Friday, February 24, 2012

Surveying Louisiana

This past fall I participated in the North American Cartographic Information Society Conference, where I presented on the topic of surveyors' records in the Southeastern Architectural Archive (SEAA).

In 1972, surveyor Guy Seghers, Sr. sold his tracings to Lawyers Title Company.  In 1978 – two years before the SEAA was established --  his son Guy Seghers, Jr. – known as “Buddy” -- attempted to sell the family’s remaining records to the Louisiana Land Surveyors’ Association for $20,000.  The Louisiana Land Surveyors refused the offer, but expressed their concern that the family’s records be available to local surveyors.  When Buddy died the following year at the age of 49, his father decided to donate the records to Tulane University in memory of his son.  The Louisiana Land Surveyors Association was grateful for this donation, as it ensured that the records of what its President referred to as the “vanishing American” would be accessible permanently.

The Seghers family surveying business outlasted its rivals, the last old surveying family still operating in the region.  Families such as De Armas and D’Hemecourt left the profession – whereas the Seghers family continued its operations, adapting its business as New Orleans expanded and various trade concerns sought their services.   Over 100 years of operation, their clients would come to include municipal, parish, state, and federal governments, the Dock Board, the Army Corps of Engineers, plantation owners and major oil companies.

They frequently collected and inherited surveys of their predecessors and competitors.  Since the Seghers gathered historic maps in the course of doing business, their records are imbedded with original maps, blueprints, bluelines, photostats and photocopies of old plats and lot surveys. The records chronicle the region’s division into long lots, the creation and expansion of canals and sewerage systems, and the development of faubourgs and later subdivisions. They includes survey sketches, architectural drawings, photographs, field notebooks, chain of title research, historic maps, auction announcements and correspondence.

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