Historic Places: Louisiana Purchase Marker

Department of Arkansas Heritage - Wednesday, April 29, 2015

 Historic Places: The Louisiana Purchase Marker is located at the junction of Phillips, Lee and Monroe counties in eastern Arkansas. The marker commemorates the “initial point” from which land surveys of the territory acquired through the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 were surveyed. The land surveys for all or parts of the states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana were measured from this point in the middle of an eastern Arkansas swamp.

The inscription reads, “This stone marks the base established Nov. 10, 1815, from which the lands of the Louisiana Purchase were surveyed by United States Engineers. The first survey from this point was made to satisfy the claims of the soldiers of the War of 1812 with land bounties. Erected by the Arkansas Daughters of the American Revolution. Sponsored by the L’Anguille Chapter.”

According to the National Register nomination, the site in the marsh was forgotten for more than 100 years until it was rediscovered during a resurvey of the Phillips, Monroe and Lee county lines in 1921.The L’Anguille Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution of Marianna erected a granite monument on the survey point on October 27, 1926. The Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission’s Louisiana Purchase Natural Area preserves the initial point, from which the land surveys began in 1815. It also protects a portion of the largest remaining headwater swamp in the Lower Mississippi River Valley. The natural area is a cooperative project with Louisiana Purchase State Park and features an interpretive boardwalk into the heart of the swamp, providing a view of the stone survey monument. The marker was added to the National Register of Historic Places on February 23, 1972. On April 19, 1993, the National Park Service designated the point a National Historic Landmark. Read the entire National Register nomination hosted online by the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program.

The official land survey of the Louisiana Purchase began in October 1815, when two land surveyors, Prospect Robbins and Joseph Brown, set out on their journey from the Mississippi River. Robbins began at the mouth of the Arkansas River and surveyed due north. Brown began several miles upstream at the mouth of the St. Francis River and proceeded due west. Brown’s survey line is called the baseline, and Robbins’s line is called the Fifth Principal Meridian because it was the fifth north-south line surveyed in the U.S. During this period, surveying land was hard work. Using only a compass and a chain, surveyors made their way through the wilderness, stopping every half mile to mark or “blaze” a tree. They carried all of their provisions with them for a task that lasted several months. In the vast wilderness of the Arkansas Delta where Robbins and Brown worked, the only signs of life were scattered Indian and animal trails.

On November 10, 1815, Robbins crossed the baseline that had been set by Brown, who had already proceeded to the west of that point. Robbins sent for Brown, who returned to mark this intersection of their surveys as the Initial Point of the first survey of the American West. He continued west to the Arkansas River on December 4, 1815, while another surveyor continued the baseline across what is now known as Baseline Road in Little Rock. Robbins traversed the western boundary of Phillips County and continued north, reaching the present-day Missouri border later that month and continuing onward to the Missouri River, where other surveyors continued the meridian to the Canadian border.

Several other surveyors followed Robbins and Brown, marking the corners of each square mile using the Initial Point as their reference. The process took many years, and some surveys were still not complete when Arkansas joined the Union in 1836. [Source: National Register nomination, Encyclopedia of Arkansas, Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, National Park Service, Arkansas State Parks.]