Ancient Highway Surveys


Ancient Surveys Of Little Value


Highway Boundaries Obliterated in Many Cases.

"Ridgepole of Revere House"

One of the Marks by Which Location of Elliot Street Was Determined in 1870---Stakes, Stones and Trees Mentioned in Old Records on File.


That there is need of a resurvey of most of the streets in this village is shown by even a casual examination of the records in the office of the town clerk. The old worthies who laid out the streets and roads of Brattleboro took little heed of the future and the erection of permanent landmarks was of little concern to the man with the surveyor's instrument or his assistant who carried the chain. The records show that Ephraim Nash was the surveyor who ran practically all of the lines in 1790 and for a number of years after. It is upon his original survey of "the county road leading from Bennington through Brattleborough to Connecticut river" that many of the street lines of the village are based, for the old road came down High street. As the record of the survey is dated April 15, 1791, and stakes and stones, "beach trees," and a point near "a small bridge about 10 rods from a house" are mentioned as landmarks, it is evident that few if any of the objects mentioned in the record have escaped obliteration.


The civil engineer of today has to possess a vivid imagination when he undertakes to run out the lines of any of the business thoroughfares. As late as 1870 little attention was paid to such important details as permanent landmarks. A survey for widening Main and Elliot streets mention the northwest corner of the present O. J. Pratt store, which luckily has thus far escaped the ravages of time and the elements. But the next move of the surveyor reads "thence south seven degrees east to the north side of Elliot street road which course is in a direct line to the center of the Revere House, striking in direct line to the ridgepole of the Revere House." As the famous old hostelry has long since been removed by fire the exact point of the center of the building or where the ridgepole would be is the hardest kind of guesswork.


But to go back to the last-mentioned date it is found that in 1855 the surveyor ordered to make a survey of Elliot street commenced "at a point on the corner of Main and Elliot streets, five feet from the west side of an elm tree standing on said corner." Doubtless a line could be run from this point which would answer all purposes but the fact remains that the elm tree has been obliterated. Just what the circumference of the tree was would be absolutely necessary to determine where the five-foot line west of the tree should be located by the civil engineer of 1912.


There are further opportunities for the exercise of one's imagination in determining the landmarks mentioned in a survey of Flat street made in 1856. "The corner of the Frost cornbarn and woodshed, and the northeast corner of C. C. Frost's garden" were doubtless places easily located when the survey was made but as no mention is made of which "corner" of the corn barn should be made a point in the survey naturally a doubt might arise in the mind of the civil engineer of today who was called upon to run out the old lines. Considerable latitude is also offered when it comes to locating the norteast corner of Mr. Frost's garden. Even though there may be a garden at the same location as used by Mr. Frost it is purely a matter of guesswork to drive a stake exactly where the old-time surveyor made the station which is recorded on the books of the town. There is however, one landmark mentioned in the survey of Flat street still standing. The stump of the "large oak tree which is north side of said road (Flat street) and west side of Main street" stands at the corner of the two streets and is adorned with tobacco signs, theatrical announcements and an assortment of other advertising matter.


On Main street are to be found three original landmarks. One is a stone post at the corner of Terrace and Main streets and another is the middle of the doorstep of the house occupied by Charles H. Thompson. From the latter point the old surveyors measured east a certain distance and went either north or south. The third point still available for surveyors is the northwest corner of Williston block.


If a resurvey is made of each street within the village limits the permanent grade of both street and sidewalk should be established. It is pointed out by those aware of conditions that the services of an engineer in establishing grades would result in a saving probably 10 times the amount paid him. When the streets are resurveyed, if ever, the selectmen should see to it that the sidewalks are laid to the outside line of the town's property. If this plan had been followed carefully there would be little need for a resurvey of streets. An example of what trouble property owners court when they do not ascertain the street lines may be shown on South Main street. Custom had established a sidewalk and the abutters built their walks to it with the result that several lawsuits will probably be brought to settle the differences between the selectmen and property owners.


The cost of a resurvey of every street in this village would not be exorbitant and it could easily be done another summer and a profile map made of each street. These maps would show the permanent grade established by the engineer and whenever it was necessary to lay a sewer, water or gas main, set a telephone or electric light pole, or build a sidewalk the men in charge of the work would be able to act intelligently. As conditions are today there is only one man who has anything like accurate knowledge of the location of sewers. He carries this information in his head and when he shall have passed from the activities of life he will carry that information with him. It is easy to ascertain whether there is a sewer running through a certain street. A map in the town clerk's office shows a brown line through each street in which a sewer is laid but whether the pipe is in the middle or at the east or west side, there is nothing to show. Only the recollection of the man who laid the main is available in locating the sewer. With a resurvey of the streets a map of the village should show the location of every sewer, water and gas main and there should be no expenditure of the town's money or of the money of the public service corporations in locating pipes by the obsolete method of digging up a whole street to find a leak or to make a connection.


While a resurvey of the streets will show in many instances that property owners have built upon the town's property there are cases the reverse. For many years the public has made a sidewalk around the corner of the harness shop at the junction of South Main and Canal streets but a resurvey of the street shows that George A. Eels owns a large triangle in front of this building. Probably the necessity of establisheing a permanent grade upon every street cannot be better illustrated than at this corner. As announced several months ago Mr. Eels has plans for a modern apartment house which he intends to build at this corner another season. Before he starts he wants to know of the selectmen what the permanent grade of Canal and South Main streets is. If he does not build to such a grade he may discover some day that he will have to use a ladder to reach the entrance to the apartments or on the other hand it may be necessary for the tenants to go down stairs to get into the front door. The selectmen are unable to help Mr. Eels out of his difficulty for there has been no grade established for these two streets. The average citizen would say offhand that the grade of Canal street will never have to be altered at this point, but this is wrong. It is likely that a generous slice will be taken from the knoll on Canal street west of South Main street within a very few years. Mr. Eels's case is only one of many which will come up unless something is done immediately in the matter of establishing grades for both streets and sidewalks.


The grade of Main street from Elliot street to the Wells fountain has been established and Road Commissioner David P. Perry worked to such a grade in resurfacing the street between Ellitot street and the Baptist church last summer and fall. Had the surveyors of even 25 years ago established a grade for Main street the resurfacing of that thoroughfare in 1912 would prove far less expensive. As it is now it will be necessary to raise the sidewalk on the east side of the street for a considerable distance and the lawns of abutting property owners will be left below the street level. The expense of filling these lawns, whether it is paid for by the man who owns the property or from some other source, is really a part of the cost of such improvements and must be taken into consideration.


It is claimed that with the grades established the town would receive from 10 to 20 per cent more for money spent on sidewalks than if the present antiquated method of building patches of walk here and there prevailed. To attempt to build modern cement sidewalks to the amount of $10 or $10,000 without a grade line is throwing money away, according to the statements made by engineers.


It would take probably less than five months to resurvey every street and establish the grade, erect bench marks and make profile maps. When this work is done thoroughly it is done for all time and the passing of a beech tree or the obliteration of a garden by the erection of a business block upon the site will cause no inconvenience to the engineer called upon to run out property lines.


Brattleboro Reformer, January 26, 1912.


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