Calais, Maine

Calais Observatory
Harold E. Nelson
14 Hill Avenue,
Newport, ME 04953
Link above to article written for "Maine IS Technology" December 2002

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ObservatoryI 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 Harvard.

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 Observatory

Aerial Calais Observatory

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 observations.

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 Fredericton.

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 Washington, D.C.

* 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
207-368-5012 <>

Harold E. Nelson,
Project Coordinator &
GPS Control Processing
MDOT Survey Section
16 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333
work (Mon-Thurs):
05:30 to 16:00 Eastern Standard Time
10:30 to 21:00 Greenwich Mean Time
207-287-4716 <>

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 catalogues.

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
Bangor, Maine
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 Louisiana.

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.

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, Maine.

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 Streets.

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 33.29s time
Ireland to Newfoundland:       2h 51m 56.54s time
Newfoundland to Calais:     + 0h 55m 37.72s time
Total:                                   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.

MonumentI 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".
Regards, Harold.
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: <>. Also, there's a shot of the filming of the CBC news item on Brydone Jack. -- Richard
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> Web page. Not sure if it's still there but I think I have a copy of it somewhere. 

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.

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