1825: Captain Parke - "Our Surveyor"

Hervey (Harvey) C. Parke was born in Connecticut in 1790, from English ancestry traced to the 1630’s. He studied surveying. He married in 1816 in New York State. In 1821, at 31, he backpacked over 500 miles to Michigan to begin his surveying career. After an apprenticeship in Ohio, he moved his family from New York to settle in Oakland County, and finally in Pontiac.

Apparently, his “captain” title follows from the fact that he was only the third to receive a contract to survey Michigan Public Lands. In 1823, he contracted to lead a team of surveyors (Clarke, Wampler – namesakes of local lakes – and others) to survey the upper Raisin River. He later augmented his wide-ranging surveying duties (west to Chicago & Iowa) with public service activities. His wife died in 1862. He was afflicted with partial paralysis the last 13 years of his life; this did not stop him from founding the Oakland County Pioneer Society; he died in 1879 (see “Surveyors of the Public Lands”, downtown Jackson District Library).

Parke's reproduction (right) is a testimony to Parke’s survival talents, luck, and later-life accomplishments that warranted this portrait; many surveyors fell to the physical hazards of their profession. Example: Robert Clarke, namesake of Clarke Lake, disappeared in a survey.

In 1876, an eighty-six-year-old Captain Parke talked to a group in the Pioneer Society of Michigan about his 14 years of surveying in Michigan and elsewhere. In twenty pages of “reminiscences”, he estimated that from 1824 to 1829, he surveyed 22 townships (792 square miles). The number of miles of established lines surveyed in Michigan, Iowa, and Wisconsin from March 1822 up to the middle of 1838 amounted to 5400; if to this is added the travel to/from his camp and to/from his home, the total would be nearly 20000 miles. He suffered much from frozen feet, which still afflicted him after 40 years.

Parke went on to describe his daily activities: (quoted material is taken from Pioneer Society of Michigan vol 3, p 572-591)

"In prairie country, we occasionally carried poles from two to three inches in diameter, from which to cut posts to set in mounds every half mile. …These posts were marked with the marking iron – township, range, and section.

“…Our food was healthy, highly relished, and never gave us dyspepsia. Our breakfast was eaten before daylight, from October to June, that we might reach our work before sunrise. …This meal consisted of strong tea, fried or cold boiled pork, and shortcake yellow with saleratus (sodium bicarbonate – baking soda) and rich with pork drippings. For lunch, finished by 10 or 11 o’clock and eaten while walking, consisted of a bit of cold pork and a piece of bread, the latter often frozen too hard for use, until the ax was used to cut it into small pieces. We worked until near dark, and, arriving late in camp, the hot bean soup with bread and tea was eaten with great relish.”

What Parke didn’t relate was that between their swamp base camps and the swarms of black flies and mosquitoes, summer surveying was not favored; also, winter landscapes were more navigable.
Besides setting surveyor posts, these travelers drew maps and recorded vegetation and interesting geographical features. If a lake caught their attention, they would walk its shoreline and record their path. The maps and these lakeshore “meanders” were recorded in leather pouches; these contents were transcribed in the 1890’s to inked records, which have now been put on microfilm. The microfilms are readily accessible at the new Michigan Historical Center in Lansing (which also contains a whole floor of historical presentations). When we peer into this easily-accessible historical window , we can savor Captain Parke’s 180-year-old legacy.

The map: This first map of our area is given below.

Two points:(1) the map is signed and dated (February 1825) by Parke at the bottom; (2) the present name - Wolf Lale -- was used at survey time. It also shows that, in Parke’s two local “townships”, only two lakes are named (Cramberry and Wolf), and three were regarded as interesting enough to walk (in February, no less!) – Cramberry, Wolf and Akerson – all of them depicted quite accurately. Other lakes are at best depicted with vague circular shapes. This seems to indicate that the three were named perhaps at the whim of the surveyor (note that Parke, perhaps as chief surveyor, declined to declare a “Parke Lake”, unlike his associates Wampler and Clarke). But Parke was meticulous in recordkeeping:

The meanders: Parke set his zig-zag lakeshore walks down in “meanders” written in surveyor’s terms with margin notes describing an unusual land feature. This path (left) around the western side of Wolf Lake is copied from the 1890s transcription of Parke’s 1825 notes.

Note the top introduction where the starting point is referenced relative to a Tamarack tree! Also, note the observation of the single western-side lake outlet. A similar description (not shown here) is given for a meander around the eastern side of the lake on Mack Island.

The right-hand picture shows that when these west and east paths are superimposed on a current map of Wolf Lake, they closely match the shoreline and the margin notes accurately fall near the inlets and outlets. Note that (1) the two east-path inlets are at Willow Creek and the Little Wolf inlet, and (2) the east path includes a walk over a frozen Little Wolf Channel. Thus is attention to detail rewarded, if 180 years later!