3 mile). Panels approximately every 50 yards give information on the Louisiana Purchase, and about the swamp.

The swamp is a headwater swamp as opposed to a tailwater swamp- the famous swamps near coasts tend to be tailwater swamps. Headwater swamps have less variation in their water level over the course of the year… although the very visible water mark on the stone marker proves there is some change! These swamps were common in eastern Arkansas, but have mostly been drained and the land given over to agriculture. Since I was the only visitor (a couple from Tennessee arrived as I was leaving) I could hear the swamp wildlife moving about as I ambled down the boardwalk. I didn’t stay very long though, having not thought to bring bug repellent. (It’s still more or less summer here.) I did see a fairly large snake, but he slithered off before I could get a picture.

My coordinate systems may be buggy, but the bugs don’t actually bite and I’m fairly certain there are no snakes! :)


1 Comment

  • By Ann, September 23, 2011 @ 4:56 am

    hey, that was interesting. I wonder if I learned this in school? I can’t remember it, and I didn’t appreciate it then!

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