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Capitol grounds contain hidden historical curiosities

Posted at 6:30 AM, Oct 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-08 06:30:49-04

LANSING, Mich. — Even if you've passed by Michigan's Capitol hundreds of times, there are historical curiosities on the grounds you might not know about.

For example, an out-of-place stone on the Capitol’s east side, that for many years was referred to as the “mystery stone” and thought to have been a stepping stool for stage coaches has a story that dates back to before the Capitol’s construction.

One of the stones carved with perpendicular meridian lines that allowed early surveyors to use astronomy to map the area
One of the stones carved with perpendicular meridian lines that allowed early surveyors to use astronomy to map the area

In 1872, Gov. Henry Baldwin petitioned the federal government for assistance in surveying the interior parts of Michigan, a project that had been started in 1841. To complete the surveying, they turned to the stars.

“They would actually use astronomical assistance, you know with the stars and aligning their equipment,'' said Matthew VanAcker, director of education at the Capitol. “And what they were really looking for, as I understand, was a true north line to start the survey of this entire area.”

Using astronomical assistance, surveyors placed two stones on either side of the Capitol grounds.

“In order to have that permanent mark, they would set what they called astronomical posts in places where they thought they wouldn't be disturbed, like the grounds of state capitols,” VanAcker said.

The stones were carved with perpendicular meridian lines.

VanAcker explained that surveyors would set up equipment over crosshairs etched into stones placed on each side of the Capitol. They would shoot their equipment off from one stone to the other, which would give them the true north line. They could then establish meridian lines, which guided the surveying for the rest of the area.

Another historical curiosity stands between the two stones, a massive catalpa tree that has existed on the Capitol grounds since before the Civil War.

“This tree for years was a national champion,” VanAcker said. “The largest of its kind in North America.”

The Capitol's catalpa tree, once the largest of its kind in North America, dates back to before the Civil War
The Capitol's catalpa tree, once the largest of its kind in North America, dates back to before the Civil War

The National Tree Association of North America came to that conclusion by measuring the tree’s height, tree canopy and trunk size.

The tree is no longer the largest catalpa on the continent, but it still stands strong.

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Elle Meyers

Elle Meyers

6:12 PM, Apr 12, 2021

State Capitol

Neighborhood Reporter

Elle Meyers

FOX 47 News Neighborhood Newsletter