Jim Handy and Bella at Belgatos Park

Jim Handy and Bella at Belgatos Park

Do you like maps?  My better half, Jim Handy, is crazy about them. And when he learned that the road just on the other side of the house next door is actually a meridian, he got pretty excited. I think it’s the engineer in him – that beautiful, inner geek – that loves the analysis of it all.

Today’s blog entry, then, is a Guest Post by my map enthusiast (and former volunteer parks commissioner), Jim Handy. This post originally published on LiveInLosGatos.com.

Many think of Harwood Road as the far eastern boundary of Los Gatos, which it nearly is, but there’s much more to this humble road than that.  Travel uphill to the top of the road and you can see views of the entire valley and get into beautiful Belgatos Park and Santa Rosa Open Space, but the majority of the street, the straight part of Harwood Road, has the distinction of following the Mount Diablo Meridian.

View of downtown San Jose from near the top of Harwood Road and Belgatos Park

View of downtown San Jose from near the top of Harwood Road and Belgatos Park


Back in California’s early days, great tracts of land known as Ranchos or Spanish Land Grants were defined by features that sometimes changed: they might run north to the edge of a creek, east to a tree, south to a boulder,  etc.  Some of  these landmarks could move a bit over time, but when you’re dealing with a tract of thousands of acres, these alterations are very small overall.

When the Gold Rush hit, and California’s population roughly doubled between 1848 to 1850 (with land values in San Francisco multiplying 9-10 times). Land needed to be divided into smaller portions, and these smaller sections needed better defined boundaries.  With this in mind, the new state’s legislature devised a rectangular survey system, with each land line reconciled to a base point.

The first base point chosen for California was the peak of Mt.
(photo), the tall mountain that you can see from the Bay Area as well as from points west of Sacramento on the way home from Tahoe.  The line running north and south of this peak (at longitude 121:54:49 West) is called the Mt.Diablo Meridian, and the line running east-west of the peak is called the Mount Diablo Baseline.  This was established in 1851.  [Later on, when other parts of California started to develop, those lands that could not easily be measured from the Mt. Diablo Baseline were reconciled in the south to the San Bernardino Baseline (Based on Mt. San Bernardino in 1852) and later to the Humbolt baseline (the far north, based on Mt. Pierre in Humbolt County in 1853).]

The Mt. Diablo Meridian was the first benchmark established in the state to measure land in rectangular coordinates. Interestingly enough, Harwood Road runs along that line – but Harwood is not the only road that runs this line.

Travel 3 miles north of the intersection of Harwood and Blossom Hill (the far northeast corner of Los Gatos) and you happen upon the south end of the aptly-named Meridian Avenue in San Jose.  Although much of Meridian Avenue runs straight along the Mt. Diablo Meridian, the southern portion, starting at about Curtner Avenue, veers off to the east, which allows Harwood to take over as the road that follows the Mt. Diablo Meridian.

The northern end of Meridian Avenue ends at Park Avenue in downtown San Jose.  Is that the end of the story?  It certainly is not!

From Mt. Diablo, travel another 27 miles north and you find another Meridian Road near Vacaville (photo).  This road runs north from the landing strip at Travis Air Force Base to Interstate 80, just past the Nut Tree.

Go 59 miles further north, and you run into the hamlet of Meridian California.  This town (population, 725) is in Colusa County, and is the smallest town in the Yuba City Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Travel another 40 miles north to find yet another Meridian Road, this one 15 miles long, running just west of Chico.  All this in a direct line from our own Harwood Road!

There are no other Meridian Roads north of this point.  If you were to follow this road straight north, you would pass through the Shasta National Forest running past the east side of Mt. Shasta, and would eventually run throgh the town of Dorris, on Highway 97 in Siskyou County, 158 miles north of the north end of Chico’s Meridian Road, and just 3 miles from the Oregon border.  The border’s 334 miles north of Blossom Hill and Harwood.

Mary here again. Jim continued on with this neat piece to tell us how the meridian goes south until it slops into the ocean just past Carmel, and asked what was done about measurements in southern California instead. (Hint: It’s the San Bernadino Meridian and Baseline. That’s enough info, right?)  Unlike my husband, I’m not graced with either a great love of maps or a great sense of navigation. If I look at the mountains, I know where I am. Otherwise, I rely on my navigation system. Seriously.