Marking out the roads

Infrastructure Week Fortnight Month continues…

It’s been a busy few weeks here at the Historian’s (actual) house, and I’m (very) slowly transcribing handwritten documents and making maps to illustrate the work of Jonathan M. Clark and his fellow road supervisors as they mapped and built old Washington County’s first roads in early 1841. While you’re waiting for those posts, check out our previous installments in this series — County Government – Early Records and Monday: Map Day! — for some interesting background, maps, and first-hand records.

Jonathan Clark – surveyor?

What did Jonathan Clark know about surveying and road building? Probably quite a bit. Like most farmers—then and now—Jonathan would not have been successful without a good understanding of maps, distances, land boundaries and how to best use and navigate the fields, forests and wetlands of his property.

If you recall our earlier posts detailing JMC’s military service (starting with Fort Howard, October 1833 (part 1) and including Ouisconsin Territory, 1836), you’ll remember that his unit, the U.S. Army’s 5th infantry regiment, was responsible for laying out and cutting the new military road that would ultimately connect Ft. Howard in Green Bay, Ft. Winnebago near Portage, and Ft. Crawford at Prairie du Chien. Jonathan’s Co. K was involved in this work for the better part of his final two years of service (1835-1836). This assignment would give him hands-on experience in surveying, map-making, grubbing out roads and building serviceable bridges with the materials at hand. By the time he arrived in Mequon, in late 1839, it’s possible that Jonathan Clark was the most experienced road builder (and one of the better surveyors) in early Washington/Ozaukee county.

A surveyor and his tools…

[Occupational Portrait of an Unidentified Surveyor With a Transit on a Tripod and Holding Dividers and a Map, Three-Quarter Length, Seated.], sixth plate daguerreotype, photographer unknown, circa 1840-1860, via Library of Congress. Cropped and lightly color-adjusted. Click to open larger image in a new window.

This “occupational portrait” from the Library of Congress dates from circa 1840-1860, the same decades that Jonathan M. and Mary (Turck) Clark were clearing their farm, building their farmhouse, and raising their growing family in Mequon. The man in this daguerreotype is not JMC, but his surveying tools are very similar to those Jonathan would have owned and used.

This image includes several key tools of the surveyor’s trade: a transit on a tripod, a pair of dividers for measuring and drawing maps, and a “map” (represented by the oddly-shaped white blob in the lower-right corner, probably caused by the original photographer making an awkward re-touching of whatever was on the original image).

Another important piece of gear was the surveyor’s chain, also known as Gunter’s chain. The chain was the essential measuring tool, used by surveyors from the late 1500s until the digital era. In the United States, the Gunter’s chain was the official unit of measurement in the Public Land Survey System as established by the Land Ordinance of 1785. A vintage surveyor’s chain has recently been added to the Jonathan Clark House collection; it hangs on the wall in Jonathan’s recently restored office.

Gunter’s (surveyor’s) chain, Jonathan Clark House collection. Photo by Reed Perkins. Click to open larger image in new window.

Back soon with—I hope!—the finale to Infrastructure Week Fortnight Month.

Be well. Enjoy your weekend.