In December of 1803 France transferred ownership of over 828,000 square miles of property to the U.S. This deal is known as the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of the U.S. Fast forward to 1815. President Madison orders a survey of the acquisition, to provide land as payment for veterans of the War of 1812 and was vital to the opening of the American West.
Today, we visited the Louisiana Purchase State Park near Brinkley, Arkansas. The state park is very well maintained but there aren’t a lot of amenities in the park. The parking area is a turn-around at the end of Baseline Road. There are chemical toilets (port-a-potty style), a display case with information about the park (today it was empty), and there is an the entrance to a boardwalk through a tree filled swamp.
The boardwalk has many stops along the way to tell you about the swamp you are walking through and the significance of the park. The swamp is a headwater swamp rather than a backwater swamp, so it stays wet more than backwater swamps. There are many animals that make the swamp their home, there are birds, possums, rabbits, snakes, turtles, and alligators. We didn’t see any animals. The swamp has an abundance of cypress trees. It was cool so there weren’t any mosquitoes out, which made the walk very pleasant.
Surveyors Prospect K. Robbins and Joseph C. Brown were commissioned by the United States to begin this survey by establishing an initial point in eastern Arkansas from which other surveys would originate. To establish an initial point, it was necessary to survey a permanent north south line, called a meridian and cross it with an east-west line, a baseline, the junction becoming the initial point for all future surveys of Louisiana Purchase Territory lands. From this point emanated the surveys for Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, and part of South Dakota.
At the end of the boardwalk is a stone marker commemorating the location of this initial point of the Louisiana Purchase. The marker is at the corner of the Fifth Principle Meridian (North/South) and the Baseline (East/West).
From here the surveyors started the process of marking the boundaries within the Louisiana Purchase so that land could be deeded and sold. Standing on the boardwalk you can look from the marker down through a narrow opening in the trees which makes up the Baseline. Today the marker is still used to establish boundaries for four states and two other states reference it.
The park feels very remote and even a little creepy walking through the swamp. We are sure the park doesn’t get a lot of traffic but it was a beautiful and an interesting stop.