Meridian Baseline State Park is one of the smallest state parks in Michigan, but it plays a significant role in Michigan’s history. This park has the honor of designating the spot where all township, range and section measurements begin for all of Michigan. If you own any property in Michigan, the state calculates your official property’s longitude and latitude from this point.
Today, there are two concrete and brass monuments you can visit after a short walk in the woods. (1.5 miles roundtrip) The markers have been there for many years. But it wasn’t until 2015 that the state opened the park to the public. It had finally acquired enough land to create an easement. There are a small parking lot and a groomed trail that leads you to the markers. There are no facilities. The state recently completed a boardwalk and bridge to provide better access. The ground can be very muddy and wet at times. (We visited during the spring when it was very muddy!)
Michigan survey historical background
The Michigan Survey was conducted in the early 19th century due to increased industry and settlement into what was then known as the Michigan Territory and the need for proper boundaries before the land could continue to be sold.
The survey began in April 1815. In 1816, surveying was suspended because the land was deemed “unfit, poor and not worth the expense to survey.” (That’s funny now since our state is known for its beauty!) However, in 1817, Michigan’s Territorial Governor requested that surveying be continued.
What are the Meridian and Baseline?
The Michigan Meridian is a north-south line that runs from the Ohio border to Sault Ste Marie, Michigan. The Meridian line was selected because it formed one of the principal boundary lines defined in the Treaty of Detroit in 1807, which was the first large cession of land by Native American peoples in the Michigan Territory.
It defines the boundaries of many counties in the state, as well as giving the name to Meridian Road, Meridian Township, and the Meridian Historical Village in the nearby city of Okemos. Seeing as we live in Meridian Township just a short distance from both the road and the village, it was interesting to learn how these places got their names. You don’t often think about why people named your road or city what they are, so this excited the history buff in me.
The Baseline is the east-west measurement line. As I mentioned, there are two concrete markers to visit. You might be asking yourself, if this is the one point from which all things are measured, shouldn’t there only be one marker?
Why two baseline markers?
For unknown reasons, when the survey resumed in 1817, there was some discrepancy among the surveyors. Surveyors marked a new baseline point 935.88 feet south of the original marker. However, people were buying land plotted and sold based on the original northern point so the state decided to use them both. As a result, all land in Michigan east of the Meridian line is based off the northern marker and all property on the west half of Michigan is based off the southern marker.
Today, the Meridian Baseline State Park is at the intersection of what is known as Ingham County and Jackson County in southern lower Michigan. When you stand on the markers you have one foot in Ingham County and one in Jackson County.
Surveying then and now
Land surveys and property lines in Michigan are different in a lot of places over the years. That’s partly because of the discrepancy of the Baseline markers. But different treaties also changed Michigan’s boundary. For example, as part of Michigan becoming a state, the territorial government traded the Toledo Strip to Ohio. In exchange, Michigan received the western portion of the Upper Peninsula. Some originally thought it to be a crappy deal, but then people discovered copper in the U.P. And, bonus, it’s just really, really pretty up there!
Plus, surveying itself has changed dramatically. In the 1800s men had to trudge through the wilderness, swamps, mud, and underbrush. There were no roads and most travel was done by water. This would have been really rough work.
I’m sure surveys back then were a bit off because surveyors had to circumvent lakes and swamps. And the fancy mechanical surveying equipment like lasers didn’t exist. It’s amazing how accurate they were considering the circumstances. That probably explains a bit why the two markers are a few hundred yards off.
We have been in many museums and seen notes about some of the very early surveying. Not really official surveys, but explorers coming to Michigan to find out what was here. Several notebook entries say Michigan was essentially “uninhabitable and unusable swamp land.” Lucky for us, somebody figured out the state actually offers a lot!
If you go to the baseline
We recommend a trip to this park. It doesn’t take much time, but it’s unique in many ways. Anyone interested in history should take a step back in time and visit the site that helped shape the state of Michigan.
We have plenty more adventures to come, so subscribe to this blog and our YouTube channel. (We have a video about the Meridian Baseline State Park published there.) You can follow us on Instagram, our Facebook page, and Twitter. Plus, you can see our progress as we visit each park on this interactive Google Map. You also can keep track of our activities on social media with the hashtags #hikecampgo and #mistateparks100.