Sesquicentennial Celebration
The Establishment of the Mount Diablo Initial Point


Mount Diablo Surveyors Historical Society
Saturday July 21, 2001
Mount Diablo State Park, Contra Costa County, CA

By: Keith Nofield, PLS

July 17, 1851, Colonel Leander Ransom, General Land Office Deputy Surveyor, was under instructions from the Surveyor General for California to establish the initial on the Summit of Mount Diablo (The Devil Mountain), so he began his journey up the mountain.  After reaching the summit and discovering there was no wood for a flagstaff, Ransom and team went back down the mountain and returned the following day, July 18, 1851 with a 28 foot long, 4” x 6” wood flagstaff to support the red and white checkered flag (for sighting) and finally set the original initial point for the Mount Diablo Meridian.

On Saturday July 21, 2001, the Mount Diablo Surveyors Historical Society (MDSHS) held the, Sesquicentennial (150th Anniversary Celebration) atop the mountain.  This celebration at the summit was to recognize the achievement of Colonel Leander Ransom 150 years earlier.

After 18 months of planning and numerous hours of meetings, the July 21st event was one that impressed all that attended.  Even the Park Rangers commented on how they have never seen, or heard of an organization come in and successfully hold an event like the MDSHS performed in the parks 80 year history.  Never had they seen a smooth operation keep the traffic flowing at the summit and the use of a free shuttle van (donated by Kier and Wright Civil Engineers and Land Surveyors, Pleasanton).  The shuttle was for the public attendees to reach the summit from the lower parking lot, approximately ½ mile from the upper parking lot.   The upper parking lot is a small lot, approximately 90’ x 80’, and was blocked off for the days festivities.

The days activities were designed for multiple functions.  First and foremost, the celebration to recognize the achievement of Col. Leander Ransom 150 years prior.  Second is the ongoing educational process to educate the public about the history of, and current practice of land surveying.  The importance of the initial point at Mt. Diablo is unknown to the majority of the public.  During the day’s activities, the attendees were educated by the numerous MDSHS members in attendance on the importance or the initial point, and how it controls the majority of California and all of Nevada for land surveys.  By the time they left the celebration they had a better understanding and appreciation of the initial point, not to mention the appreciation of the history of land surveying.  Everyone seemed amazed to hear that George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson were all land surveyors in their days.

The middle of the day was when Mr. Michael J. Foley, PLS gave a brief talk on the history of how Ransom and his crew traveled up the mountain to set the initial point.  After his talk, Mr. Lance Bishop, Chief Surveyor, from the CA, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), presented to the MDSHS a copy of “A History of The Rectangular Survey System”, by C. Albert White for their library. 

The layout of the parking lot consisted of a centerpiece, being three large tents combined to create one area 20’ x 30’ for the public to gather, and rest out of the sun.  Chairs were set up so individuals could relax, socialize and listen to Mr. Foley as he spoke.  Outside of the shaded area, along the sides and rear, there were a number of historical surveying instruments set up for the public to view, look through, and see demonstration of how they operate.  On the asphalt ground to the rear, you would also find a long piece of white plastic laid out with an old Gunter’s Chain stretched out for anyone interested to see what it feels like to “Pull Chain”.  Around the exterior of the parking lot, numerous 10’ x 10’ spaces were set up by several organizations with displays and informational material.  The MDSHS booth displayed a glass cabinet, which contained a 1850’s surveyor’s compass, 1880’s transit, 1880’s level, along with an old Gunter’s ½ chain, and early 1900’s chaining pins spread out.  Other Organizations who participated with an exhibit, included Bay Area Orienteering Group, Bureau of Land Management, Haselbach Surveying Instruments (displaying the evolution of the Wild T-16, along of a Wild T-12, which is a neat little expedition theodolite), Mount Diablo Interpretive Association, National Geodetic Survey, Save Mount Diablo, Topcon California, and United States Geological Survey.

The weather on July 21, 2001 for the day’s celebration was exceptional and everyone who attended from across the state, had a great time celebrating the 150th anniversary of the setting of the Mount Diablo Initial Point.

Keith Nofield, PLS

To find out more about Mount Diablo itself, click here to visit The Mount Diablo Interpretive Association website.

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