Make Me a Map of the Valley – The Birth of the 7.5 Minute Quad

A 186Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

Under clear skies and warmer than normal temperatures, nearly 100 people gathered for the 14th annual Surveyors Rendezvous. Guests were treated to an extraordinary three-night stay onboard the legendary Delta Queen steamboat. Designated as a National Historic Landmark with more than two million miles of maritime history beneath her bow, the Delta Queen is now one of Chattanooga’s most unique hotels. One of the many charming aspects of every Rendezvous is the presence of "the old guys" (gals, too)–professional reenactors and lay folks who appear at various times in period costumes, honoring surveyors’ ties to the past. Southern Rebels and Northern Yankees exchanged a fair amount of good-natured teasing during the educational sessions, social hours, and the time-honored tradition of the Surveyors Historical Society auction/fund raiser.

The theme of this year’s gathering focused on two kinds of mapping: Civil War and Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). "Make me a map of the valley," was the command given by Confederate General Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson to Jedediah Hotchkiss, the most famous cartographer and topographer of the Civil War. The valley Jackson was referring to was the 140-mile-long by 25-mile-wide Shenandoah, and Hotchkiss’ maps were credited by many as a principal factor in Jackson’s victories in the Valley Campaign of 1862. Much of the topography for these impressive maps was gathered on horseback using a compass and counting horse paces. Hotchkiss was born in New York, but he adopted the South. Contrary to custom, Hotchkiss was buried in Virginia with his grave facing south, not east like his wife and daughters.

The Tennessee Valley Authority portion of the program connected to the Civil War segment via the New Deal of 1933, through President Franklin Roosevelt who said "Make me a map of the Tennessee Valley." Only this time, it was 40,000 square miles. At the time the region was one of the least electrified in our country, and jobs were a welcome promise during the Great Depression.

Prior to the establishment of the TVA—the only New Deal agency remaining in our government—topography had generally been gathered by plane table and alidade. But realizing that they were "gonna need a bigger boat," the TVA decided to introduce photogrammetry to the mapping process. In doing so, and in cooperation with the USGS, TVA topographers invented what we know today as the 7.5 minute quadrangle. Before they were done, they had created more than 800 quads. The TVA was also pressed into service for World War II mapping outside the country, creating maps of France, Germany and even North Africa. On home soil the TVA created defense maps of the upper New York and the St. Lawrence River, as well as maps of the Gulf Coast and the Southeast coast.

Did Roosevelt sense the country would soon be at war, or were "higher powers" at work laying foundations for what lay ahead? As a result of the TVA, huge amounts of electricity were made available and would eventually be used for making aluminum, a bomber plant in Nashville, and plants for nitrate for bomb-making and fertilizer, phosphorus, and calcium carbonate for making synthetic rubber. Not least of all was the electricity needed to enrich uranium at Oak Ridge which was used to manufacture Little Boy, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

As always, this Rendezvous was chock full of details and information which will be the subject of a future article. For those of you who have never attended a Rendezvous, I highly encourage you to sign up for the upcoming events. For more information on venues, check out Bring your spouses, too–there’s always something of interest for them. I guarantee you’ll be glad you made the effort.

Marc Cheves is editor of the magazine.

A 186Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE