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One of the most fascinating aspects of historical research is the unexpected relationships that pop up among seemingly unrelated topics. For example, I’ve always liked the bright colors and simple design of Fiesta Dinnerware. I’m also intrigued by the stories and personalities associated with the depression-era gangsters like John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, and Bonnie and Clyde. But before I began researching the Point of Beginning of the Geographer’s Line in East Liverpool, Ohio, I never imagined there would be a connection between Fiesta ware, public enemy No. 1 and the Public Land Survey System.
A Popular and Highly Collectable Dinnerware
Fiesta Dinnerware is manufactured by the Homer Laughlin China Co. in Newell, W.Va., but it wasn’t always so. The company was originally called Laughlin Brothers Pottery and was founded in 1871 by two brothers, Homer and Shakespeare Laughlin. By 1936, when the company introduced Fiesta Dinnerware-including the now-discontinued but still popular red, which really is radioactive as a result of the use of uranium oxide in the glaze-it had moved to Newell, W.Va. from its original location across the Ohio River in East Liverpool, Ohio.
After John Dillinger was gunned down near Chicago’s Biograph Theater on July 22, 1934, Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd was promoted to public enemy No. 1. Unfortunately for Floyd, he was only able to hold on to that distinction for three months. On Oct. 22, 1934, Floyd was cornered by federal agents and local police in a farm field in eastern Ohio. He died in the ensuing gun battle, although some accounts indicate that Floyd never fired a shot and all his bullet wounds were in his back. Before being sent to Oklahoma for burial, Floyd’s body was embalmed and briefly viewed at the Sturgis Funeral Home. Today, the Sturgis Funeral Home has become The Sturgis House, a bed-and-breakfast where you can still view Pretty Boy Floyd in the form of a death mask made with (another unexpected connection) the same slipcasting technique used to make Fiesta Dinnerware and other pottery. The Sturgis House is located in: East Liverpool, Ohio.
On April 9, 1785, commissioners for the survey of the western boundary of Pennsylvania were appointed by Pennsylvania and Virginia. Pennsylvania appointed David Rittenhouse and Andrew Porter, while Virginia appointed Joseph Neville and Andrew Ellicott. The southwest corner of Pennsylvania had previously been established at a point on the extension of the Mason and Dixon line, which rested five degrees longitude west of the Delaware River.
The Western Boundary survey began on June 6, and by mid-August the crew had reached the Ohio River. On August 20, Porter made the following entry in his journal:
This morning continued the Vista over the hill on the South side of the river and set a stake on it by signals, about two miles in front of the Instrument, brought the Instrument forward and fixed it on a high post, opened the Vista down to the River and set a stake on the flat, the North side of the River.
A month later, Geographer of the United States Thomas Hutchins and eight other surveyors, along with a large party of axmen and chainmen, traveled down the Ohio to the western boundary of Pennsylvania. They located the stake set on the north side of the river on Aug. 20, designated it the “Point of Beginning,” and on Sept. 30, 1785, they began running the “Geographer’s Line” west. Threats of Indian attacks caused Hutchins to suspend work for the season after running only four miles of the proposed 42-mile line, but the U.S. Public Land Survey was under way.
In 1785, the Point of Beginning was located in a wilderness, but by 1820, more than 1,500 people were living in and around the nearby town of-you guessed it-East Liverpool, Ohio.
Commemorating the Point of Beginning
Today, the Point of Beginning is definitely “obliterated” and possibly “lost.” Even if the original location could be determined, it would be impractical to monument the point since its location on “the North side of the River” has long since been inundated by dam construction downstream.
In 1878, a joint commission appointed by Ohio and Pennsylvania conducted a resurvey of the boundary between the two states. When the work was completed in 1882, two terminal monuments were erected on the line, one 2,400 feet south of Lake Erie and one 690 feet north of the Ohio River. Each monument consisted of an obelisk that measures 4.5 feet high and 28 inches square at the bottom and sits on a base that is 4 feet square and 21 inches high. The following inscription was carved into the north face of each monument:
ERECTED IN 1881 BY A JOINT COMMISSION APPOINTED BY THE STATES OF PENNSYLVANIA AND OHIO TO RE–SURVEY AND RE–MARK THE BOUNDARY LINE AS ESTABLISHED IN 1786
1112 FEET SOUTH OF THIS SPOT WAS THE POINT OF BEGINNING FOR SURVEYING THE PUBLIC LANDS OF THE UNITED STATES. THERE ON SEPTEMBER 30, 1785, THOMAS HUTCHINS, FIRST GEOGRAPHER OF THE UNITED STATES BEGAN THE GEOGRAPHER’S LINE OF THE SEVEN RANGES. THIS INSCRIPTION WAS DEDICATED ON SEPTEMBER 30, 1960, IN JOINT ACTION OF THE EAST LIVERPOOL HISTORICAL SOCIETY AND THE AMERICAN CONGRESS ON SURVEYING AND MAPPING.
On Sept. 29, 1985, another ceremony was held to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Point of Beginning and the monument was designated a National Historical Civil Engineering Landmark. Another bronze plaque was attached to the monument’s north face, and two historical marker signs were erected nearby-one in Ohio and one in Pennsylvania.
Today, a single bronze plaque is attached to the monument’s north face and reads as follows:
THE BEGINNING OF
THE U.S. PUBLIC LAND SURVEY
HAS BEEN DESIGNATED A
UNDER THE PROVISIONS OF THE
HISTORIC SITES ACT OF AUGUST 11, 1935
THIS SITE POSSESSES EXCEPTIONAL VALUE
IN COMMEMORATING OR ILLUSTRATING
THE HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
CIVIL ENGINEERING LANDMARK
INITIAL POINT OF BEGINNING
U.S. PUBLIC LAND SURVEY SYSTEM
Those who enjoy visiting survey-related points of interest will find the Point of Beginning a worthwhile destination. For a much more complete and authoritative account of the Point of Beginning, check out C. Albert White’s book, “Initial Points of the Rectangular Survey System,” available from the Professional Land Surveyors of Colorado (www.plsc.net) or the ACSM Bookstore (www.acsm.net).
Now, if I could just find a connection between Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd and Sgt. Charles Floyd who is notable as being the only fatality on the Lewis and Clark expedition …