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Rock & hard place

100+-year-old stone survey markers disappearing ‘due to a lack of public awareness and knowledge’

Photo provided to Times Observer A section of an 1890s survey map of the City of Warren. Much of this survey was completed by Wheelock, the borough’s engineer at the time.

To the untrained eye, they might look like old landscape stones.

Or discarded cut stone.

Or maybe just run-of-the mill rocks.

But throughout the City of Warren there are survey marker stones — some placed over 120 years ago — that are certainly there for a reason.

Welcome to the world of survey monuments.

Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton This is one of the survey monuments that remain visible throughout the City of Warren. This one is located at the intersection of Buchanan and Division Sts.

Placed as far back as the late 1800s, the monuments denote the location of street right-of-ways.

“The location of most street right-of-ways in the City of Warren are typically within one to two feet — if not much closer — to the outside edge of the existing concrete sidewalks,” Joe McGraw, a local surveyor and president of the Northwest Chapter of the PA Society of Land Surveyors, said.

The monuments are generally 6 inches by 6 inches with a hole drilled in the middle and maybe an etched “+” (plus sign) in the middle.

“I believe most of the stone monuments appear to be sandstone,” McGraw explained.

While the stones are roughly three feet tall, almost all of the stone is buried.

Photo submitted to Times Observer A section of an 1890s survey map of the City of Warren.

“Many of these monuments are flush with the ground,” he said, “but some have become buried due to environmental factors or manmade changes to the surrounding landscape. Some monuments may protrude slightly, typically not more than six inches above the surface grade.”

According to a letter from the county’s surveyors shared with the city, they note that “many have remained relatively undisturbed for over 100 years in the City of Warren and continue to be used by local professional land surveyors.”

McGraw said the monuments are “referenced in legal descriptions within the City for planning public utility locations, streetscape projects, highway improvement projects, etc.”

How many are out there? That’s anyone’s guess.

But McGraw explained how they continue to serve a valuable role in the surveying community.

“I guess the simple answer would be if you are performing a land survey within the City of Warren, you are typically going to see if you can find and locate these monuments within the block where you are surveying, not only as a reference in your survey, but in some cases to help completely re-establish the boundaries of a residential or commercial lot,” he said.

This issue was raised late last year by McGraw and the community’s other surveyors — Todd Hendricks, David See, James Hunter, Philip Hampson, and Gary Wareham — in a letter to City of Warren administration.

They indicated in that letter that several monuments were damaged or removed last year during work along Pennsylvania Ave. and Market St.

“It is evident,” they concluded, “that some of the very few remaining historic stone survey monuments along Pennsylvania Ave. East and Market St. that were delineating or referencing the legal rights-of-ways of the city streets have been severely disturbed or have been excavated and disregarded amongst concrete debris hauled away in dump trucks.”

“Every year that passes, more and more of these monuments disappear due to lack of public awareness and knowledge,” McGraw said. “There has been a habitual lack of oversight regarding the protection of monuments with construction utility crews, utility companies and other related work performed within the City of Warren public right-of-ways.”

So the Times Observer will be presenting this issue to the community. We’ll look in subsequent days at how the monuments were placed, why they’re significant, and what should be – and is being- done to preserve what remains.

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