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A Modern Treasure Hunt for Manhattan’s History

It is illegal in most places to damage, destroy, or remove survey markers, for good reason. But over a couple of hundred years, they tend to sink, disintegrate, or otherwise disappear as progress goes on over them. More than once I’ve had to deal with property markers that were swallowed by growing trees! Imagine what happens to markers in an ever-changing city- but occasionally someone finds a historic surveyor bolt in Manhattan.

The bolt was hammered by John Randel Jr, the surveyor and brains behind the Manhattan Grid. In 1808 he was given the task of planning and commencing the beastly project of transforming the as-of-yet piecemeal-designed New York City into the modern gridded metropolis we know today. For years he surveyed and mapped his vision for the new city. Finally, in 1811 he submitted his designs to the city of New York.

But that was the easy part. For nearly a decade he roamed the city, attempting to put either long metal bolts or monuments (three-foot by nine-foot marble slabs) into nearly 1,000 future intersections. These markers were the necessary precursor to actually building the brand new streets.

That was a big job, and he also had to contend with the existing residents who didn’t think much of his plan that would evict most of them in order to build new roads. Over 200 years later, finding one of the original Randall bolts is a rare and glorious find, but don’t expect to find a map of them so you can go see. Read about the bolt hunters of New York at Atlas Obscura.  

(Image credit: z22)


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