Calais, Maine

Half Way Markers
Harold E. Nelson
14 Hill Avenue,
Newport, ME 04953

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From the Perry, Maine Sesquicentennial 1818-1968 Historical Souvenir Book
Origin Unknown

About two miles north of Perry Corner on Route One (known locally as the Back District Road), well back from the highway, in a simple little park-like area, stands a rough-cut stone. The upper third of it’s four-foot height is cut back on a slant to enable the observer to read more easily the inscription carved on it’s once polished surface.Halfway Marker


In 1888 the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey crew had worked their way northward along the coast of Maine as far as the St. Croix River. The two young surveyors, Bates and Longfellow by name, “put up” at the well-known Washburn Place for parts of two summers while completing their work in the area.

Most of the “bench-marks” set by these surveyors were left along the shore itself, but as the town of Perry was centered fairly upon the 45th Parallel, the young men thought it would be a good idea to set an additional bronze marker and temporary stone at the exact spot where the imaginary line crosses the main road running north and south through the center of the town. Proud of their careful work with their instruments, they declared, “Regarding the accuracy of this setting, if any other such field party were to re-establish this point, they would locate within 12 inches of the present location”.

The temporary marker lasted seven or eight years and then some Perry citizens, along with the Reverend Charles Whittier of Dennysville, fearful that the exact location of the line might be lost, decided that a permanent markers should be set up. Charles Washburn was delegated to go up to the Maine Red Granite Company in Red Beach and order the stone, with it’s inscription, early in 1896. (An entry in C. L. Washburn’s diary mentions the estimated cost of the stone as being $8).

Mr. Washburn died in July of that year, and Reverend Whittier moved away. There is no further references as to the whereabouts of the stone marker until 1899, when Frank Washburn, the son of Charles brought up the matter at the Town Meeting in March. The town voted to pay for the stone providing volunteer labor would do the work of moving it and setting it up properly. The labor was gladly furnished by interested citizens and summer residents led by Doctor Henry S. Nash, and the marker as duly set in place with proper ceremony on July Fourth, 1899.

Transportation was no mean consideration when moving the stone. Six cubic feet of close-grained granite weigh more than half a ton. The only conveyance deemed suitable with the time was the Washburn hayrack, heavily bedded with hay.

The Halfway Marker and its little park are presently cared for by the Perry Improvement Association with the assistance from the Maine State Highway Department. The enlargement of the park area around the marker was made possible a few years ago by the generosity of Mrs. Elizabeth Spinney, the owner of the surrounding property.

Transcribed with comments, February 18th, 2002 by H. E. Nelson
The origin of the material of this piece is unknown, however I consider it very accurate, as the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey is specifically mentioned, which is often confused with the more familiar U.S. Geological Survey (the topo map makers).

The Longfellow referred to is most likely Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow, brother of Maine’s poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Alexander worked all along the Maine coast as a Chief of Party of a Topographic Survey crew for the USC&GS.

Was Longfellow in Perry?
Longfellow is mentioned in the Coast Survey Report of 1886 as having been directed to organize a Topographic Party in 1885, but disappears in Coast Survey records after that. Mr. Longfellow remarks that the west shore of the St. Croix River forms the eastern frontier of the State of Maine and of the United States opposite the province of New Brunswick in the Dominion of Canada, and recommend that the west hills commanding the river should be well surveyed as they could be important as military and strategic points of view. The 1886 Report concludes that after his field season, Longfellow returned to Portland and was placed on 'waiting orders'.

The Bates referred to MAY be in fact George Meigs Bache, the pronunciation of the name Bache (Bate--cch, one syllable) being very nearly the common Maine name of Bates. G. M. Bache was also a Chief of Party for another Topographic Survey crew of the C&GS, and also a relative of Alexander Dallas Bache, the Second Superintendent of the Coast Survey, that measured the Epping Baseline near Cherryfield in 1857. Bache’s name appears in some of the same Annual Reports of the Coast Survey of that time.

The mention of the specific word “benchmark” indicates that this piece may have been written as much as 20 or 30 years after the stone was placed. Metal disks set in granite and masonry that carry elevation above sea level are called Benchmarks. The survey stations used by Bache and Longfellow were not marked with metal disks at that time, though they were probably not commonly known to be “benchmarks”.

Why Perry?
In 1863, the U.S. Coast Survey was engaged in establishing mapping points in the Perry area to create accurate charts of the navigable waters and shore lines. In that era, their points were marked with drill holes in rock perhaps filled with sulfur or lead. Church spires, smoke stacks, and "a flag in tree" set by the CS provided further reference for the topographers that would follow the triangulation work.

Intricate mapping using a device called a "planetable" was used to actually draw the maps on a drafting board in the field. The board had a telescope with angular graduations on it that was used to locate the jogs in the shoreline and other topographic features. These "Planetable" sheets were taken to the Washington office where copper engravings were made to produce maps.

One of the topo points used to orient the planetable sheets was a CS station called PERRY HOUSE WITH RED DOOR CHIMNEY 1863. It had a calculated latitude and longitude, which were drawn on the paper. But there was something more unique about this station. Its latitude was 44-59-59.76 degrees north, very close to the 45 parallel half way between the Equator and the North Pole.

Is the house still standing?
Probably yes. Handheld Sportsman grade GPS observations for latitude 45 degrees north in the NAD27 Datum on Shore Road passed by a house with a hip roof and single chimney in the center of the house.

Where is the original bronze marker?
We do not know what exactly original marker was set. It may have been set beside Shore Road in front of the RED DOOR house. We don’t know which side of the road it was set on, and if it were too close to the current centerline, ditching operations may have disturbed it.

Can the original location be found?
Yes and No. Using special Global Positioning technology called Real-Time Kinematic survey, the 45th parallel can be located within 20 millimeters. Since we do not know the exact longitude of the original mark, we have to rely on establishing a line on the ground crossing Shore Road, representing the 45th parallel of 1896, and use a metal detector to look for the mark. We should note that today we can locate the 45th Parallel to within 20 millimeters, the reality is that a band about two meters wide should be searched, and yes it is possible that we might be within 12 inches of the original mark.

Is the original marker near the 45th Parallel stone?
Possibly not (a hypothesis). PERRY HOUSE WITH RED DOOR CHIMNEY is located on Shore Road. It would be very easy for the surveyors to locate the 45th Parallel on the ground at Shore Road. Since no official record of this endeavor has been found, they likely did this on their own time, probably near the end of a day’s work along Shore Road. It would have been more difficult to locate the 45th crossing on Back District Road, and there were residents on Shore Road that could appreciate the effort, compared to the scarcity of house on Back District Road.

It would also be a good idea to establish the 45th Parallel crossing on US1 and do a search at that location, just in case that is the location of the original mark. It would also be nice to have the exact crossing location on US 1 for tourism purposes.

How was the stone placed on Back District Road?
I was told that at a certain point in time, Back District Road became the main traveled highway through Perry. At that time, someone measured the distance in miles north to where Shore Road and Back District Roads merged. The same distance was then measured south on Back District Road to the location that the stone is today, where it can be viewed by many more people than were it on Shore Road. I am not sure if the has always been on US1, or was moved to that site after being on Shore Road. That point has yet to be resolved.

How far back do we know the location of the stone?
In November 1921, the Maine State Highway Commission placed a Survey Field Crew headed by F. M. Clarke, Party Chief, H. L. Fisher, Transitman, with crewmembers T. B. McCullough, Ross Lawler and Harry Flagg in the vicinity of the Perry 45th North Latitude stone to begin a highway survey. There were actually 2 highway projects and they joined near the 45th stone. The survey field book N-89 shows the topography in that area, including the landowner, Leroy Spinney. The existing Back District Road was “rebuilt” with then current highway standards. This is direct evidence of the location of the stone being in it's current location since at least 1921. Of interest also, one of the old highway plans shows corduroy pre-existing the rebuild.

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