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Initial Point - Beginning of Idaho's Survey

The lands encompassed in present-day Idaho were acquired by the United States in 1846 as part of Oregon Territory, through a treaty with Great Britain.  Congress created Idaho Territory in 1863, but it was not until 1866 that a Surveyor General was appointed.  Lands in a U.S. territory were not available for disposal until they had been surveyed.

Establishing and monumenting Initial Points was a necessary first step in a survey because this made it possible to survey and legally describe – with brevity and certainty – areas that were far removed from lands that had already been surveyed. 

LaFayette Cartee, who had been in the survey business since at least 1850, was appointed Surveyor General of Idaho on August 13, 1866, and opened the Office of the Surveyor General in Boise City the following November.  In December, the Commissioner of the General Land Office – one of the BLM's forerunner agencies – issued Cartee instructions on beginning to survey the Idaho Territory.

"After having obtained the necessary information from reliable sources and from your personal observation ... you will establish Initial Point of Surveys therein either on a conspicuous mountain or at a confluence of streams which point will be the intersection of the Principal Meridian with the Base line governing those surveys. — You will commemorate the initial point by a conspicuous and enduring monument, signalizing the spot with appropriate inscription thereon ..."

There was no "confluence of streams" a convenient distance from Boise City, so Cartee decided instead to use a "conspicuous mountain."  He selected a small butte about 20 miles from Boise City, five miles from the Snake River at its nearest point, and 8 miles south and one mile east of present-day Kuna.  Stories in the Idaho Statesman newspaper (then publishing 3 times a week) indicate that he chose the spot in early April, 1867 and monumented it within a week or so.

Days later, Peter W. Bell, Cartee's brother-in-law and surveying associate, began surveying the Boise Meridian south from the Initial Point to near the southern border of the Territory.  Bell also surveyed the Base Line west from the Initial Point to near the western territorial boundary, and east to approximately 20 miles east of Fairfield.

Bell and Allen M. Thompson, another Cartee associate, surveyed many hundreds of miles of lines in Idaho under survey contracts for years to come.  Cartee held the job of Idaho Surveyor General until 1878.  Idaho became a State on July 3, 1890.

The meridian line that Peter Bell surveyed south crosses the Snake River about a mile below Swan Falls Dam and passes through the current location of the parking lot for the Dedication Point overlook.  The Boise Meridian line extends north through the present-day city of Meridian, which is named for this line.  

The Boise Meridian Initial Point is one of only a few such Points that have had their geographic positions precisely determined by the National Geodetic Survey.

Discoveries of gold and silver in southwestern Idaho in the 1860s influenced the selection of the Boise Meridian Initial Point.  The Boise Meridian (North-South) and Base Line (East-West) formed the backbone for all future land surveys in Idaho, helping – in the language of the U.S. Constitution – to insure domestic tranquility, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty.



survey monument

view from top of Initial Point, looking west

current survey monument at Intial Point as it appears today

monument cap design for Boise Meridian Initial Point, Idaho