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In July of 1871, The U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (USC&GS), predecessor of the National Geodetic Survey (NGS), began a precise triangulation network near St. Louis, Missouri, which went both east and west to connect the networks already established on the coasts. Closely following the thirty-ninth parallel of latitude, this new network crosses the center portion of the United States, and is referenced as the Transcontinental Arc of Triangulation. The network was completed in 1896, with end points at lighthouses at Cape May, New Jersey, and Point Arena, California.
As this east-west transcontinental network progressed across central Kansas, one of the monuments in southeastern Osborne County was designated Meades Ranch in honor of landowner William H. Mead. (Mead is the correct spelling of the landowner’s last name). According to the original 1891 description by USC&GS, this monument was located in the SW Quarter of Section 34, T9S, R11W of the Sixth Principal Meridian. The chimney of Mead’s house was determined to be 8°36′ west from true south at a distance of approximately one-half mile.
The monument established at Meades Ranch originally consisted of two separate monuments. The lower monument was a bottle filled with ashes buried approximately three feet below the surface. Above the bottle was a 6-inch square marble post, 27 inches in length, with grooves on the top surface dividing it into four quadrants. Each quadrant was engraved with a single letter–U. S. C. S. A circular trench approximately five feet in diameter, nine inches deep, and six inches wide was dug around the monument and filled with soft coal. Two witness stones, each a 6-inch square limestone post with arrow-shaped grooves on the surface, pointing to the triangulation station, were placed 8.70 feet north and 8.62 feet south of the station.
Observations at Meades Ranch were performed between September 29 and October 16, 1891, using 35-cm theodolite No. 10 with all work under the direction of Assistant Frank D. Granger. At this time, the monument marking Meades Ranch did not have any special significance over any other survey monument in the United States.
After the east-west transcontinental triangulation network reached the coasts, USC&GS returned to central Kansas in 1897 to establish a north-south network that would eventually extend from Mexico to Canada. The two hinge points for the portion of the network going north were Meades Ranch and a station located 16 miles to the southwest designated Waldo. This north-south network would be known as the 98th Meridian Survey since it closely followed that degree of longitude.
The turning of angles to the new triangulation stations on the north-south network began on July 8, 1897, from Waldo. The surveyors then moved to Meades Ranch and completed observations upon that monument on July 22, 1897. The 98th Meridian Survey was completed to Canada in 1907. The portion of the 98th Meridian Survey going south, hinged upon three monuments designated Wilson, Heath, and Iron Mound on the lower side of the eastwest transcontinental network in central Kansas. This southern portion of the survey was completed to Mexico in 1916.
The first official horizontal geodetic datum in the United States was known as the New England Datum since the triangulation by USC&GS began in that area of the country. Adopted in 1879, this datum was based upon the surveys performed in the eastern and northeastern areas of the United States. It was referenced to the Clarke ellipsoid of 1866 with triangulation station Principio in the state of Maryland as the origin for the datum. Coordinates in this datum were only published for the New England states. Tests by USC&GS indicated that adopting station Principio as a national datum origin point would cause adjustment problems throughout the entire network. The principal point for the datum origin was then changed to be centrally located in the United States at Meades Ranch.
A new datum known as the United States Standard Datum was adopted in 1901, also using the Clarke 1866 ellipsoid. This datum operated on the assumption that the position of 39°13’26.686"N – 98°32’30.506"W at Meades Ranch was to remain fixed and unchangeable. Also, the azimuth of 75°28’14.52" (south orientation) from Meades Ranch to Waldo remained fixed. All other points across the entire nation were adjusted on the basis of the fixed position at Meades Ranch and the fixed azimuth from Meades Ranch to Waldo.
While previously just an obscure monument among the thousands of triangulation stations established across the United States, Meades Ranch became the focal point for all geodetic surveys in the entire nation. The positions of all other points now had a direct relationship to this one common point in central Kansas. In 1913, the geodetic organizations in Canada and Mexico formally agreed to accept and base their networks upon the established network of the United States. With the inclusion of these two countries, the name of the datum was changed to the North American Datum, thus giving Meades Ranch prominence across the entire North American continent.
As the triangulation networks within North America densified and more isolated networks entered the system, acute problems arose in the adjustments. To solve these problems, all available primary data was readjusted during a five year period from 1927-1932 while again holding the position of Meades Ranch fixed. The azimuth from Meades Ranch to Waldo, however, was slightly adjusted by 4.88 seconds to 75°28’09.64". This new adjustment became known as the North American Datum of 1927 (NAD27) and included an estimated 25,000 ground based monuments.
Meades Ranch held its prominence as the focal point of all triangulation stations until a new adjustment took place in the early 1980’s. The NAD 27 had been a best fit for North America only, so a new system was created that would provide a world-wide fit. This new system used the mass center of the earth as its datum origin point and a globally best fitting ellipsoid called Geodetic Reference System 1980 (GRS80), and was named the North American Datum of 1983 (NAD83). A collaborative effort between NGS and Geodetic Survey Canada, this new datum was completed in 1986. With the adjustment and the NAD83 in place, Meades Ranch was no longer the prominent point it once had been. It became just one of nearly 250,000 other triangulation stations within the 1983 adjustment. Despite the changed origin of the datum, surveyors continue to hold the Meades Ranch triangulation station with a nostalgic view. Because of NAD83, the position of Meades Ranch, held fixed since 1901, was changed to 39°13’26.71982"N – 98°32’31.74686"W. Although the position of the physical monument on the ground did not change location, the difference between the NAD27 and the original NAD83 positions is approximately 4.01 feet north and 97.62 feet west. The position for Meades Ranch has since changed approximately 0.78 feet due to its inclusion in the 1997 Kansas High Accuracy Reference Network (HARN) and the subsequent 2007 and 2011 national adjustments performed by NGS.
The original marble post that was set for the monument in 1891 was repeatedly subject to vandalism when people carved their initials into the top surface. It was also vulnerable to theft if someone attempted to dig down and pull it out. In 1922, USC&GS decided to remove the marble post and lower ash-filled bottle and replace them with more stable concrete monuments. The new lower mark is a standard USC&GS 3.5-inch circular bronze triangulation disk placed in a block of concrete of unspecified size. The new surface monument is a standard disk placed in a 36"-tall concrete block measuring 36 inches square at the bottom, tapering to 24 inches square at the top and projected 6 inches above the surface. The bronze disks were stamped "Meades Ranch 1891". A 2-inch layer of sand separates the two concrete blocks.
In 1948, the concrete monument placed in 1922 was in poor condition with one corner completely broken away. This was probably due to curio seekers wanting to possess something of historical significance. It was believed the position of the monument had slightly shifted by a distance of 0.043 feet to the northeast. Since this supposed movement could not be proven, the position of the monument as found was held. The concrete monument placed in 1922 was broken off to a depth of 14 inches below the surface. A hole was drilled into the center with a one-quarter-inch brass bolt which was cemented into the hole and then covered with a flat rock. The new surface mark was made by using a 24-inch diameter form filled with concrete and dressed to an oval top which projected slightly above the surface. The bronze tablet from 1922 was placed back in the center to mark the exact location of the monument. The conical surface made it nearly impossible for anyone to chip off pieces of the monument. Small brass bolts were placed in the center of each of the witness stones to the north and south. In 1948, two additional reference marks were placed to the east and west of the triangulation station that consisted of 8-inch square limestone posts with standard bronze reference mark disks in the center. In 1967, a third reference mark was established approximately 250 feet to the east in a north-south fence that consisted of barbed wire and limestone posts. This mark is a standard bronze disk in a round mass of concrete. The Meades Ranch monument was entered into the National Register of Historic Places on October 9, 1973. Because the monument has been reset, the official name for the station is Meades Ranch Reset.
The land where Meades Ranch is located was patented to Wm. H. Mead on August 16, 1885. On November 12, 1888, Mead sold this land to T. W. Casgrove. If the surveyors had correctly recorded the name of the actual landowner at the time the monument was placed, the triangulation station would have been known as "Casgroves Ranch". Mead’s house and ranch buildings upon his 1,200 acres were likely prominent features upon the prairie and the name continued to be associated with the location even after he had left since he was the original homesteader. Today no buildings remain at the location of the original ranch.
There are no known records that show the Mead surname was ever spelled "Meade". The "e" added to the end of the name was likely placed by a USC&GS surveyor to create the plural form of Mead, or perhaps it was simply a misspelling.
William Henry Mead was born near Chillicothe, Missouri, on September 15, 1839, to William M. Mead and Nancy (Palmer) Mead. His siblings were Charles, Mary, Eliza, and Anna. Prior to the Civil War, William H. Mead was employed by the famed Russell, Majors and Waddell freighting company. His work took him to Colorado, Utah and New Mexico. During the war, Mead filled government contracts for the freighting company while based at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Supplies were routed to army posts in Missouri, Arkansas, and the Indian Territory.
In October of 1864, Mead married Virginia "Jennie" Moore and the couple settled at St. Joseph, Missouri. Three children were born to them–Laura, William H. "Harry" Jr., and Arthur M. In 1870, Mead and his family moved west and settled near Cawker City, Kansas, and later to Osborne County near Luray where the Meads Ranch was established. The Meads moved to Luray, Kansas, on May 3, 1888, where William H. Mead raised hogs, sold farm implements, and engaged in real estate and banking.
In 1895, the family moved to Kingfisher, Oklahoma, where Mead resumed in selling farm implements. On December 18, 1901, William H. Mead suffered a stroke of paralysis which resulted in his death. He is buried in the Kingfisher Cemetery with no dates on his tombstone and only the words "W. H. Mead–Age 62 Years". It is likely that William H. Mead never knew that his name was associated with North America’s most famous survey monument.
The Meades Ranch triangulation station is located on private property and permission must be obtained from the land owner in advance before viewing it.
Coast and Geodetic Survey. 1900. The Transcontinental Triangulation and the American Arc of the Parallel.
Coast and Geodetic Special Publication 4
Coast and Geodetic Survey. 1921. Triangulation in Kansas. Coast and Geodetic Special Publication 70
Jerry Penry is a licensed land surveyor in Nebraska and South Dakota. He is a frequent contributor to the magazine.
David Doyle contributed to this story.
A 5.209Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE