But What’s the Meridian?

On June 3, 2012 · 4 Comments

The definition of "meridian" sounds straight-forward enough. There are some ancillary definitions relating to greatest moments, highest achievements and such, plus one dealing with acupuncture, but the one roughly analogous to longitude interests 12MC the most.

(1.) Geography.

  • (a.) a great circle of the earth passing through the poles and any given point on the earth’s surface.
  • (b.) the half of such a circle included between the poles.

I’ve wondered about Meridian, Mississippi for awhile. Land surveys in Mississippi involved more that one meridian — Choctaw, Chickasaw and Washington meridians principally — and none of them fell within the vicinity of the City of Meridian.

The city was borne of a rivalry between two land speculators, Lewis Ragsdale and John Ball. They competed at a place where the Mobile and Ohio Railroad was expected to intersect with the Vicksburg and Montgomery Railroad. The fortunes of many towns coincided with the placement of railroad lines. Imagine an opportunity that doubling the possibilities.

"Ball believed meridian was a synonym for junction. Ball won that round even with his mistaken assumption. Otherwise Meridian could have been Sowashee or Ragsdale City.

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One can still see the rivalry reflected in the current map of Meridian, MS. Ball created a street grid to align with the railroad tracks. Ragsdale ran his streets along the four cardinal directions. They collided in a mishmashed array of streets, triangular lots and odd angles that complicates driving a century-and-a-half later.

This led me to wonder if other places named Meridian actually coincided with meridians. John Ball may have misunderstood the definition but town founders in other locations seemed to have developed a better grasp of the concept.


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Meridian, Idaho is actually almost double the size of its same-named counterpart in Mississippi. It’s a bustling area outside of Boise with 75,000 residents. It also has a rather unusual set of boundaries. Meridian’s borders don’t appear on embedded Google Maps images although the swiss cheese layout reveals itself in standalone mode.

The meridian referenced by the city is the Boise Meridian at 116°23’35” west, which is a basis of measurement for the entirety of Idaho. I confirmed that the Boise Meridian does indeed intersect the city.


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Ditto for Michigan. In this case it’s Meridian Charter Township. The Michigan Meridian figured into land surveying for the the state including its Upper Peninsula.

SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons in the public domain

The "charter" part of its name is a Michigan peculiarity. It means the township has been granted certain rights and privileges by state law to provide various municipal services and such. The "meridian" part refers to 84°22’24” west, the Michigan Meridian, which absolutely intersects Meridian Charter Township.


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Meridian, the seat of local government in Bosque County, Texas provided an opportunity to consult one of my favorite resources, the Handbook of Texas:

The origin of the community’s name is somewhat obscure. Commissioner Jasper N. Mabray proposed the name, which according to legend recognized both Meridian Creek and Meridian Knobs, previously named by Erath for their proximity to the ninety-eighth meridian. The ninety-eighth meridian, however, passes through only a tiny portion of the northwestern corner of Bosque County; nonetheless, the most likely explanation is that the commissioners believed their town lay near a meridian.

Meridian (the town) actually sits about a third of a degree east of ninety-eight. I’ll give them partial credit. They understood that a meridian was located somewhere nearby although their geography was a bit off.


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I selected Meridianville, Alabama for the final feature. It’s still about the meridian here although they chose to append it with a "ville." I couldn’t find a definitive history online although I did find the text and location of an Alabama historical marker:

Initial Survey Point. In 1809, Major Thomas Freeman, Deputy U.S. Surveyor, established a marker here on the state line and began surveying south toward the middle of the state. This line, known as the Huntsville Meridian, is the reference for all property surveys in North Alabama. The Initial Point, now in the middle of the highway, was reset in 1977 by the Alabama Society of Professional Land Surveyors. [1977: Hwy 231/431 south of Tennessee line]

If one draws a line from the historical marker down to Meridianville, as I have done on the map above, it becomes readily apparent that the Huntsville Meridian does indeed intersect the town.

There are many more towns named either Meridian or Meridian-plus-something-else. I tried to discuss the ones with the largest populations. One can always consult the USGS Geographic Names Information System to explore the more obscure instances further. Generally, except for Mississippi, each of the occurrences I examined involved an actual meridian either directly or in proximity.

On June 3, 2012 · 4 Comments

4 Responses to “But What’s the Meridian?”

  1. Mr Burns says:

    All of which reminds me of the time I was “virtually” exploring the Sixth Principal Meridian, upon which all the surveys of my home state are based. Start on Meridian Avenue in Wichita, and travel south to the Oklahoma border. This is the very south end of the 6th PM. Where “Meridian Road” and “State Line Road” intersect, drop into Street View.


    Now do a little looking around, especially to the west on State Line Road. Notice the mud. Notice the deep tracks of a stuck Street View car. Notice the friendly local who stops by to give the SV car a push. Fun and games on a lovely Kansas afternoon. Well, actually Oklahoma, since the car was stuck on the South side of the raod.

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  2. Fritz Keppler says:

    And then there’s the main north-south street of Indianapolis, Meridian Street, which runs into Monument Circle in the center of the city. At about 86° 9.5′ W, I guess it’s derived from the Washington Meridian?

  3. Makes me think of one of my favorite street names — “Guide Meridian” in Whatcom County, Washington. Part of its length is Guide Meridian Road and part Meridian Street, but county records do appear to indicate that a good portion of the roadway in Bellingham and Lynden is plain old “Guide Meridian” — named for the Puget Sound Meridian, I believe. http://www.lsawhistorical.org/documents/articles_PugetSoundMeridian.pdf or http://www.pobonline.com/Articles/Features/b5d5f0b5ba0f6010VgnVCM100000f932a8c0____

  4. Also, according to http://www.astro.washington.edu/users/woody/sundial_tour.html, which may or may not be reliable, Seattle’s Meridian Avenue “comes from the fact that it lies on a basic reference line chosen by the original surveyors of the city – at a longitude of exactly 122°20.00´ W.”

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