Among the more notable county surveyors was Don Alonzo Spaulding. He was born January 2, 1797 in
Castleton, Vermont. Born to parents with limited financial means, he early education was limited in nature.
Between the ages of 12 and 18, he attended school only during he winter months. He then spent time
studying Grammar and Surveying in a private academy. He spent extra time in the study of surveying and
paid for his schooling by farm work and teaching.
By the time he was 21 in May of 1818, he had decided to go west and to seek out a federal survey crew.
Equipped with a compass, chain, and a bundle of his necessities tied to his Jacob’s Staff, he set off on foot
to Orleans, New York. Having met with several other young men heading west, they hired a carpenter to
build a boat for them. This they took from Orleans to Pittsburgh and on down the Ohio to Cincinnati, where
he decided to leave his company and join a family on a flatboat to travel further down the Ohio. He arrived
at Fort Massac in southern Illinois and was immediately hired to survey the town of Vienna, Illinois which is
the county seat of Johnson County. The work took his six days and he was paid $25 for his services. He
then traveled to Kaskaskia and then on to Edwardsville. It was July of 1818.
In December, he was employed with a federal survey party to survey land about 30miles north of Alton. He
spent the next several years alternating between surveying and teaching. In 1825, he was appointed
County Surveyor of Madison County, which he held until 1834. In 1835, the position of County Surveyor
was to become an elected one and considering that two of the candidates were well know surveyors who
had been in the region for a longer period of time, he decided to set off as a surveyor for the federal
government. His work so impressed the Surveyor General, that he was hired to extend the Third Principal
Meridian northwardly from the Illinois River to the northern border of the state. During this time, he held land
in Madison County, near Alton, but he was elected County Surveyor of Winnebago County in 1836.
Aside from surveying work in Illinois, he surveyed township boundaries in Missouri in 1844, part of the
Missouri and Arkansas boundary in 1845, and part of Wisconsin in 1848. From 1849 to 1853, he was chief
clerk of the Surveyor General of Illinois and Missouri. He was temporarily appointed Surveyor General in
December, 1853 until June, 1854, at which time he reassumed his position as chief clerk. The following
year, he was requested to work in the General Land Office in Washington DC. The federal government was
having problems in Florida with their surveys and gave him the job of sorting the problems out. He found
the records in Florida in a state of disarray and spent the next three years as a ‘trouble shooter’ to fix the
state’s surveying problems.
By 1857, he was again in Madison County. He still was an active surveyor after his return. Among his
surveys were the resurvey of all the roads of the county in 1870, which was authorized and paid for by a
state legislative bill. In 1865, he was listed as the secretary of the Madison County Surveyors Society and
wrote a letter to Benaiah Robinson, who at that time lived in Corvallis, Oregon to inform him that he was
elected a member of the society and asked him for a history of his life. It is mentioned in Robinson’s letter,
that the two of them had known of and had worked around each other for years but had never had the
opportunity to meet. It is obvious in the letter that the two held each other with high regard.
On September, , 1891, Don Alonzo Spaulding passed away. In his accounts, he mentioned that he had
personally surveyed 7,000 miles of lines for the federal government. We know from his notes and journals,
that he likely surveyed a similar amount for others outside the federal government. He was not only a
surveyor and a teacher, but was a solid rock of the community. He was a believer in woman’s suffrage, an
active member of his church, and a friend to those in need.
Don Alonzo Spaulding