John Vonderlin: 19th Century Coast Survey

Hi June,

    As was alluded to in the previously-posted, hard-hitting  1886 editorial, “Let Us Have Light,” a survey of the local coast for good lighthouse sites  had been done many years before then, by a Professor Bache. That was Alexander Bache, the second Superintendent of the Office of the Coast Survey, the forerunner of the Geodetic Survey. 

   This is an excerpt from the Geodetic Survey website that I thought would serve as a good intro to a bunch of info I’ve gathered about the pioneers of the Coast Survey, that worked on the Pacific Coast, starting in 1848. The website has 21,000 accessible historic maps made by the Coast Survey, going back 200 years. I wanted to share some of those wonderful maps and drawings of our coast, in conjunction with a few mentions of the  people that made them. Enjoy. John


“… the big billowing- everlasting – ro-o-a-a-r-r-r-r — onto-the-end-of-the-world of the ocean…”


In general the American people have been presented with an American West of wagon trains, trackless deserts, fierce Indian warriors riding painted steeds, mesas and mountains, and vast herds of buffalo rumbling across an endless prairie. This view has glorified the sodbusters, the cattle ranchers, the U.S. Cavalry, the noble savage, the railroaders, the miners, the peace keepers, and the gunslingers. But there was another frontier — a frontier of uncharted waterways, bold and precipitous mountains doing perpetual battle with the on-rushing swells of the North Pacific, wild and tumultous storms that could drive the unwary sailor upon an iron-bound shore, relentless fogs blocking the path of all but the bold or foolish, desert shores to the south and rain forest to the north, majestic redwood and fir forests growing to the very edge of the sea, and sea -going Native Americans who were as fierce and brave as their storied counterparts of the plains and deserts. This was the Pacific frontier, the western-most frontier, that faced the first Coast Surveyors who made the arduous trip from the East Coast of the United States to the western margin of North America. More than any other organization, it was the Coast Survey that helped tame this frontier coast. A small group of dedicated surveyors helped make this coast as safe for commerce and travel as any in the world in the short space of a few years beginning in 1849.

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