History dinner looks at pioneer surveyors

THE DALLES—Columbia Gorge Discovery Center presents the April history dinner, “Pioneer Surveyors of the Columbia Gorge,” with Jerry Olson, Friday, April 18. Dinner begins at 5:30 p.m. and the presentation starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, 5000 Discovery Drive, in The Dalles.

Olson is president and CEO of Olson Engineering Inc., Vancouver, Wash., which he founded in 1968. He will provide a progression of the original surveys in Wasco County with maps from 1858-1872, the role of the General Land Office, and information about the early pioneer surveyors of the Columbia River Gorge, including Justin Chenoweth and the first government surveyor from Wasco County, Edward Sharp, among others.

The history dinner menu includes: crab-stuffed chicken, jasmine rice, artichoke parmesan crostini, caramelized Brussels sprouts, and spring green salad.

Ticket prices for the dinner and program are $21 for adult museum members; $24 for non-members; $15 for children 12 and under; $5 for the presentation only. RSVP by April 16 at 541-296-8600, ext. 201.

Olson observed that as patterns of behavior for various GLO surveyors emerge, it was obvious that better surveys result if a profile of the surveyor is developed. His interest in the lives of pioneer surveyors has led him to compile biographies on over 200 surveyors of early Washington and Oregon.

While Olson’s focus has been primarily in Washington state, many of the surveyors crossed state lines into Oregon. “An unusual number of them graduated from Wasco Academy in The Dalles,” he said.

Olson said, “Surveyors have naturally developed an appreciation of history, and seek out sources of historical information to aid them in their property surveys. Surveying usually involves research and a detailed understanding of situations in the past. Property transactions are traced back to the original patents from the U.S. Government.

“Rivers and land features noted in deeds are many times relative to where those features existed geographically at the time of the conveyance. Road and street right-of-ways widen and move over time. The surveyors’ personal records perpetuate the location of missing monuments and surveys long after the surveyor is gone.

“The West was surveyed by the U.S. government just before or after settlement occurred. In Oregon and Washington, this started in 1851. The habitable countryside was divided into square miles, called Sections, with controlling corners being set about every one-half mile. Wooden posts or stones monumented the corners, and trees were marked nearby to reference the corner.

“An important guiding principle is: ‘...these original corners on the boundaries of the surveyed Sections were to govern the property lines within, even if the corners were obliterated, if their positions could be perpetuated by other evidence.’ Surveyors are continually asking themselves questions such as, ‘Is this where the monument was set in 1873?’”

Prior to starting a private practice, Jerry Olson was employed as an engineer with the Washington Department of Natural Resources. He earned his master’s degree in forest engineering at Oregon State University and is a licensed land surveyor, engineer and certified forester. He is a member emeritus and has held leadership positions in both the Washington State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors, and the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying.

Olson is author of the book “Surveying North of the River,” the reference handbook “The First Land Surveyors of Washington,” and edited the book, “David D. Clarke 1864-1920: Narratives of a Surveyor and Engineer in the Pacific Northwest.”


The Discovery Center is located off Interstate 84 at exit 82, 5000 Discovery Drive, The Dalles. It is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Museum adult admission is $9, seniors $7, kids 6-16 are $5, and children 5 and under free.

For more information call 541-296-8600, ext. 201, or visit gorgediscovery.org.

News and information from our partners


Comments are subject to moderator review and may not appear immediately on the site. A user's first several comments must be manually approved by a moderator.

Please read our commenting policy before posting.

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment


Information from the News and our advertisers (Want to add your business to this to this feed?)