Airfields of Yesteryear

An older post of mine talked about looking back at history with the little geodetic survey benchmarks you see in the sidewalk and at the base of older buildings. Modern archaeology has always interested me and if you are interested too, there is a wonderful site documenting abandoned airports around the US named “Abandoned & Little-known Airfields”. It covers the history and evidence left behind when general aviation was more popular and strange little military operations that were out in the middle of nowhere.

As I have just spent the last 25 or so years living in San Francisco, it was a surprise to find out about strips that I didn’t know about such as the Bay Meadows Airport in San Mateo and the Marina Airfield next to Crissy Field in San Francisco. Marina Airfield was the first terminus of the United States Post Office Department Trans-Continental Air Mail Service.

Growing up in Fresno, I remember the remnants of Furlong Field just out Shaw Avenue. Good to see it documented here so it isn’t forgotten as development has pretty much obliterated any trace of it.

Sad to see so many fields disappear with the wane of general aviation in this country. It is just too expensive for most to own or lease a plane and keep it up. Land is being sold to developers as cities can see better tax revenue with a shopping center than an air strip.

Uncovering history through National Coast and Geodetic Survey benchmarks

Gads it has been a while. Between conferences, work and play, I let this site languish a bit. Well, here is a cool thing to do and not a rant.

In walking around, do you ever look down and see a small circular brass marker that are embedded into rock, concrete or even buildings. They were placed by the National Coast and Geodetic Survey and are survey benchmarks.

A good description of these benchmarks can be found at:

Many of these were surveyed and planted there at the turn of the last century. As there has been some time elapse since most of these were established, there is some interesting history that can be gotten by looking up these sites and reviewing the data sheets for each marker. Fortunately, the National Geodetic Survey (NGS) has this data on line. By going to:

and entering your longitude and latitude and a radius of the area you want, you can get nearly all of the markers. I say “nearly” as I have found markers that are not in the database. Once you get the listing of markers in your area, tell the page to get the data sheets for the markers. Each data sheet is a bit messy to ready and you can get some guidance on how to go through them from the “” URL above.

Once you have the data sheets, try to find the markers. It is much like geocaching in tracking it down, ‘cept you don’t leave or take anything once you find the spot.

What has been interesting to me when I have gone looking for the markers, is the history of the site during the time the markers have been established. Looking at the data sheets you can see the descriptions of the site at the time it was established and when they revisited the site every 30 years or so. You will find the changes in the area documented in these sheets. For instance, living in San Francisco, I was interested in seeing markers in my area. What I found was a establishment of a long forgotten overseas radio station near my house on Ocean Beach or be able to review how South of Market had changed from a massive Southern Pacific rail yard to a trendy geek enclave.