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JPR Feature
Mount Shasta's Geodetic Monument: 1875-1903   
Wednesday June 15, 2005
By Maryann Mason

Welcome to As It Was: Tales from the State of Jefferson

Late 19th century photographs show a curious object resembling a Jules Vern rocket ship toping majestic Mt. Shasta. The object, installed in 1875, was actually a geodetic (gee-oh-DET-ick) monument, or signal station, erected for government surveyors to use while measuring vast areas of Northern California.

Pioneer guide J.H. Sisson contracted to haul the thirty-five hundred pound monument to the summit at seventy-five cents a pound. Pack animals carried sections to 11,000 feet where Indian packers finished the job, using baskets on their backs. 

On the summit, four men riveted together a 15-foot tall, 2 foot-wide iron cylinder. Looking like an old water boiler, the base was topped with a 3-foot high, bell-shaped cap of bright nickel-plated copper. Although it was hoped the signal's reflected light would be visible from Mt. Helena 192 miles south, ultimately a surveyor climbed to the monument on Shasta and sent signals using a mirrored instrument.

For decades after the survey work was through, hikers wrote messages on the monument using a can of paint kept at the site. The monument toppled in 1903 but the bell-shaped top is now displayed at the Sisson (SISS-uhn) Museum in Mt. Shasta City, and in summer, climbers can still see pieces of the shaft on the mountain's south slope.

Today's episode of As It Was was written by Maryann Mason, the program engineer is Raymond Scully.  I'm Shirley Patton. As It was is a co-production of JPR and the Southern Oregon Historical Society.  To Share stories or learn more about the series visit asitwas - dot- org

Eichorn, Arthur Francis.  The Mount Shasta Story: Being a Concise History of the Famous California Mountain.  Mr. Shasta, California: Mount Shasta Herald, 1987.  Except on geodetic_monument,_1875-1903.htm; Dracup, Joseph F. "Geodetic Surveys in the United States The Beginning and the Next One Hundred Years," posted on NOAA History website,

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