Coasting the Baseline
This is a commemorative marker located on Eight Mile road in Novi. The marker is a ten foot tall obelisk that describes the significance of surveying to the early settlement of Novi and Michigan and as a foundation to creating farms throughout the state. The marker was created in cooperation with several organizations and individuals in the Novi area and with significant funding support from the Americana Foundation. The marker is inscribed with many significant places and events from the Novi Community. In addition to financial support from the Americana Foundation, this project would not have been possible without the support of the City of Novi, Novi City Council, the Novi Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department, the Novi Public Services Division, the Novi Historical Commission (Roy Prentice, chair, Lynne Boyle, Kimberly Holdaway, Sandy McCarthy and John R. MacInnis, members), Michigan State University, Eagle scout Cameron Holdaway, Novi historian, Kathy Mutch, artist, David Barr and many other Novi citizens and organizations.
Michigan was the first state fully surveyed using the “rectangular survey” system. The rectangular system, advocated by Thomas Jefferson, standardized land descriptions by dividing land into rectangular areas such as townships, sections, quarter sections and so on. Jefferson believed in the importance of Agriculture as the base for any society. The rectangular survey system was designed to facilitate the transfer of land among government and individuals with the express intent of providing farm land and educational opportunities to America’s citizens. The rectangular survey was begun in Michigan in 1815. One of the primary reasons that it was instituted was to provide farm land for US armed forces personnel in return for their service during the war of 1812.
During 1815, the initial year of survey, crews left Fort Defiance (now Defiance) in Ohio, and worked their way north laying out the prime meridian. Because of potential Indian trouble to the west, the crews turned east toward Detroit near what is now Jackson, Michigan and began laying out the E-W baseline. During the first year, the crews made it as far as Novi, finishing their first year efforts at what is now the corner of Eight Mile and Haggerty Roads. Subsequent years brought the completion of the baseline all the way across Michigan and allowed the subdivision of land into townships (six miles square) and sections (one mile square). This initial 1815 survey is the basis for the layout of the all of the farms and other lands in Michigan, including Samuel Bassett’s property in Novi Township that is now Tollgate Farm. Because of the survey system instituted by Thomas Jefferson and begun in Michigan in 1815, Tollgate is now know as the SE1/4 of section 11, Township 1North (first township north of the baseline), Range 8 East (eighth range east of the prime meridian).
The project uses ten foot tall black and white granite markers to mark each community along the east-west baseline and to commemorate the people and/or events of significance to the local community. The obelisk shape of the marker was chosen as this shape was commonly used by early surveyors when marking significant points. The shape of the Washington Monument was selected because of Washington’s vocation as a surveyor. Two communities, Northville and Farmington, along Eight Mile have already installed obelisks as part of this project. To date, each marker that has been installed is on a municipally owned site, in a highly visible, landscaped setting. All of the marker locations are publicly accessible with seating that invites visitors to spend time learning more about the history of the area and the role of surveying in its development. It is planned that eventually, markers will be placed in communities along the baseline across Michigan from Lake St. Clair to Lake Michigan to tell the story of the importance of the baseline to facilitate land exchange and the settlement of the new territory of Michigan.
Each Marker contains some elements in common with other markers in the “Coasting the Baseline” series. All markers share a discussion of the basic surveying tools, the measurement chain and staff compass. Each marker also describes the four concepts of land ownership in America: that of the Native Americans, European Aristocratic (all land owned by the King), Colonial American and our current Jeffersonian concept. Each obelisk will also contain elements of local history. In Novi, it is anticipated that some of the key elements will be Novi’s farm and fruit growing origins, the importance of the railroad and other early modes of transportation to Novi’s farm economy and Novi’s transition to a recreation Mecca for Detroit with the development of Walled Lake amusement areas. In addition to the actual obelisk, the site will include attractive plantings and hardscaping that encourages visitors to linger and learn of their heritage.
David Barr is an artist who lives in Novi, but is known throughout the world. His work is displayed at Hart Plaza in Detroit, in front of the Michigan Historical Museum in Lansing, at Bishop Airport in Flint, in front of Chrysler’s European Headquarters in Brussels and elsewhere. Mr. Barr also created Michigan Legacy Art Park on the grounds of Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville, Michigan. The park is intended to bring art to Northern Michigan communities that do not have the same access to art that is available to those living in more urban environments. Mr. Barr developed the Coasting the Baseline obelisk project and donates all of his time and artistic expertise to the communities involved.