NH’s Double-Take on the 45th Parallel

The 45th Parallel is the dividing latitude between the equator and the North Pole, but in New Hampshire, there’s some debate as to where to draw the line. 

What does New Hampshire have in common with Montana’s Rocky Mountains, Canada’s Maritime Provinces, and the grassy steppes of Russia? Latitude – or more specifically, the latitudinal line that marks the midpoint between the equator and the North Pole known as the 45th Parallel. This invisible line extends around the earth, passing through the wine country of France, Yellowstone National Park, and even the tip of northern New Hampshire. Most U.S. states put up one marker to indicate this geographic oddity – if they put up one at all – but in New Hampshire’s Great North Woods, there are two official locations: one in Clarksville on Route 145 and another in the neighboring town of Stewartstown on Route 3. Both signs assert that “At this point, you stand on the 45th Parallel, halfway between the Equator and the North Pole.”

Why are there two? And which one is accurate?  Honestly, probably neither. But they’re certainly close.

Multiple Signs Were Likely Created

“Why there are two markers, I don’t know the precise reasoning,” says Stuart Wallace, professor of history at New Hampshire Technical Institute. When Wallace was with the Division of Historic Resources, he approved the text for historical signs. He knows there are two kinds of markers out there: Those that are funded by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation and those that are requested by individuals, historical societies, or organizations.  It’s likely one sign was created for each by request.

The Line is Not Exact

The 45th Parallel is actually a very fuzzy line, making pinpointing this exact spot virtually impossible. That’s because the earth isn’t a perfect sphere. “The earth is a geoid,” says Russell Congalton, professor of remote sensing and GIS at the University of New Hampshire. “That means, it has lumps and bumps and depressions and it is a little squeezed from the top and the bottom so that it is flattened out some. Therefore, we model our locations as best we can using whatever the current technology allows.”

Think of it like this: If the earth was a perfect round ball, we’d be able to easily cut the distance between the equator and the pole into 90 equal parts and call each step one degree. But because that isn’t the case, scientists have always given it their best guess. Not to mention, as our surveying technology gets better, the line changes. “In older times, the line was based on surveying,” says Congalton. “Now we use GPS, but it is just a little better approximation of the model.” 

The Takeaway?

Don’t get too hung up on the geography of all it. While the Great North Wood’s towns of Stewartstown and Clarkesville have only 651 people between them, they each have something most towns don’t: not one, but two 45th Parallel markers. And that means you have two locations to capture that perfect selfie.

2018-12-21T15:55:20-04:00Tags: |