Camp Rocky Point, Prince William Sound, Alaska: 16 July 1902. Quarto (ca. 25x19,5 cm or 9 ¾ x 7 ¾ in). Black ink on three leaves of laid paper. In all 6 pp. of text. Original envelope ca. 7,5x13,5 cm (3 x 5 ½ in), addressed to “Mr. Arthur L. Jordan, 431 Lombard St., San Francisco, California” from “Geo. McEldowney, Orca, Alaska” The envelope has a smothered Valdez postal stamp and a legible stamp reading “San Francisco, 2 Aug. 1902.” Envelope docketed as “recd. ansd.”. Fold marks, a couple of minor splits on folds, otherwise a very good letter.
Historically significant first-hand account of the triangulation and hydrographic survey of the eastern Prince William Sound carried out in 1898-1903 by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey under the general command of H.P. Ritter. The author of the letter was one of the party members, George A. McEldowney who wrote to his former teacher Arthur L. Jordan (1876-1974). The letter starts with the words “My dear teacher” and is signed “Your sincere pupil, Geo Mc.”
In the beginning, McEldowney gives a concise, but a content-rich overview of the triangulation and coastal survey work done by the Ritter party in the mouth of the Copper River in 1897-1901 – the establishment of the astronomical observatory, construction of a system of the coastal triangulation stations from the Copper River to Valdez, and slow completion of the topographical survey of that part of the Alaskan coast. Most of the letter is occupied with the description of the 1902 hydrographical survey in the Orca Bay and around Rock Point area, which McEldowney took an active part it. He talks about the erection of tide gauges and taking measurements every hour to create tide charts, construction of the signal building; and taking careful sounding measurements near shore. As a member of a sounding party, McEldowney also describes the procedure of the sounding and the roles of all members. “In sounding many different ways are followed, the most thorough way is called “checker board” work running lines to the coast then other lines crossing there at right angles. It all depends on the importance of the work how close these lines are to each other. The leadmen are generally men of experience as a green man is liable to make serious blunders and spoil a whole days’ work. We have found some very deep water 210 fathoms – quite deep enough for using a hand line in. <…> My work whole on the launch was that of observer. There are two of us each using that small but very accurate instrument, the sextant. <…> It is the duty of the recorder to record all these angles, soundings and all notes made during the day, as to beginning and ending of lines, weather and any delays.”
He also talked about the party’s schedule, weather, taking lots of photos, the expedition vessel (most likely, steamer “Taku”), the “Orca” (most likely, “Orca” salmon cannery of the Pacific Steam Whaling Co. in the Orca Bay), etc.
“We generally leave camp at 7.30 a.m., back at 6 p.m., taking our lunch with us. At lunch time we pick some pleasant sandy beach, land, build a fire, heat coffee, toast bread and make believe we are having heaps of fun at a little picnic.
Our big steamer has done very little sounding, only a few days at the beginning. The Capt. is kept pretty busy piloting the work done by the launch, going to Orca & Valdez for mail and supplies. He has a sounding machine on her for deep soundings <…> One of the three college boys and myself have been observing tide at this new camp (10 miles southeast of old one) since June 21st. We divide the 24 hours into 3 watches, we work 8 hours on and 8 hours off. Dividing into 3 makes the work fall evenly on each, every other night on duty from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. <…>
I sent four films from my small Kodak to Henry Kahn & Co., Market St. # 640 on July 2nd. <…> As to my large camera, I am unable to develop any of the plates or get anyone to do so for me. We have a very peculiar Capt. to deal with or I should ask him to bring the photographic stuff from the storeroom at Orca. Then I could see what I am doing but it is all my job is worth to ask him. He told me we should have these things with us so I figured accordingly. <…> “We have been having the finest Alaska weather this season that I have ever experienced. Out of 85 days since our arrival 55 have been clear and bright, the others partly cloudy and rainy. The warmest was June 15th + 22.5C, our coldest was + 5.0 C during the night of July 9-10…”
Overall an interesting content-rich original source on the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey’s work in Prince William Sound in the early 1900s.
George McEldowney studied in UC Berkeley and worked for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in the 1900s. In 1910 McEldowney moved to Honolulu where he lived and worked till the end of this life. Having started his career as a civil engineer with the Honolulu Board of Public Works, McEldowney gained prominence as a Hawaii reforestation activist. In 1920 he became a forest supervisor at the Hawaii Sugar Planters’ Association Experiment Station and greatly contributed to the reforestation of the Hilo countryside after a 1928 fire, as well as of remote mountainous regions, dropping tree seeds by plane. For his many years of reforestation work, McEldowney was nicknamed the “Johnny Appleseed of Hawaii” (George McEldowney Dies: Was Reforestation Leader// Honolulu Star Bulletin, 26 August 1960, p. 11).
Arthur L. Jordan graduated from the University of California. He started teaching at the age of 18 at the Lincoln Evening School and in 1899 became the head of the science department at the San Francisco Polytechnic High School, where he worked for about 50 years until his retirement in 1946 (Arthur L. Jordan: An Interview with Arthur L. Jordan, Conducted by Mrs. Walter (Sally) Bush. Atherton, California, 1970; https://archive.org/details/jordonarthurinter00jordrich/page/n4/mode/2up).
Price: $1,500.00 USD