Fifth principal meridian

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U.S. Bureau of Land Management maps showing the fifth principal meridian, north and south

The fifth principal meridian starts from the old mouth of the Arkansas River, and, with the base line running west from the old mouth of the St. Francis River, governs the surveys in all or most of six states: Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, North Dakota; those in Minnesota, west of the Mississippi River and west of the third guide meridian north of the river; and in South Dakota all east of the Missouri River, and the surveys on the west side of the river to a limiting line following the third guide meridian (of the sixth principal meridian system), White River, and the west and north boundaries of the Lower Brule Indian Reservation. This meridian is nearly coincident with 91° 3′ 42″ longitude west from Greenwich.

This was the first meridian of the new Louisiana Purchase, and it covered about 2,000,000 acres (8,100 km2). There was much discussion regarding where the base line would be, with the primary candidate originally being an extension of the Third principal meridian baseline. However, it was ultimately decided to use the confluence of the St Francis River and the Mississippi River for the base line, and the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi for the meridian. Two survey teams started on the same day and proceed north and west, respectively. The initial point became the place where these surveyed lines intersected (this is one of many examples where the meridian line and base line determined the initial point, rather than the other way around). As a result the initial point is in the middle of a high water swamp, on land that belonged to the Davidsons of Marvell, Arkansas. The family made this portion of their farm available to the state, and today the site, Louisiana Purchase State Park, consists of a 900-foot (270 m) boardwalk leading from a parking lot into the swamp. At the terminus of the boardwalk there is a granite monument which reads, "This stone marks the base established Nov. 10, 1815 from which the lands of the Louisiana Purchase were surveyed by United State Engineers, the first survey from this point was made to satisfy the claims of the soldiers of the War of 1812, with land bounties. Erected by the Arkansas Daughters of the American Revolution. Sponsored by the L'Anguille Chapter." Not only is this spot well-preserved, but it also provides an excellent opportunity to see the interior of a swamp.


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Coordinates: 34°38′44″N 91°3′42″W / 34.64556°N 91.06167°W / 34.64556; -91.06167