NYC Grid: Retracing the Footsteps of John Randel Jr

New York City, 2008, in the manicured bushes of Central Park, there I was digging for an obscure centuries-old survey marker. “Hot damn, I think I got something,” I shouted as the magnetic locator blared.  The director and camera man turned their attention; interested in the prospect of capturing in real-time “a discovery.”  This was some welcome “excitement” from the staged “discoveries” we had done earlier in the day.

For just a moment, I was the star.   The rugged adventurer with a campy demeanor carrying a high-accuracy GPS unit, magnetic locator and a day-glo flourescent vest.  Imagine a cross between Indiana Jones and Dora the Explorer.

“You in the bushes . . . Freeze!!”  boomed an authoritative voice over a loudspeaker.  The director’s entreaties about having a permit and the possibility of finding something long lost apparently meant nothing to New York’s Finest.  We decamped from the periwinkle and stepped back onto the public walkways; discovery thwarted.

That was one of the more exciting events of a joint effort to try and recover markers that John Randel Jr set 200 years ago.  Randel and his crews surveyed the entirety of Manhattan, then farms, north of Houston starting in 1811.  At every intersection from 1st street to 155th street they set 1,549 3′ marble monuments in soil and 98 iron bolts in bedrock.  Could any of them possibly remain?

A group ( Reuben Rose-Redwood, Marguerite Holloway, Richard Garland and myself) have tried to answer that question over the past decade.  What we found and surveyed will be the topic of my presentation at the 54th NYSAPLS conference Wednesday, January 9th in Saratoga Springs.  View the Prezi of the presentation or watch the History Channel Program, SuperCities: New York City.Image

One response to “NYC Grid: Retracing the Footsteps of John Randel Jr

  1. Pingback: 18th century Chelsea’s winding, romantic Love Lane « Ephemeral New York·

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