In 1855, David H. Burr set up his surveyor's telescope tripod in exactly the same spot as the spindly contraption that perched this week over the Base and Meridian Post. (See story above.)
Burr was the first surveyor general that the federal government sent to Utah Territory. In 1855 he had the sandstone post cut and driven into the corner of South Temple and East Temple (Main) Streets.He had met with Brigham Young, asking where he should begin his survey, and the great colonizer suggested a place near the southeast corner of Temple Block. The location had been used since 1847 to plot Salt Lake City's streets.
Burr erected his surveying telescope there and peered through it at an assistant holding a stadia rod. From that point, he and his team set off to map the state.
The original Base and Meridian Post, which is the mapping reference point for nearly every square mile of Utah's territory, is still there. It marks the intersection of the base line, which runs east and west from Nevada to Colorado, and the meridian line, which extends north and south.
The gray rock post is flaking a bit at the bottom, and it's protected by a little iron fence. But even today it functions as Utah's primary mapping referencepoint.
"There are only two (base and meridian posts) that are left fully intact in the United States," said Donald A. Buhler, geodesist for the Bureau of Land Management.
The location of this one was chosen somewhat arbitrarily; it was just a starting point.
Later, astronomers calculated its position. A plaque on the LDS Temple's outside wall notes the location as Latitude 40 degrees, 46 minutes, 04 seconds north; Longitude 111 degrees, 54 minutes west.
"Since that time, using more accurate methods, they corrected it," said Robert Nutter, a cartegraphic technician with the U.S. Forest Service's Geometronics Service Center.
The later survey, made in 1942 by measuring from mountain-top to mountain-top, found that the post was at about Latitude 40 degrees, 46 minutes, 10.52 seconds north; Longitude 111 degrees, 53 minutes, 25.97 seconds west.
But now, the new satellite-controlled Global Positioning System shows that even the 1942 calculations are off - by about eight feet.