posted this note on the message board, but would appreciate it if someone
from the era 1895 into the early 20th century could read it and respond. I
realize that there are probably not many from that era around, but would
like to try to find someone. The attached photo is very much like what
would have been seen in Calais Observatory in 1866. This is Charles A.
Schott, Chief Mathematician of the Coast Survey in Spain in 1870 for a
Total Solar Eclipse, but the Astronomical Transit on the stone block was
similar to what was done at Calais. I would like to hear any stories of
what you think, or were told about the tall stone on the granite hill
behind the Academy was? A stone block, about a meter square used to be on
the top of the hill, but is now at the foot of the hill. Does anyone know
when the stone was last on the top of the hill?
I am sure most are unaware that this site was the U. S. Coast Survey's
Calais Observatory, established in 1857 for telegraphic longitude
measurements between Thomas Hill in Bangor; used again in 1866 to
complete, via the Transatlantic Telegraphic cable longitude observations
between Greenwich Observatory and Harvard Observatory. The site was last
used by the Coast Survey in 1895, timing star passages between Calais and
I have written the Calais Town Manager to see if there is interest to
preserve this site, perhaps as "Meridian Park". The historical
significance of this site to the surveying and mapping industry is similar
to the "Golden Spike" of railroad fame. Closing observations of timing
star meridian passages between Calais and Heart's Content, Newfoundland
concluded about December 16th, 1866.
The stone block sat on a pad and upon it was mounted an Astronomical
Transit. I believe the tall stone supported the Hardy Astronomical Clock.
I have seen and touched the chronograph sheets with time ticks and star
passage marks, which are at the National Archives, College Park, MD.
The Coast Survey also had a temporary MERIDIAN MARK 1866, nail in stake
next to a rock that was marked about 1 mile north of the Observatory,
located in St. Stephen, behind the Ryan property. I probably won't find
it, but have GPS to help. I am also looking for info on the Perry 45th
stone, especially articles from the era in which it was set.
Aerial of Calais
It is located in town Calais on a ledge knoll off North Street, across
from Dunkin Donuts, on the grounds of the old Calais Academy. As I
understand it, the kids call it "The Chimney", because from North Street
it resembles the remaining chimney from where a house might have burnt
down. On the grounds, one gets the feel that it might have been the
location of some old factory long since rotted away. Calling it "Maine's
Stonehenge" might be a stretch, but in reality it is to geodetic surveying
and mapping what the "golden spike" was to the railroad.
With the invention of the telegraph, the U.S. Coast Survey began timing
meridional passages of selected stars over the telegraph between ground
stations. In 1851, Sears Cook Walker, in charge of the Astronomical
Divison of the Coast Survey established a longitude station at the foot of
Thomas Hill in Bangor, and exchanged star timing signals over the
telegraph with William Cranch Bond of Harvard Observatory.
Thomas Hill Observatory was located, to the best I can determine at the
intersection of Union and James Streets in Bangor, near the Bruns
Chriopractic Office. I have found no remains of the observatory there as
it would probably take an "archeological" type dig, though probably
minimal to find any artifacts. There is a stone up the hill a little more
in a private residents back yard. It is an embedded rock with a drill hole
surrounded with the letters U S C S, for U.S. Coast Survey. That was
probably the geodetic station where horizontal angles were measured to
distant mountains. I do think that the rock is not in it's original
location, but at least it is still on the hill. Walker succeeded in
determining the difference of longitude between Harvard and Bangor in
1851, but the work was not done.
In the fall of 1857, immediately after the Coast Survey had measured the
Epping Baseline (still intact) near Cherryfield. Professor Alexander
Dallas Bache sent men to to Calais to establish an astronomical station to
progress the work eastward. With the permission of the Headmaster of
Calais Academy, the obtained permission to build the small building and
place the stones that would support their instruments.
Professor Bache returned to Washington, but later came back to Bangor to
participate in the 1857 Bangor to Calais Campaign. Bache and his men
stayed at the Bangor House. A small building probably resembling a garden
shed with slits in the roof was built at Calais. It is likely that remains
of Walker's station at Thomas Hill was made ready for the night
It is important to note that the Maine Telegraph Company had established a
continuous line from Portland to Calais that opened in February 1849. The
electrical connection between Bangor and Calais was so good, due to new
India rubber insulators installed by the telegraph company, that the clock
at Calais could mark the chronograph register at Calais, and at Bangor
with the same electrical signal. By taking the clock at Calais out, and
putting the Bangor clock in the circuit, it too could mark the register
paper in Calais as well as Bangor. The Coast Survey also did experiments
to measure the speed of electricity in the wire, but by exchanging the
clocks, they automatically took out that 'error'.
Professor William Brydone Jack, the first astronomer of British North
America (Canada) was located in Fredericton, at King's College, now the
University of New Brunswick. Jack's observatory is still there in
Fredericton. Jack did not have enough money in his funds to run a
telegraph line between the King's College Observatory and the Fredericton
Telegraph station, but had a Physician friend, Dr. Toldervy, who had a
telescope and an observatory set up next to the telegraph station in
Jack and Toldervy had exchanged time signals between Fredericton and
Harvard in 1855. Jack had learned of the Coast Survey men being in Calais,
and anxious to view what had become the "American Method" of telegraphic
longitude determination, and visited the men in Calais. He arranged with
the men to exchange signals with Fredericton, but due to the overcast
skies, they only managed to exchange 3 star signals.
Professor Bache had learned of the laying of the first transatlantic
telegraph cable in 1858, and began to entertain thoughts of continuing the
telegraphic work to the Greenwich Meridian in England. Work had already
progressed south to Louisiana, but the great Atlantic Ocean posed a major
obstacle. Within one month of the laying of the 1858 cable, it went dead.
The Civil War came about curtailing many of the Coast Survey's normal
mapping activities as they put their efforts in supporting the Union. It
was not until July 27, 1866 when the ship Great Eastern landed the new
cable at Heart's Content, Newfoundland (from Ireland), that the Coast
Survey went back to the transatlantic longitude project.
In 1866 the Coast Survey sent two men to Calais, two men to Heart's
Content, and two men to Foilhommerum, on Valentia Island, Ireland (near
Knightstown). The men in Newfoundland and Ireland built an observatory
building at their stations, which for convenience were next to the
telegraph cable stations. The skys were never clear at both site in
Ireland and Newfoundland. Also, the electrical connection across the
Atlantic floor exhibited strange phenomone. Kind of like a long wave, and
would not make the clear dots and dashes we are more familiar with.
Instead, Professor Thomson (later Lord Kelvin) devised the Thomson Mirror
Galvanometer to exchange telegraph signals. With the electrical connection
as it were, the Coast Survey could only calibrate their clocks between
Ireland and Newfoundland. By making the observations on the same stars at
both locations timed by their own clocks, they could calculate the
difference of longitude between Ireland and Newfoundland. The men in
Ireland also made arrangements to exchange signals between Foilhommerum
and the Greenwich Observatory that year.
Heart's Content to Calais was the last leg to be completed. Between the
telegraph stations on that route, telegraph men would copy down the
messages, and then re-transmit them by hand, forwarding them on the route.
This would not do for such precise longitude work. The Coast Survey bought
and supplied the telegraph stations with several magnetic repeaters that
would eliminate the need for the hand work, and make a complete electrical
signal between Newfoundland and Calais.
This work was not easy. The connection between Calais and Heart's Content
was not as good as it should be. Adding to that, the cumbrous Hardy
Astronomical clock used at Calais had been damaged in shipment, but was
repaired. The clock had a long pendulum that dipped in a pool of mercury,
making electrical contacts for the "second beats" on the chronograph
register paper. The work persevered into December, then about December
7th, a sharp frost threw the telegraph line into near perfect contact, and
the work began in earnest. On about December 16th, 1866 the final
observations were made, the final telegraphic longitude connection
concluded on the Calais Meridian, Calais Observatory, Calais, Maine, USA.
* The telegraphic longitude work
completely around the world was finally completed in 1904.
* The precise longitude of the Paris Observatory was not computed via
observations between Greenwich to Paris, but from Greenwich (through
Calais) to Harvard, then back to Paris.
* Alexander Dallas Bache, a prime mover in organizing the campaign, died
in 1867, but was bedridden a year before that. It is likely that he never
knew of the success in 1866. He is buried in the Congressional Cemetery in
* One of the men at Calais Observatory became ill, and had to go to
southern latitudes to recover. He was re-assigned to the Isthmus of
Darien, what we now call Panama, and began the survey for the railroad
that preceded the canal.
* Of the astronomical sites in Ireland, Newfoundland, and Maine (Thomas
Hill and Calais), only the Calais site still has the stones on the site.
* The Calais site lends itself well to the development of a historic park,
parking could be arranged with short walking paths to the observatory site
with a kiosk. One of the stone blocks has been pushed off it's original
spot and could be brought back up to its original position.
I first contacted the City of Calais in 1988, and Charles "Brand"
Livingstone, of the Calais Historical Society about establishing an
"Observatory Park" on the grounds of the old Academy. I have not heard
much from them, but they did express an interest in such a project. Such a
project takes many people on the local level to be interested in this
history, but if they don't understand it's important contribution to the
development of our great nation, little is likely to be done. An excellent
target date would be 2007, the 200th Anniversary of the Coast Survey, now
called the National Geodetic Survey.
Image 2 is Harold E. Nelson at the Calais Observatory at the stone that I
believe supported the Hardy Astronomical Clock
Image 13 is the stone block that supported the Astronomical Transit.
Image 14 is the site in general. The transit stone was located about 5
feet right of the tall stone.
Harold E. Nelson
Harold E. Nelson
14 Hill Avenue
Newport, ME 04953
Harold E. Nelson,
Project Coordinator &
GPS Control Processing
MDOT Survey Section
16 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333
05:30 to 16:00 Eastern Standard Time
10:30 to 21:00 Greenwich Mean Time
The astronomical transit was used to
observe star passages over the Calais Meridian. When the star crossed a
vertical wire in the telescope (illuminated by oil lamps on the side of
the standards), the observer hit a telegraph key that made a mark on the
chronograph via electromagnetic pen.
Chronograph was spring driven or weight driven with a brake. The Hardy
Astronomical Clock, with the pendulum dipping in mercury in an iron jar
placed "second beats" on the paper. The star marks were written on
regarding the star name.
Time was the critical element for longitude determination. There were only
a few longitude observatories in Maine: Calais, Bangor, and Farmington.
Calais observatory survives.
The Zenith Telescope was used to micrometer star pairs north and south of
the zenith point (directly overhead). Time was not as critical, therefore
there were many latitude stations in Maine. Time for these observations
was determined via circumpolar "clock stars" and British Astronomical star
A photo of a Hardy Clock has been very hard to come by, though I did
photograph the Kessel clock in the U. S. Naval Observatory courtesy of
Steve Dick, the Historian there.
Latitude for the Perry 45th stone was determined not by direct
measurement, but from latitudes figured among the geodetic triangulation
stations, perhaps Calais, Cooper and Howard. In 1863, the survey
determined many intersection station coordinates for such things as "flag
in tree", church spires, and chimneys. PERRY HOUSE WITH RED DOOR CHIMNEY
1863 was determined that year by normal triangulation to be within a
fraction of a second of arc of being on the 45th parallel.
When the topographers were there in 1886 or 1888, they decided to set a
point next to the road where the actual 45th crossed Shore Road. I have
been told that the locals placed the monument on U.S. Route 1 by measuring
the distance north up Shore Road to where it meets Back District Road
(US1), then back down the same distance to where the little park is today.
When I processed the GPS observations for the current road survey now
ongoing, it agreed with my handheld GPS to be fairly close to being "spot
on", at least for the methods the locals used to place the stone.
You probably know of the MIT Camp Technology at Gardner Lake, East Machias
that ran from about 1912 into the 1950's. Students took the train to
Machias, then were taken to the camp, where they performed actual
surveying relating to their engineering studies. Mostly hydrography,
triangulation, baselines, all the stuff just like the Coast Survey did,
even precise levelling read to the tenth of a mm. They also did astro work
and seismography. The site is being renovated into a kids camp which will
open in a couple of years.
I was very fortunate to have a friend of mine give me the grand tour,
which include seeing the old seismograph building and observatory, both
hidden away in the woods where no one would find it, without GPS. In the
woods on the camp's grounds is an observatory building very similar to the
one built at Calais. Instead of a stone pier in the center of the
building, it was made of concrete, and the building has a skylight hinged
for viewing the stars as they pass the meridian. It was difficult to get a
good photo of the observatory as trees are growing up all around it, but
it was fascinating to actually visit the site and imagine what Calais
Observatory looked like.
Bangor Whig and Courier
August 31, 1857
COAST SURVEY.-Apparatus has been placed on Thomas Hill in a temporary
building erected for the purpose, to take the longitude of the point and
Columbia, Calais and stations to the East. A telegraphic wire has been run
to the station and observations will be taken in a few days. Five or six
years since, observations were taken in connection with Cambridge, Mass.,
and Halifax, we believe. Prof. Walker, the eminent astronomer, now
deceased, was then here employed in this work. Prof. Bache, will be
engaged in this work.-Union.
Transcribed March 1, 2002, by Harold E. Nelson, Newport, Maine.
From microfilm found at the University of Maine, Orono, Fogler Library.
Indeed, Professor Walker did observe at Thomas Hill Observatory in 1851,
timing stars crossing the meridian at Bangor and Cambridge.
The mention of Columbia may mean District of Columbia, the location of the
Naval Observatory. In 1857 an extensive network of triangulation and
astronomic stations stretched all the way down the east coast to
It is during this 1857 measurement, Professor William Brydone Jack,
Astronomer at King’s College, Fredericton exchanged signals with Calais to
determine the longitude of his observatory. The observatory in Fredericton
used was that of Dr. Toldervy, a Physician, who had a telescope near the
Telegraph Office in Fredericton. Professor Jack performed a survey using
chains and bearings to carry the longitude from Dr. Toldervy’s observatory
to Jack’s observatory on the college campus. The observatory still stands
in what is now the University of New Brunswick. Jack was very interested
in seeing the "American Method" of telegraphic longitude determination.
THE CALAIS ADVERTISER
Calais, February 15, 1849
Below will be found a TELEGRAPHIC REPORT from New York, which has been
kindly furnished us by Mr. Eddy, one of the proprietors and superintendent
of the line in this state, by which it will be seen that the western line
is completed and in full operation. Much credit is due this gentleman for
the expedition with which he has completed his undertaking and placed the
citizens of this community in direct communication with the world as it
were. Much praise is also due the citizens of Calais and St. Stephen for
the spirit of enterprise they have manifested in having a depot
established at this place, and it is to be hoped that those who have
invested their funds in the stock will be amply remunerated for their
outlay, and the community at large benefited by it.
Who would live in a town where there was no Telegraphic Depot established,
completely shut out from the world and all that is going on in it. Why one
might as well be dead at once. But we can assure our readers that Calais
enterprise is not doomed to stop here by a long chalk (shot?). The next
sight that will greet their eyes will be a steam engine with a row of cars
coming puffing and snorting from Bangor, scaring all the foxes from their
hiding places and astonishing the natives. Calais is destined to become a
great and flourishing place, let croakers say what they please.- Stand
back Eastport and other small towns.
News from New York and California appear after this preface, along with
some financial details on markets from New York.
Transcribed from microfilm, March 1, 2002 by Harold E. Nelson, Newport,
Calais Advertiser, February 15, 1949 found on microfilm at Fogler Library,
University of Maine, Orono. Several issues of the Calais Advertiser that
follow this issue have in large type "Telegraphic From..." After that,
news from far away just seems to be printed as part of the newspaper, as
if the idea of the telegraph just fell into common use. The March 7, 1849
issue of the Calais Advertiser carried the complete Inaugural Address of
President Taylor By Special Telegraph to the Calais Advertiser.
February 1849 saw the completion of the continuous line of the Maine
Telegraph Company from Portland to Calais, but I did not see any reference
to the location of the Telegraph Depot.
The Calais Advertiser states that it is published every Wednesday by John
Jackson, Office in the Hill’s Brick Block, Corner of Maine and Milltown
The Portland Daily Advertiser, February 24, 1849 states: The Boston
Morning Papers of yesterday contain a summary of the news by the Europa,
which steamer arrived at Halifax on Wednesday at 5 O’clock PM. The news
was sent by Express to St. John, from there to Boston by telegraph.
It was common practice before the transatlantic telegraph cable for
steamers coming from Europe would dock, or be intercepted by small boats
seeking news from Europe, which they could take to the telegraph stations
in Atlantic Canada, and then send by telegraph to New York. Where there
were no telegraph link, express riders would carry the news by horseback,
much like the Pony Express, until they got to a telegraph station that
could wire the news. This is the system that gave rise to the AP
Wireservice. After 1866 there was a continuous cable link to Europe, the
AP Wireservice using the cables from Ireland to Newfoundland, and Reuters
News service using the French transatlantic cable running from France to
St. Pierre et Miquelon, and on to Boston.
To show the difference between time (star
passage) and longitude (on the ground), the Coast Survey observed that
it took a star 0h 6m 0.31 seconds (time) to pass from the Calais - St.
Stephen Meridian to the Bangor Meridian at Thomas Hill.
This translates to a difference of
longitude of 1 degree, 30 minutes, and 04.650 seconds of arc.
Longitude differences were base on many
star observations, stars selected from British Astronomical Catalogs.
Greenwich to Ireland: 0h 41m
Ireland to Newfoundland: 2h 51m
Newfoundland to Calais: + 0h 55m
4h 29m 07.55s time
which converted to longitude puts the Calais Meridian at 67degrees, 16 minutes,
and 53.25 seconds West Longitude (west of the Greenwich Meridian,
which is 0 deg.
At the University of New Brunswick, formerly King's
College, William Brydone Jack's observatory still stands, along with a
small stone pillar that he set, which forms the meridian line.
Richard Langley of UNB Geomatics sent me this note about interest in
doing more to preserve the pillar. You can see an image of the
pillar on the website below. Jack determined the longitude
difference between the Calais Meridian and the Fredericton Meridian in
1857, with the assistance of the U. S. Coast Survey. I am going
to try to obtain the news video on Jack, "Heaven and Earth"
filmed in 1996, though I believe it is very short.
have attached an image of the York County Meridian north monument,
which I shared with UNB as to what was done in the town of Alfred,
Maine for the first meridian established in Maine for Land Surveyors
to check their
Jack's mission was two fold. He was interested in meridian work
to determine longitudes throughout the Maritime Provinces and Quebec.
He was also in charge of establishing standards for Land Surveyors
compasses and calibrating their "chains".
Thanks, Harold for the photos and the
advice. I'm going to ask James to pass long your message to Stephen
Hartley of the ANBLS who are, I understand, spear-heading the monument
preservation project. By the way, and I think I've mentioned this to
you before, there is a photo of the pillar on our Web site on the
page: <http://www.unb.ca/GGE/PhotoAlbum/1996/1996.html>. Also,
there's a shot of the filming of the CBC news item on Brydone Jack. --
On Mon, 4 Nov 2002, Richard wrote:
Sounds good. As the pillar sits in front of Aitken House, it would
have to be protected against potential theft. There used to be a
description of some early measurements on one of the posts surrounding
the pillar (see photo on http://www.unb.ca/GGE/PhotoAlbum/1996/1996.html>
Web page. Not sure if it's still there but I think I have a copy of it
On Mon, 4 Nov 2002, James wrote:
Keeping in mind the approaching anniversary of the ANBLS, Steve
Hartley has asked what might be done to enhance the pillar,
established on the meridian of the observatory, and its neighbourhood.
Among other things, he suggested that a bronze plaque might be more
appropriate. The ANBLS could be interested in making a
"contribution" of some sort. Steve would like our
suggestions as to what might/should be done. That plus some suggestion
of cost would initiate deliberations within the ANBLS.