The Great Salt Lake Base and Meridian

Write-up by: Benjamin Judd

Placed by: Mutual Improvement Associations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints and Utah Pioneer Trails and Landmarks Association

GPS Coordinates: 40º 46’ 04” N, 111º 54’ 00” W

Historical  Marker Text:

Great Salt Lake Base and Meridian

Fixed by Orson Pratt assisted by Henry G. Sherwood, August 3, 1847, when beginning the original survey of “Great Salt Lake City,” around the “Mormon” temple site designated by Brigham Young July 28, 1847. The city streets were named and numbered from this point.

David H. Burr, First U.S. Surveyor-General for Utah, located here in August 1855, the initial point of public land surveys in Utah, and set the stone monument, still preserved in position.

An astronomical station, its stone base still standing 100 ft. N. and 50 ft. W. of this corner was established by George W. Dean, U. S. C. & G. Survey, September 30, 1869, to determine the true latitude and longitude; it was used to obtain correct time at this point until December 30, 1897.

Extended Research:

In the summer of 1847 the first Euro-American settlers arrived in what would become Utah Territory. Mormon pioneers traveled West to escape persecution, ending their journey in the Salt Lake valley. After arriving in the valley, the saints quickly began building up the new city around a point designated by Orson Pratt as the base and meridian. 

This point marks the center of Salt Lake City. Many Utah cities share a similar grid system where the streets run north to south, criss-crossed with streets running east to west. Many of Salt Lake’s streets have no names, but rather obtain their labeling by their distance from this marker in each direction beginning with zero, and progressing by roughly 100 with each city block. Brigham Young, as president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, started this system, with the city emanating from the temple lot, keeping it a focal point of their daily lives. “Here we will build the temple of our God,” Young said upon choosing the spot [1]. This point marked more than just the center of their city, it marked the center of their lives. 

In October of 1855, at the point surveyed by Orson Pratt, the surveyor general named David H. Burr placed a stone marker depicting the location of the base and meridian of Utah. Benjamin Thomas Mitchell received payment of $25 to carve the marker out of local sandstone. Mitchell, one of the designers and masons for the Salt Lake Temple, first worked on the Nauvoo Temple in Illinois. Mitchell designed the ‘sun stones’ which adorned the exterior of the Nauvoo Temple, and this experience qualified him for the new task. His marker stood for many years, but the sandstone eventually wore down and eroded until it needed to be replaced, even after receiving a protective Iron fence in 1932. [2].

In August 1989 a replica marker, carved in sandstone taken from the same area as the original, took the spot. Johann Huettlinger, a trained mason, matched the original design, and placed the new marker where the first stood all those years. In 1992, the original marker carved by Benjamin Mitchell then took up residence in the LDS Church History Museum located on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. [3].

Notably, a discrepancy between Orson Pratt’s findings, and the actual coordinates of the “Initial Point,” shows roughly 27 degrees of difference. [4]. Pratt originally surveyed the area upon being the first to arrive in the valley. His work, found using astronomical observations and an array of tools and equipment brought West with him, guided the entire layout of the city. Newer GPS technology shows a minor difference between the points, though the mistake often goes overlooked due to the inaccuracy of the surveying equipment used. The point chosen by Orson Pratt remains the center of the city to this day, central to much of life in Salt Lake City and even surrounding areas.

Photo of  original sandstone marker carved by Benjamin Thomas Mitchell surrounded by a barrier fencing to protect the stone from further damage and deterioration.

(Photo Credit: LOC.gov accessed 02-15-2020)

[1] Marsh, W. Jeffrey. “Brigham Young: A Disciple Indeed.” Religious Educator: Perspectives onthe Restored Gospel 3, no. 3 (2002): 23.

These words were spoken by Brigham Young with the touch of his cane to the very grounds the temple sits on. It was at this points when the saints began to build Salt Lake City around the temple lot. This took place just days after entering the valley.

[2] “The Center of the City.” Church History. Accessed February 25, 2020. https://history.churchofjesuschrist.org/content/museum/museum-treasures-meridian-marker?lang=eng.

[3] De Groote, Michael. “How Everything in Utah Is Connected to Temple Square.” Deseret News. Deseret News,November 6, 2008. https://www.deseret.com/platform/amp/2008/11/6/20284308/how- everything-in-utah-is-connected-to-temple-square

[4] “The Center of the City.” Church History. Accessed February 25, 2020. https://history.churchofjesuschrist.org/content/museum/museum-treasures-meridian-marker?lang=eng.

For further reference:

Primary sources:

Historic American Engineering Record, Creator. Great Salt Lake Base & Meridian, Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, UT. Salt Lake City Salt Lake County Utah, 1968. Documentation Compiled After. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/ut0208/.

Nielsen, Quig. “1855 Base and Meridian Market on Display.” Davis County Clipper. March 20, 1992. Https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6rf8fgh/22539766.

“Tablet Honoring Surveyor Who Fixed S. L. Meridian to Be Placed.” Salt Lake Telegram, 6 June 1932. Utah Digital Newspapers. Accessed March 28, 2020. https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s69k5k6s/15850082.

“Permission Given to Fence Marker,” Salt Lake Telegram, 9 June 1932. Utah Digital Newspapers. Accessed March 28, 2020. https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6sj2thk/15851334.

Secondary sources:

“The Center of the City.” Church History. Accessed February 25, 2020. https://history.churchofjesuschrist.org/content/museum/museum-treasures-meridian-marker?lang=eng.

De Groote, Michael. “How Everything in Utah Is Connected to Temple Square.” Deseret News, November 6, 2008. https://www.deseret.com/platform/amp/2008/11/6/20284308/how- everything-in-utah-is-connected-to-temple-square

Marsh, W. Jeffrey. “Brigham Young: A Disciple Indeed.” Religious Educator: Perspectives on the Restored Gospel 3, no. 3 (2002): 23.

“Utah Surveying History.” Utah Council of Land Surveyors. Accessed March 13, 2020. https://www.ucls.org/utah-surveying-history.

Wysong, Sheri. “The Mountain Men, the Cartographers, and the Lakes.” Utah Historical Quarterly 86, no. 2 (2018): 129-147.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.