Death of a South Florida Surveying Icon (this is not what you think)

One of the aspects that I have always dreaded about reading the professional surveying publications are the obituary announcements of our fellow surveyors and “friends of the profession” that have passed. I read about the life of men and women that have “moved on to meet their maker” and about their spouses and children that survive and I am struck by the feelings of their grief. Most of these professionals have had access to the Original Survey Evidence left behind by the Original Federal GLO surveyors during the mid 1800s throughout Florida. They have followed the Original Federal Surveyors and knowingly touched the same objects and have all but seen the footprints left behind by them. I lament the loss of the experience and knowledge that these professionals and significant “friends of the profession” had available to the younger generation of professionals. Most of what they knew was not learned from a book and what many modern surveyors you should know, likewise cannot be learned from a book. Most of their knowledge was yours for the asking, but now, asking is too late for one more relic of the survey profession.

The term “dying breed” comes to mind, although I am old enough to want to suppress that thought deeply within my subconscious. Most of the old surveyors were students of history, not by choice, but by necessity. They might have file cabinets of old field notes that they had obtained from the old DNR archives. Many, like myself, have private survey records in their files that date back to the turn of the last century.

I have proudly known many old timers throughout my years in this survey profession. One of my deceased clients, Mr. Rubin Carlton, spoke of the events of his childhood when he accompanied his family menfolk on horse back as they herded cattle from Fort Pierce, FL, on the east coast, to Tampa, FL, on the west coast, without ever encountering a fence. He told me that his uncle was paid in Spanish Gold after the cattle were loaded on ships bound for Cuba.

I was privileged to have known know Mr. Williams who could remember, as a child in 1910, traveling with his family by buckboard from the town of Kissimmee, FL to the town of Okeechobee, FL. During that trip, a man overtook them on the pioneer road in a Model T Ford, traveling the same direction from north to south. He turned out the be the Captain and owner of a steamboat that the family was going to board to cross Lake Okeechobee on their way to the south rim of the Lake to a community called Bean City. The Captain offered to take “the kids” (Mr. Williams and his siblings) on ahead to Okeechobee where the parents would join them later. The deal was cut and the kids were off. That was Mr. Williams’ first ride in an automobile. When he arrived in Okeechobee, he described the white sandy beach that extended from the present shore of the Lake a mile or so north to what is now the new WalMart. The shore had receded that far south due to the draining of Lake Okeechobee by the newly excavated canals known as the North New River, the Miami, the Hillsboro, the West Palm Beach Canal, the St. Lucie and the Caloosahatchee.

My reason for laying these words on paper is that I recently realized I had lost an old friend with a long and distinguished surveying career. This lady served witness to almost all of the technical advances in the surveying profession that have occurred in the last two hundred years. If she were able to speak to us now, she could tell us about the early settlers around the west side of Lake Okeechobee that have come and gone. She could tell us about seeing the Seminoles in their Hunting Parties and their War Parties and the US Troops that pursued them. She was kind and gracious enough to contribute building materials to the Seminoles for building of shelters and Chickee homes. She witnessed the Florida Range Wars and was aware of the summary execution of a group of cattle rustlers within a few miles of her neighborhood. She would have been aware of the arsenic filled Cattle Dipping Vat that was constructed by the State near her home where the cattle were dipped to fight the spread of Tick Fever, pandemic in cattle in early Florida. She was witness to the 1938 efforts of the GLO when they performed a Dependent Re-survey for the Brighton Seminole Indian Reservation. She would tell you they stopped by where she lived and visited her.

I first met her in 1999 while surveying 60,000 acres of lands known as Fisheating Creek for the State of Florida and Lykes Bros. Inc. as the result of their joint Settlement Agreement over a lawsuit over the State’s ownership of the Creek. She had children that stayed by her side until her death. I took pictures of her and two of those children in 1999. I’m not exactly sure when she passed or how she died but I recently drove by where she lived and realized she was gone. I’m not even sure when she was born. All I know is that she is dead and I’ll miss her. You may see her pictures and read her legacy below.

The 1999 photo at right is the “Lady Sable Palm” taken with her two children. She was designated a Witness on January 23, 1860 to a Section Corner set at the Northwest corner of Section 30, Township 40 South, Range 32 East, Tallahassee Meridian, Glades County, Florida. The land is privately owned. All that remains of her now is a stump about two feet high. She lived at this place for a documented 139 years and undocumented years longer because we know the surveyor scribed her in 1860. In 1938, a Dependent Resurvey field party from the GLO retraced and recovered the Section Corner she witnessed since 1860 and greeted her once again with recent scribing.

This article was written to commemorate the Art of Retracement Surveying and all of those surveyors that continually practice this Art today. If you think the original evidence is long gone, think again. I can take you right now to a location where my partner, Chip Allen, and I have proven the position of an Original Corner set by the GLO Surveyors in the 1800s on the North Line of the Hanson Grant marking the northwest corner of Pipers Landing development. The original evidence of a pine witness tree still remains, buried near the corner. This corner is in an urban residential area and is no more than a mile from the front door of my office in Palm City, Florida. I encourage all that have not taken the time, or have not had the opportunity, to attend the next available Retracement Camp taught by Mr. Corky Rodine, Mr. Lane Bouman and Mr. Jerry Wahl. All of which have, or are still working for, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Eastern States. I have sent surveyors in my office to over 30 Retracement Camps, many repeatedly. We even travel to other States to attend them when they are available.

You might say that you cannot justify the cost. I can tell you that all of my real cost in dollars have been returned to our firm many times over. I can’t even begin to describe the professional benefits and personal gratification that accompany the knowledge and experience you will gain. But I can tell you one thing, you’ll think twice about accepting a concrete monument that has been used for a long time as a section corner, without testing it first.

© Chappy Young, GCY, Inc. Professional Surveyors and Mappers ~ Florida ~ March, 2009