GOULDSBORO — An absorbing tale of how the Atlantic seaboard was first properly mapped from a baseline stretch of Washington County’s blueberry barrens is the focus of a talk at 7 p.m. Monday, June 7, at the Prospect Harbor Women’s Club. Plans for charting the once unknown length of the coastline, as the crow flies, weren’t complete until 1853 when the last piece of President Thomas Jefferson’s original 1807 directive was finally laid out in Downeast Maine.
The key element — a precisely scaled, unobstructed section of coast as a baseline—was needed to stand as one side of a triangle that (by trigonometry) could form the basis for scaling accurate distances in a series of adjacent triangles, sighted out from such mountaintops as Cadillac, Pigeon Hill, and high ground all along the Eastern Seaboard.
How the base of our triangle was completed in 1857 is the story of the “Epping Baseline,” a stretch of blueberry land in DeBlois, Cherryfield, and Columbia that still can be seen. An original monument for one end of the line is in the Maine State Museum, but much of the rest is visible today — a 23-foot corridor 29,594 feet long — and is piece of the nation’s history in Mainers’ own backyard. Leading the project was a great-grandson of Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Bache, who arrived, accompanied by then U.S. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to set up crews and engineers and build the ingenious multi-layered measuring rod to scan the distance. When re-calibrated by GPS in 1991, the 1857 line was found accurate within one centimeter!
Nancy Willey of Cherryfield will present this first program in the Gouldsboro Historical Society’s monthly talks, now resumed as the pandemic begins to fade. Willey, who has brought the Epping Baseline to life over the years with several tours and talks to schools and groups, has richly earned the title “the Baseline Lady.” The Historical Society talk, “The Epping Baseline — Accurate 19th Century mapping before the GPS,” is open to all. The unvaccinated are asked to wear masks.