An experienced surveyor, Tom Benson could have established his business, T.W. Benson Land Surveying Inc., anywhere in Maine, but Southwest Harbor was where he wanted to be.
“This is a unique area,” Tom explained. “I enjoy being near the water. It’s a small area,” and “I know a lot of people.”
His roots run deep on Mount Desert Island. Tom’s father, Dave, grew up in Seawall and became a Maine state trooper. His mother, Anne, hails from Northeast Harbor, and “I grew up across the road” from where his business and home are now located, said Tom, who was a Southwest Harbor selectman for six years.
After attending Pemetic Elementary School, he played varsity basketball at MDI High School and earned his degree in surveying at the University of Maine. “I like being outdoors, I like the mathematical part” of surveying, Tom said. “There seemed to be a need for it in the area.”
He worked several years for Herrick & Salsbury Inc. in Ellsworth, then became that city’s construction inspector. “One of my projects was Myrick Street when it was two lanes,” Tom said.
He started his business in 1994. “We’re doing boundary work and work for architects on prospective houses,” Tom said. “Most of our work is residential. We’re able to stay busy with most of our work being here on the island.
“My work is interesting. It takes us into interesting areas,” Tom said. As landowners divide their land and sell lots, surveyors must determine “where the boundaries are.”
This involves researching property deeds “sometimes back to the beginning,” when a lot was “carved out of a much larger lot,” he said. Then “we go out and find the old [boundary] markers,” which could be buried.
Using the latest technology, including a robotic total station that lets one surveyor do the work once done by two surveyors, Tom and his staffer, Chuck Alley, survey their way across terrain varying from open field to thick spruce-fir forest.
“Sometimes we use a chainsaw, sometimes it’s a machete and ax” to get through the woods, Tom said. “We do cut out the lines sometimes; we blaze the trees, and that marks the line for quite a while to come.
“Sometimes the deeds are very vague,” so he and Chuck must determine where the boundaries are. Working with digital deeds obtained from the Hancock County Registry of Deeds, Tom and Chuck carefully study all available information prior to surveying properties.
Old boundary markers could be iron pins, rocks, stone walls, or something unusual. “Out on Islesford there was a shotgun barrel,” Tom recalled. “It showed on the old plans, and it was still there.
“Our work is weather dependent,” especially in winter, when snow cover “makes it difficult to find things,” he said. “We have to pick and choose what we can in the winter because of weather conditions.”
In the fall, “we try to go out and look at our jobs, flag things before the snow comes, kind of like a squirrel, stockpiling work ahead,” Tom commented.
In warmer weather, “ticks, that’s our biggest problem,” he said. “We try to be as careful as we can.”
Tom’s wife, Robin, grew up in Bass Harbor and works as a manager at Gott’s Store in Southwest Harbor. The Bensons have two children: Derek, 27, lives in Southwest Harbor, and Holly, 24, lives in Lamoine.
The Bensons have a camp on Branch Pond in Ellsworth. “I like to hunt mostly deer. We snowmobile a little bit,” Tom said. “I enjoy working out in the field … being on the job.”