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The Case of the Errant Corner

Wednesday, May 13, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Norman Hiselman, PS
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During the last convention, I took several classes earning mandatory CEUs. I like to get those out of the way to be safe in meeting continuing education requirements. There seemed to be a common theme in those classes covering or mentioning the Act of 1805: “Thou shalt not move or correct original monuments” and “following in the footsteps of the original surveyor.” I had just finished working on a troublesome survey that had given me fits, and the things discussed in the sessions could not be more relative to my findings.


In 1821, William B. Laughlin set a post at the north quarter corner of Section 14 / south quarter corner of Section 11, Township 17 North, Range 2 East. The section line later became the line between Boone and Marion counties, and finally 96th Street was constructed partially along this line. The history of the corner goes cold until 1963 when Marion County Surveyor’s Office staff found a stone four inches down. In 1975, a railroad spike was found at the surface of the road near the centerline, then in 1981 the location of the railroad spike was excavated to a depth of three feet and nothing was found. A railroad spike was reset at that position. During the 1970s and 1980s, a residential subdivision and other land divisions on the Boone County side of the line were created, and all was fine in the world. The Marion County side remained farmland with one or two new parcels created. In August 1995, a Harrison cast iron monument was set in the position of the railroad spike.


Fast forward to 2019, when my client engaged Weihe Engineering, Inc. to retrace his boundaries on land he owned in both Boone and Marion counties. I was assigned as project manager for the task at hand.


While working in Boone County, survey crews found rebars, pipes and other deed corner monuments all working well with the Harrison, just a bit of a problem with the southwest corner of Section 11, two monuments four feet apart, eastwest; that corner is reserved for another discussion. When we got into Marion County, things got interesting.


Unlike the surveyed parcels on the Boone County side of line, the Marion County side is bounded on the east by Interstate 465. When I reproduced the right of way and other control lines for the highway, the quarter corner stone showed on the plans (circa 1965) plotted about 6.5 feet south of the Harrison, near the south edge of pavement. There were two control lines along 96th Street as shown on the highway plans, “S-M-6” being the quarter section line and “S-M-6 PR” which is close to the physical centerline of the street. Some right of way taking was off the S-M-6 line and other parts off the S-M-6 PR line. Some of the older houses and other structures shown on the plan by station and offset were still there, so I knew that I was within a foot of reproducing the control lines. I also had a Weihe survey from the early 1960s that used the northeast quarter corner, northeast sixteenth corner and the north quarter corner of Section 14 (all stones) during a survey. When taken into consideration, that placed the stone about 0.8’ further south of the highway plan location. To make things a little more complicated was the fact that the Indianapolis Water Company had installed a 20-inch water main down the south half of 96th Street in 1995. Could this be detrimental in proving my mathematical reconstruction by not finding a stone? I contacted the surveyor’s offices in both Boone and Marion counties to alert them to my findings. Apparently, responsibility for roads and other things along east-west county lines belongs to the county on the north side of line, so I started a dialog with the “Stone Hunter” (a.k.a. Jim Swift) of Boone County.


A cut made on West 96th Street by Jim Swift, PS, of the Boone County Surveyor’s Office advanced a search by Norman Hiselman, PS, of Weihe Engineers, Inc., for a stone that marked the quarter corner on a line in Township 17 North, Range 2 East between Section 14 in Marion County and Section 11 in Boone County. The stone was found at a point 7.46 feet south of the previously referenced Harrison marker, which is spray-painted pink at the top of the image. (Photo provided by Jim Swift)


I had my field crew mark where I thought the corner should be according to highway plans and arranged to meet Jim at the site the next morning. When I arrived, Jim had already cut through two layers of asphalt and was laying prone on the road, overhanging the excavation, and removing dirt by the scoopful as if he were an archaeologist on an ancient dig. The north side of his hole came down the south side of the concrete cap and #53 gravel from the water main installation, not looking good for a corner recovery. He came to a layer of pit run and stated that in Boone County, stones were generally found just below the old roadbeds. But trooping on, he hit 53s and other rock and realized the area had been excavated before, dug a little further and hit pit run again, but no stone. He asked where the Weihe survey showed a stone and I said, “About eight-tenths farther south.” Jim started scooping out dirt to the south and found a black piece of wood oriented vertically which, when he removed it, I thought that cross sectionally was about the size of a piece of lath. Jim probed the area and then came the gratifying “thunk.” Indeed, there was the stone almost four feet down, seven feet south of the existing Harrison.


Resting 31 inches below 96th Street in Marion County is a 7-inch by 7-inch quarter corner stone sought by Norman Hiselman, PS and Jim Swift, PS, at a location agreeing with the findings of a 1963 Weihe Engineers survey. (Photo provided by Jim Swift)


Jim placed a Harrison cast iron monument over the stone and covered all back up and capped with an asphalt patch.


Now what?


I really had reservations about exposing my doubts concerning the existing monument at the corner, because I knew that if proven true, at some point in the future there is going to be some surveyor come along, find the new Harrison, say that is the “true corner” and pull all of those Boone County deed lines south, opening that proverbial can of worms. But then again, the original position of the corner cannot change. It is where it is and, if in doubt, I had to prove it. So, what about all those deed lines and the subdivision boundary on the Boone County side of line? They, too, should remain as originally laid out. I can follow the footsteps of the original surveyor and how he located those first subdivision lines. I know he used a monument found to be in error, but that monument and most of the original monuments at the deed corners are still there, so I can follow his footsteps. The sidelines of the parcels adjacent to the section line are merely lengthened to begin or end on the true section line, shown as measured vs. deed. Where did that railroad spike come from that was the initial cause of the error? Did someone stand out in the middle of 96th Street, do a “slap 90” to a fence line and set the spike? From its location relative to the control lines on the highway plans, I came to the conclusion that someone had set the spike on the “S-M-6 PR” line in line with the north-south quarter section line, for the purpose of setting highway right of way monuments.


Norman Hiselman is a senior project manager at Weihe Engineers, Inc. in Indianapolis, and has nearly 50 years of experience in land surveying. He has been an adjunct instructor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis teaching the fundamentals of surveying. Norm has supported the profession of land surveying by serving as President-elect of ISPLS and Past President of the Indiana Professional Land Surveyors Foundation.


This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 issue of the Hoosier Surveyor.

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