This brief compilation of data and personal insights on the history of soil survey in North Carolina was prepared by Professor William D. Lee, whose career as a soil scientist spanned over 50 years. W. D. "Bill" Lee was involved in soil survey and related classification and land use projects in North Carolina and five other states during the period 1920 to 1934. From 1934 to 1936, he was in charge of soil conservation surveys in North Carolina for the Soil Conservation Service and during the period from 1940 to 1956, he was in charge of the North Carolina soil survey program with North Carolina State University. In 1955, he authored a technical bulletin entitled The Soils of North Carolina — Their Formation, Identification and Use. This publication has served as the main source of soil geographic and classification information for nearly 30 years. He has maintained his contact with fellow soil scientists through his continued involvement in the Soil Science Society of North Carolina and participation in the State High School Land Judging contests.
When the Soil Science Society of North Carolina learned that Professor Lee had prepared this history of soil survey, it strongly voiced its support for a publication that would share these memories and insights with all soil scientists. The Society is proud to play a role in preserving these historical highlights as shared by W. D. Lee.
The discipline of Soil Science in general and more specifically the field of soil survey and classification owes a great debt to the dedication and just plain hard work of early soil scientists like William D. Lee. Their efforts and accomplishments required considerable personal hardship and sacrifice, but their zeal for understanding and inventorying our valuable soil resources was not to be denied. Much has been accomplished and many changes have occurred in soil classification and soil science since the early fifties, but we can always learn a great deal and renew our dedication by listening to those who blazed the trails before us. We thank you, Professor Lee, for sharing these memories.
Soil Survey—by the first definition recorded in the 1900 report of the United States Bureau of Soils—is the systematic classification and mapping of soils. Soil Survey in North Carolina was initiated in 1900 in cooperation with the State Board of Agriculture (later the State Department of Agriculture). Thus, this state became one of the first six states to make an orderly arrangement of its soils on the basis of their characteristics. The purpose of a soil survey, as stated more fully by Prof. Milton Whitney, Chief of the Division of Soils, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in an early report, also 1900, was: "to construct maps in the field showing the area and distribution of the soil types; to explain as fully as possible from geological considerations the origin of the soil, and to have the soil chemist and physicist study the differences in the soil types."2
Whitney, a chemist himself, recognized that "chemical and physical properties of the soil are so complex and difficult that it may take many years to explain them through laboratory investigations, but pending this complete investigation, the maps themselves will be of the utmost value to the agriculturists in indicating the areas over which certain soil conditions are found to prevail . . . climate has much to do with the relation of soils to crops . . . and that certain economic conditions, frequently local, have a controlling influence upon the relative crop values of a soil . . . also, the most pressing demands for a soil survey arise from a consideration of special problems." Among these are "the introduction and spread of new industries, the improvement in the development of different types of tobacco, of fruit production, truck growing, and other special crops; also, in the improvement of certain soil areas by the use of fertilizers, and by the introduction of underdrainage." The Division "cooperates with State experiment stations, State geological surveys, and State boards of agriculture to promote the interests of the work." It is worth noting that in his second annual report (1901), Prof. Whitney stated, "The purpose of a soil survey is to provide an accurate basis for the adaptation of soils to crops." What a prophet he was!
The history, progress and extent, and value of the soil survey in North Carolina from its beginning is definitely linked to the character of the base map upon which the several soil units were delineated. In addition, the quality of each soil survey reflects clearly the training and experience of the individuals conducting the survey. Thus, we may indicate these progressive states in the State.
1. Base Maps. The only maps suitable as the basis for Soil Surveys were made by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), usually at a scale of one-inch-to-the-mile. Many of these maps were 15 to 25 years old, some quite out of date due to changes in roads, etc.
2. Soil Surveyors. The men conducting the surveys were geologists or chemists; none had training in Agronomy (soils and crops). Little detail was shown on the maps.
3. The Raleigh to New Bern Area. The first soil survey in North Carolina was begun in late April 1900. The area selected was along the line of the Southern and the Atlantic and N.C. Railways from Raleigh to New Bern, a distance of 105 miles. The territory surveyed was about 9 miles wide and contained approximately 1,000 square miles.
An "accurate map of the region along the railways had been completed by the USGS." The survey was to be used as a basis "for systematic investigation of the fertilizer requirements of different crops through a series of substations [then termed test farms] to be established [by the State Board of Agriculture] on some of the principal soil types." (There were two of these substations already in operation, one at Tarboro and the other at Red Springs, and "the soil on the farm at Tarboro was correlated with a similar type of the area surveyed.") The first surveyor in charge was William G. Smith, a USDA employee. Again, it is interesting to note that the scale of mapping would be one-inch-to-the-mile. "On this basis a square of 10 acres represents an area 1/8 inch square on the map, and is to be taken as the unit in soil mapping" (Whitney, USDA Report, 1901). Even though he had an "accurate base map already prepared in detail," it is remarkable that Surveyor Smith did not waste any time in the eight months he was surveying the 1,000 square mile area, because transportation facilities were poor or almost nonexistent. Travel was by any means available—foot, horse- or mule-back, cart, wagon, buggy, or train. The rate of mapping per day was 5.6 sq. mi., at a cost of $1.10 per sq. mi. These soils were recognized and mapped: Cecil clay and sandy loam; Durham sandy loam; Norfolk sandy loam; Susquehanna; Garner; Selma sandy loam and heavy silt loam; Goldsboro compact sand; Sandhill; Neuse; Savanna; Pocoson; Muck; and Meadow. (Prof. Whitney stated that soil names, in practically all instances would be of the counties, or other geological features or places where the soils were first recognized. The type designations would depend upon the texture of the surface or first six inches of soil.) Mechanical analyses were made in the USDA laboratory of one or more 'representative samples' of all of the above except Muck and Meadow. As an aside, we may note that a survey made in 1975 of this same strip from Raleigh to New Bern would probably list over 100 soil types and some 300 map units. As a result of this survey, the North Carolina Board of Agriculture established the Upper Coastal Plain Test Farm (now Research Station) at Rocky Mount in 1902.
4. The Statesville Area. In early 1901, a soil survey was begun of the Statesville area "in close cooperation with the North Carolina Board of Agriculture, which bore all of the expense of the survey, exclusive of salaries" (Whitney, 1901 report). This was the farthest east of the U.S. Topographic (USGS) sheets, and the soils were considered representative of the upper Piedmont region. This area survey also was used to train seven young men in the methods of soil survey work. It may be noted that not one of these men had had specific studies in soils and crops while in college, but were primarily trained as geologists or chemists. Of course, there were no established departments of soils in the southern Land Grant colleges in 1901. The report of the area brings out this information: "In the survey of the soils of the Statesville area some attention was given to the various rock formations . . . This was necessary on account of the direct relation between the soils and the underlying rocks. The soils are the direct results of the decomposition and disintegration of the rocks upon which they rest." As a further note it may be mentioned that the two men "in charge of the Statesville area had had considerable experience in soil mapping" (all of three years at the most). One of the purposes of this survey was to determine the feasibility of establishing a test farm or research station in the upper Piedmont. However, only seven "types of soil" were indicated. (Contrast this to the 31 soil types indicated in the 1960 soil survey of Iredell County and the 109 actual soil map units.)
It should be brought out here that the report of the Statesville area emphasizes the fact that farming practices resulted in "washing and small gullies . . . with many fields having gullies with a depth of greater than 40 feet." However, a remedy was suggested: "gullied fields in a few years would be entirely reclaimed by judicious use of ditches and terraces and the filling in of the larger gullies by means of pine boughs and logs." Thus we learn that soil erosion was a recognized problem in North Carolina at the beginning of the century and that some efforts were suggested for control.
In 1903, a test farm was established near Statesville to determine the best usage of the red clay soils of the Piedmont. Due to encroachment of urban development, the farm, in 1954, was relocated (as the Piedmont Research Station) to a site in Rowan County near Salisbury where the soils are similar to those at Statesville.
5. The Alamance County Area. The record is not clear, but some time early in 1901, the N.C. Board of Agriculture and the Bureau of Soils, USDA, entered into a cooperative program in Soil Survey. Apparently, it was concluded that a proper procedure for a soil survey would be to select political units with established boundaries, such as counties. Because Alamance County was the first on the alphabetical list with a geological survey (1891), it was chosen and "two experienced surveyors" (one with two years, the other in his first year) assigned. This was a somewhat hurried and generalized soil survey on the "enlarged and redrawn base map." Only six soil separations were made (as contrasted to the 25 soil series and 194 map units indicated by the 1956 survey of the county). The author states that the establishment of several cotton mills in the region resulted in the "taking of many laborers from the fields" and the consequent loss of much farm land "with many washed and abandoned fields." However, no recommendations were made for the control of washing.
6. The Cary Area. The smallest and fastest cooperative soil survey in the state was that of the Cary area. As noted in the Bureau of Soils report: "About one month in the summer of 1901 was spent in making a soil survey of an area between Raleigh and Cary . . . of approximately 63 sq. mi. . . . and including within its boundaries the farm of the North Carolina Experiment Station. The work was done at the request of the N.C. Board of Agriculture on a base map which was surveyed for the purpose." This was a means of determining the soil resources of the area, with the possibility of expanding the limits of the experimental area for greater research. Only four soil types were included, of which Cecil sandy loam comprised 64.7% of the area. (Today, due to accelerated erosion and much urban construction in the same boundary, probably less than 35% of the area is sandy loam in surface texture.) In the 1966 soil survey of Wake County, there were eight soil series and over 30 mapping units shown on the identical 63 sq. mi. area.
7. The Craven Area. Apparently the soil survey was moving too rapidly in 1902 because "the Craven area base maps were not entirely satisfactory, making necessary some revision in 1903" (Whitney, 1903 report). However, the total cost of surveying this 897 square mile area was listed at $644.30. Perhaps this reflects not only the comparatively low salaries of surveyors (a small fraction of the salary of a present day soil scientist surveyor), but also the ten very moderately low printing and publishing costs.
8. Other Early Surveys. Upon completion of the Craven area survey, there followed, in somewhat rapid succession, area surveys in 190204 of the USGS quadrangles of Taylorsville, Hickory, Mt. Mitchell, Asheville, Saluda, and Greeneville, N.C.Tenn. All the base maps were scaled one inch to the mile. The maps of each, except that of Greeneville, served as possible regions in which to locate agricultural test or experimental farms. One such farm was established at Swannanoa in 1908, but this was relocated at Waynesville (as the Mountain Research Station) approximately 32 years later when the U.S. Army took over the site for a hospital. Evidently the Mt. Mitchell area survey was looking forward to possible locations for test work with apple orchards or for suitable areas for 'mountain pastures' and beef cattle management. It is rather remarkable that, according to published dates, one man in one field season (1903) made the surveys of three of the areas listed. That was the year man learned to fly, although at the other end of North Carolina. It should be noted that Hugh H. Bennett, a native of the State and a graduate of the University, entered the Soil Survey in 1904. However, until he became an inspector in 1910, his first assignments were in several other states. His observations as surveyor and supervisor in areas of the Piedmont region and elsewhere, plus his experience on his home farm in Anson County, gradually led to his formation of the Soil Erosion Service in 1933.
9. The Duplin Area. Beginning in 1905, there was a rather abrupt change in mapping procedure in North Carolina. Because the USGS base maps were quite old, or did not cover an entire county, it was necessary to do considerable plane table surveying, which is a painstaking and time-consuming procedure as described under section 2, in Stage II, later in this paper. Duplin was the first county in the State where it was necessary to conduct some plane table base map surveying. As this survey of soils proceeded, the Coastal Plain Horticultural Crops Test farm was established in 1905 at Willard, close to the Duplin County border. The farm was considered representative of the lands in Duplin that were used for vegetables and grapes (scuppernong). For the record, it should be mentioned that the vegetable research portion of the Willard farm was transferred to similar soils on a tract near Faison in 1949, and both stations were combined in a larger farm near Clinton in 1970 as the Horticultural Crops Research Station.
Solely as a matter of passing interest, it may be noted that the surveyor in charge of the Duplin area—although interested in and working with soils—later turned his talents to the study of medicine. He became a prominent pediatrician in Raleigh, and one of the city schools bears his name.
10. The Chowan County Area; Others in 1906-1908. Perhaps this county survey indicates that the State and USDA officials were interested in balancing east against west in number of soil surveys, since most of the earlier work was in the west. Without doubt, the most interesting factor listed in the Chowan survey report is the subtitle: "By W. Edward Hearn, assisted by G. M. MacNider, of the State Department of Agriculture" thus marking the beginning of a state employee in field work of the soil survey. Incidentally, this same year—1906—these two men literally jumped across the state to make the survey of Transylvania County. It is worthy of note that the cost per square mile of the Chowan survey was $3.01; that of Transylvania, $4.34, no doubt reflecting the greater difficulty of covering the mountainous county over that of an almost flat Coastal Plain area. Whitney states (1906 report) that these figures included salaries of the men while in the area and their subsistence expenses, but not the cost of transportation to and from the area. The state of North Carolina contributed $188.10 to the survey of Chowan, and $737.80 to that of Transylvania.
Again, two widely separated counties were surveyed in one year (Henderson and Edgecombe, 1907) by the same two men. Fast workers.
Additional Cooperation. Beginning in 1908, the NCDA employed a second individual, thus putting two soil surveyors in the survey of Robeson County to work with the USDA men. However, both state men soon dropped out, but later another man was employed. A second surveyor was added in 1909. Apparently some men considered the work too difficult.
11. Lake Mattamuskeet Survey. By far the strangest "soil survey" of all time in North Carolina was that of the Lake Mattamuskeet area in 1909. Some wealthy individuals and others had the bright idea that this shallow body of water (approximately 50,000 acres in extent and 1 to 5 feet in depth) could be drained (pumped dry) and the lake bed used to produce abundant crops. The surface of the lake was then only about 30 inches above sea level. W. Edward Hearn, one of the more experienced surveyors, made the survey. The base map was compiled by the office of Experiment Stations, USDA, and Mr. Hearn, on a scale of one inch to the mile. Included in the drainage area surveyed was "the lake bed and a belt of country bordering the lake from 1 to 3.5 miles wide"; thus giving the area surveyed (upland and lake) a total of 112,640 acres. To keep located—in addition to definite "sighting points" on land—the surveyor first ran guide strings across the lake which he followed in a wide flat-bottomed boat. The soil borings were a real problem. The long—60-inch—soil auger was inserted in a bicycle inner tube that had been severed at the valve. This waterproof casing was carefully fastened to the auger in such manner that the soil samples could be drawn and retained from any depth to 3 feet below the lake bottom. This required considerable ingenuity and skill. Incidentally, practically all the lake bottom soils were chiefly sands ranging in texture from medium to very fine.
According to available records, it was not until the 1920s that a definite attempt was made to drain the lake completely. This task was accomplished by the installation of huge pumps, reportedly the largest developed anywhere. There were many cross canals and ditches to increase the probability of drainage and to aid in removing water from the areas to be cultivated or in some crop. Water was pumped from the lake late in the 1920s, and large machinery was used to prepare the soil for crops. There were extensive tracts in corn, soybeans, or oats, and small fields of white potatoes and some vegetables as cabbage. Yields were reasonably fair, according to observers, but there was a tendency for some sections of crops to "drown out" following rains. However, despite the vast pumping system, it was impossible to keep the lake bed adequately drained for any crops. So, in 1933-34, nature simply took over, and Lake Mattamuskeet returned somewhat to its former state—and there it is today. Of course, there are no reliable cost data because many individuals and companies or corporations were involved at times in the project. Some estimates indicate that as much as $30 million may have been sunk in this ill- conceived and fore-doomed project.
1. Curtis F. Marbut Enters the Soil Survey. According to the Report for the Bureau of Soils for 1909, Prof. Marbut became an assistant in soil survey that year. In 1910, there were major changes in the soil survey unit of the Bureau. Prof. Marbut was placed in charge, and four of the more experienced soil surveyors were appointed inspectors. (This title was changed to correlator years later.) Among the inspectors was Hugh H. Bennett, a native of Anson County, who had been a surveyor for about 6 years. With some sixty-odd men—federal and state—conducting soil surveys across the country, it was essential that their soil findings and map delineations be uniform from one state to another as well as within a state. Thus, areas of Norfolk sandy loam shown on the map of Edgecombe County should be reasonably identical to Norfolk sandy loan as mapped in Robeson County; or an area of Cecil sandy loam in Gaston County, N.C., should correlate closely with an area of Cecil sandy loam in Pike County, Georgia. Although Prof. Marbut (later Dr.) was a geologist by training and had taught geology on the university level, he soon began an intensive training to make himself an outstanding soil scientist. He was deeply interested in field work and the study of soils in their natural environment and spent much time away from his Washington office. Thus, although the top soil scientist in the country, he had a tendency to leave many administrative matters to others, especially his capable administrative assistant who practically ran the show.
2. Early Changes in Soil Classification and Map Work. Although the soil surveyors in North Carolina from the beginning (1900) had used geological formations and specific rock groups as the basis for soil classification, it was not until the survey of Cabarrus County (1910) that the report showed a diagram listing the classification of the soils groups according to origin. For example, Cecil soils from coarse-grained granite and gneiss; Alamance soils and Georgeville soils from fine-grained bluish slate. Dr. Marbut began to emphasize that soil characteristics rather than origin should be the basis for classification—texture, consistence, depth, color, stoniness, drainage, and in some regions salt or alkali content.
During this decade as the work progressed, or some time around 1910 to 1914, there were few USGS base maps available for any county soil surveys. Even if available, most were over 25 years old and far outdated due to many changes in roads and the fact that they indicated little of the detail required by the careful soil surveyor-scientist. Thus, it became necessary for the soils men to construct their own base maps. This was a very slow, tedious, and laborious procedure, but the men soon developed considerable skill with the plane table (a 15x15-inch board) equipped with a compass and mounted on a detachable tripod. Cloth-backed, heavy-duty drawing paper was used on the table, and a sight alidade served a double purpose as ruler and graduated scale. Transportation was by horse- or mule-drawn buggy. An odometer with a calibrated scale was mounted on the front axle so as to be visible to the driver and served for accurate road measurement. A metal pin fastened to one spoke of the wheel turned a star-shaped sprocket gear on the odometer in a similar fashion to the measuring arrangement on some bicycles today. A series of front and back sights on definite objects as the surveyors proceeded along the road gradually produced the base map. While the men moved along the route (road or other passable way for the vehicle), they made recordings of the distances between soil changes; also all essential features were indicated—such as streams, road intersections, dwellings, schools, churches. The sight alidade was graduated 50 spaces to the inch for the mile scale, and distances were pricked into the map paper with a very fine needle which was mounted in a heavy match stem, a "sucker stick," or even a thorn or other tough but small stick. Good eyesight and a steady hand were necessary for accuracy. When all the passable roads and trails had been traversed with the buggy, the completed field sheet resembled a sketch of poultry wire netting, with—usually—an area of 3 to 6 square miles of land within each 'net' that had to be traversed on foot, the surveyor carefully recording his paces and making fore and back sights on definite points or checking by triangular base sights. Surprisingly, the work was very accurate provided the surveyor was careful. It was not unusual that a 15- to 30-mile circuit around a plane table on the roads would close with an error of less than 300 feet. All of the survey field maps were adjusted by the Bureau of Soils map division with the aid of USGS bench marks, railway surveys, and other fixed data to which the surveyor had tied his maps. Thus, any errors in the field mapping were "ironed out" and the resultant map was accurate. However, it must be emphasized that the soil surveyors spent about half of their time and effort constructing the field base map, and about half time actually indicating the various soil separations. Surely, the value of a survey depended upon its map accuracy. Hence, the total effort to be correct or exact.
3. Tools Used in Soil Survey. During the 1900-1910 period in the State, the geologists hammer evidently was deemed the most suitable tool since over half of all the early surveyors were geology-trained, and some were professional geologists. Gradually larger instruments, as pick, mattock, or spade came into use. In most cases, because many of the early surveys were in the Piedmont or Mountain regions, the road cuts, or banks, gullies, or other exposed "profiles" were examined simply by pecking loose a fresh area of soil. There is no definite record of the first use of the screw auger as a tool for an "easy and efficient" method of examining a soil and thus aiding in its classification. No doubt Prof. Whitney used an auger for his study of soils in the Coastal Plain of Maryland in the early 1890s while a member of that states agricultural experiment station. Augers were used by soil survey field parties in the southwestern United States prior to 1902. Sometime after 1905, the screw type auger became the standard soil-examining tool by practically all soil surveyors in North Carolina. Even 70 years later, it is widely used. The common length at first was about 36 inches, although some men preferred a length of 40 or 42 inches, and this length seems about universal today. Over the years there have been many modifications of the auger or soil-probing tool. Some are adapted to use in very sandy soils, others for heavy clays, or for highly organic soils, with several gradations between these special types. Often small probes are used to extract a nearly undisturbed "miniature profile." Sharp rounded point spades, such as tiling spades, are often used for examining a larger slice of the soil. Of course, for a complete soil examination and profile description, a pit is usually dug to a depth of 4 or more feet with sufficient space to permit the scientist to enter and study the profile.
4. Quality of the Soil Surveys; Progress. Under the influence of Dr. Marbut, who had become a distinguished soil scientist of international note, and the supervision of his inspectors, the quality of soil surveys improved greatly during this decade (1910-1920). In addition, there were more men with experience (a few with 10 or 12 years) who could be placed in charge of the field parties and direct better workmanship. Also, graduates of Land Grant Colleges with training in agronomy entered the survey. Among the North Carolina leaders or teachers and "trainers" in this period were M. E. Sherwin, Professor of Soils at N.C. A&M College, and Professor C. B. Williams, Chief, Division of Agronomy, NCDA and N.C. Experiment Station. Both men were deeply interested and involved in the soil survey and in its value to the States agriculture and land use. They also aided in supervising the field soil maps, and the additional soil series as recognized and indicated. Progress was relatively rapid, considering the many difficulties in preparing base maps in the field. During this full decade, soil survey maps of 34 counties were completed, which totaled approximately one-third the area of North Carolina. Of these, 14 were in the Piedmont region, 3 of which had partially usable USGS base maps; 11 in the Coastal Plain; 3 in the Mountain area, all with fair base maps; 5 in the Coastal PlainPiedmont border counties; and 1 Piedmont-Mountain, also with a fair base map by USGS.
During Stage II, as county soil surveys were completed, the NCDA added two Test Farms. To determine possible use for agriculture of "the peat and muck lands"—because there was much agitation from "agricultural interests" to clear, drain, and place in crops vast tracts of these "organic soils"—the Blacklands Test Farm was established at Wenona in 1912. (However, almost continuous and uncontrollable fires forced the relocation of this farm to an area near Plymouth, in 1943, as the Tidewater Research Station. A portion of this farm contains considerable acreage of the "blacklands," but the greater extent is in poorly to somewhat poorly drained mineral soils which are representative of the soils of much of the lower-lying Coastal Plain region.) Because of problems in tobacco production in the Old Belt Tobacco Area, a "test farm" was established in Granville County, near Oxford, on soils considered representative of the Belt. Now known as Oxford Tobacco Research Station, this valuable test farm has been in continuous operation since its establishment in 1912. Men in the N.C. soil survey selected these research farm areas out of a number of proposed sites.
5. Survey Assignments by Season; Personnel Notes. It was some time during the early part of this decade, probably in 1914, that a policy was established of moving soil survey parties across the State with approximately the summer and winter periods. The practice developed into definite assignment to a county survey in the Coastal Plain during the period approximately December-May, and to a county in the Piedmont or the Mountain region for May-December. Thus, field work could be conducted throughout most of the year, due to the milder climate of the eastern counties. However, during cold or snowy periods, little field work was possible. For these times, the surveyors would catch up on inking their field maps and otherwise complete these as far as possible, or they would gather data for the soil survey report—a real task in itself. There always was plenty to keep the men occupied. On one side, however, the cross-state assignments each year provoked hardships on families with children in school. Often a child would be in schools in three different counties in one calendar year—but all survived, and were perhaps the better trained for the shifting about.
During this stage of the survey, some of the men developed excellent finesse and turned out first-class maps in relatively short time. Their traverse work was very accurate. Whenever possible, one of these top individuals was placed in charge of a survey, and sometimes was assigned a new man for training. All in all there were some changes in personnel, and occasionally it seemed difficult to retain men in the survey. The job was physically difficult and no place for a man looking for a "soft snap" outdoors in the fresh air. There were some "characters," of course, along with a few prima-donna-like individuals who never ceased to "fuss over" their maps and reports. Others did not care, and seldom lasted long.
Also in this decade, graduates of N.C. A&M College with degrees in agriculture and training in agronomy entered the soil survey. The first was S. F. Davidson in 1917. In 1918, W. A. Davis, the first individual with definite soil training in college, entered the survey. However, the first graduate of the college to enter soil survey was S. O. Perkins (Ind. Chem. degree) in 1912.
Probably the first attempt to use an automobile in North Carolina as a means of speeding up soil survey traverse with a plane table was around 1918. L. L. Brinkley, then of the State survey in Moore County, fastened his odometer-equipped buggy behind an auto. With Mrs. B. driving the car, he thought progress would be much faster. However, there was considerable difficulty in adjusting car speed to the nonpaved and sometimes very bumpy roads. The buggy, with Brinkley attempting to record measurements, soil changes, and other essential map features, often literally bounced and slithered all over the roads. The would-be time-saver was spilled out a few times, and the plane table flew out of the buggy frequently. Of course, these hazards resulted in the early abandonment of the experiment.
The first use of an airplane as an aid in soil survey mapping in the State was in Tyrrell County, 1920, by W. B. Cobb who had had some experience in World War I as a pilot and an observer. Since about 60% of Tyrrell County was covered by almost impenetrable wet woodlands, Cobb—assisted by W. A. Davis—used air observation to indicate points where he might enter such areas on foot and carry out reasonably definite traverse lines. He was also enabled to outline changes in forest and other vegetation to help correlate major soil boundaries and indicate drainage changes. He made sketches and took a few simple photographs, but there was no thought of total photography.
6. North Carolina Department of Agriculture (NCDA) Bulletins on Soils. In 1917, the department published bulletins of four adjacent counties in the Piedmont region. All had similar titles: Soil Survey Report No.__ on _________ County Soils, Agriculture, and Industries. These were prepared under the direction of Professor C. B. Williams, Head of the Department of Agronomy. Each was a follow-up of the previous county surveys: No. 1, Mecklenburg County, in 1910; Gaston County, 1909, as Bulletin No. 2; Lincoln County, 1914, as No. 3; and Cabarrus County, 1910, as No. 4. Evidently these reports represent the first efforts to utilize fully the basic soil survey. As the title of each implies, the objective was to integrate or tie-in the soil survey data with "carefully conducted soil-type experiments in Mecklenburg and adjoining counties." Soils are described as in the original soil survey reports, and the present (i.e., 1917) methods of tillage, crops and fertilizer practices indicated and described. Sections of each bulletin gave detailed information on the character of the soils, and "what experiments have shown to be the chief needs of the soils"; also, "how to supply plant food requirements, recommended fertilizer mixtures and quantities to apply on certain soils for particular crops"; lime usage; and "crop rotations necessary for a permanent system of agriculture in the county." In various portions of each bulletin appear such statements as "deeper plowing in the fall and the use of winter cover crops will prevent washing on many of the slopes (especially Cecil soils) and largely eliminate the terracing now found necessary." Subsoiling is recommended for the "heavier clay soils."
However, to present information on soils and their management under a somewhat wider territory than individual counties or area surveys, the NCDA, beginning in 1911, published a series of three bulletins describing the soils, the agriculture, and the results of crop and fertilizer experiments in the three physiographic areas of the State.
The descriptions of the soils were taken from the several soil surveys completed up to the date the bulletins were published. Considerable data on mechanical and chemical analyses were given for most soils. Information on fertilizer use, liming, tillage, and yields came from the included test farms or from research on outlying privately owned farms.
The first bulletin: A Preliminary Report of the Mountain Soils, Vol. 32, No. 5, May 1, 1911, Whole No. 151, was prepared under direction of B. W. Kilgore, Director, Test Farms. This describes briefly the soils of the region based on soil surveys of two counties and parts of six counties. It gives the results of 11 years experiments with crops and fertilizers, and "deals largely with the chemical composition of the more important soils, and the results derived from the plant experiments."
The second bulletin: Report of the Piedmont Soils, Vol. 36, No. 2, Feb. 1915, Whole No. 206, 122 pages, was prepared under the direction of C. B. Williams, Chief, Division of Agronomy. The subtitle states: "with reference to their nature, plant food requirements, and adaptability to different crops." Descriptions are given for the soils in the various surveys prior to 1915. Complete analyses are given for the major or more extensive soils. The results of field experiments on specific soils with various crops are presented from the Iredell Test Farm, the Central Farm at Raleigh, and also from numerous outlying privately owned farms within the area.
The third bulletin: Report of the Coastal Plain Soils, Vol. 39, No. 5, May 1918, Whole No. 244, 175 pages, also was prepared under the direction of Prof. C. B. Williams. This lengthy report records "much of the work that has been done during the past 17 years in a systematic, detailed study of the leading types of soil found in the Coastal Plain region . . . with a view to ascertaining the nature of the soils of this portion of the State, their location, their extent and boundaries, the total amount of plant food constituents contained, their fertilizer needs for the most profitable production of crops, and their permanent improvement, and the crops to which they are best adapted." Major research work was conducted at the Upper Coastal Plains Test Farm (Rocky Mount) and the Blacklands Test Farm (Wenona), supplemented by work on many outlying farms, privately owned.
Several shorter bulletins by the NCDA prior to 1920 describe results with various crops on specific soils in many counties and present recommendations for management.
7. Hazards in Soil Survey Field Work. Here it may be appropriate to sandwich in a few comments incident to soil survey field work difficulties other than constructing maps or determining the types of soil—comments that will apply to the latter part of this decade and into the next. Sometimes the motive power—horse or mule—would become frightened and bolt rapidly, leaving plane table, augers, other tools, and probably a surveyor or two scattered along the roadside. There were frequent breaks in harness, sometimes a broken shaft, but rarely a wheel collapse. Occasionally the horse would sink to his middle in an innocent-appearing stream crossing, thereby causing the surveyor to unhitch and pull the buggy out himself. There were times when dogs, bulls, wild boar, or snakes objected to anyone moving along the trail or way. Some lone surveyors would become lost in swamp or forest for perhaps half a day, or become stuck or temporarily bogged down in muck or mire. Usually two surveyors worked together in potentially dangerous areas, thereby lessening the possibility of harm. The most disturbing incidents were when an irate farmer appeared with a pitchfork or a shot gun cradled in his arm and stated vehemently he "didn't want no gov'm't men messing on his land" and "get the blankety-blank outer here." Sometimes the objector would listen to explanations and become more calm; occasionally he would not. In general, nearly all land owners were cooperative since every effort was made before beginning a survey to advise the people of the county by newspaper articles—where there was a paper, but if not—, through the nearest newspaper available to county residents, through the county agricultural agent's office or through the school system and other news-spreading methods.
1. Improvement of Base Maps for Soil Surveys. During this period, practically all base maps were constructed by plane table surveys, and on an inch-to-the-mile scale. However, there were very few recent USGS units which were suitable for base maps, but only with several modifications. The usual period required to survey an average county (approximately 500 to 600 sq. mi.) by a party of two men was two field seasons (two winter periods for a Coastal Plain county; two summer periods for one in the Piedmont or Mountains).
L. L. Brinkley, previously mentioned, left the State soil survey in 1919 and later made very detailed maps of two counties, strictly as a business venture. The maps were adjusted and correlated by the map division of the soil survey unit (USDA) in Washington. One of the maps was of Nash County. It was practically perfect as a base map for the soil survey of the county, the only changes being the addition of new dwellings. By use of this map, the survey of soils was completed between Dec. 20, 1925, and June 1, 1926, thereby halving the usual period required for a county of 549 sq. mi.
2. Change in Transportation. The greatest time-saver in soil survey field work was introduced in North Carolina in 1920. W. B. Cobb and W. A. Davis, in Tyrrell County, used a Model T Ford as the mode of transportation. Road measurements were by means of special speedometer-odometer attached to the right side of the dash of the auto and connected by a flexible cable to a small gear box clamped to the right frame of the forward axle. A fiber sprocket on the gear box was turned by a notched metal ring attached to the wheel. A standard speedometer was used at first. A carefully calibrated and numbered scale to show 50 lines to the inch was pasted over the tenths dial of the odometer. Thus, the same scale was used as on the buggy odometer. However, great care was necessary to check the tire pressure (which then was recommended at 70 pounds by the tire manufacturer for the 30x3-inch tire). After first measuring accurately by chain a mile on a straight-away, level road, tire pressure adjustments were made by trial and error until the 'converted' odometer finally checked with the measured mile. Incidentally, the best tire tubes in the 1920s lost from 2 to 5 pounds pressure in less than one week, so the tire pressure of the measuring wheel had to be checked and adjusted every 3 or 4 days. About 1925, the Bureau of Soils furnished a specially built speedometer-odometer for use in soil survey traverse. This enabled much easier dial reading, but the problem of regulating tire pressure continued. Also, frequently the gearing or sprocket at the front wheel would foul with twigs, grass, or other material and cause breaks or long delays in untangling the mess. Occasionally the long cable itself would break. Thus, it was necessary to carry spare parts for repairs in the field, and almost qualify as a mechanic to do so.
3. North Carolina Agricultural Experiment Station Cooperation. In 1923, the N.C. Experiment Station began financial cooperation with the NCDA and the USDA in Soil Survey, and in 1925, began the employment of one or more soil surveyors. The cooperation of the Agricultural Experiment Station with the USDA (SCS) has continued to the present although currently there are no surveyors continuously in the field.
4. Better Trained Soil Surveyors. In the 1920s, most of the men employed for soil survey field work were graduates of agricultural colleges with training in soils and crops. A few men had doctorates in soils. The quality of the surveys improved greatly. Essentially, these trained men observed the soils more carefully and with greater objectivity. For example, in that portion of Burke County covered by the Hickory Area survey of 1902, five soil types were delineated; in the Burke survey of 1926—the identical area—seven soil types are shown, but only two correspond to any shown on the 1902 map. More significantly, there is approximately ten times the detail on the later survey due, of course, to better understanding of soils and the trend away from geologist to soil specialist.
On January 1, 1920, when a recent graduate of N.C. State A&M College reported to the head of the Agronomy Department for assignment in soil survey, he was given two vials of litmus paper—one blue, the other pink—with specific methods for determining the relative degree of acidity of alkalinity of a soil. At that time, pH values for expressing the relative acidity or alkalinity of a soil were a few years in the future. (How we have progressed from field guesstimation to accurate laboratory calibration!)
5. Major Changes in Soil Classification. In the period 1926 to 1934, some soil surveyors began to indicate erosion and slope phases on the soil maps, but sometimes these phases were "correlated out" by the inspection staff in the field or in final consideration at the Washington office of soil survey.
Dr. Marbut retired from the USDA's Soil Survey Division in the early 1930s He was succeeded by Dr. Charles E. Kellogg in 1934 as Chief, Soil Survey Division. Kellogg, a brilliant, competent, and forceful individual, soon began to make an impression on the entire soil survey program, national and state. He was responsible for many changes, including closer inspection and correlation of field work, speeding up the publication of reports, and somewhat better cooperation among the states conducting soil surveys within the Tennessee River valley region. Kellogg brought a few ambitious young men into his organization and placed them in key positions of much responsibility. Some of these changes caused considerable comment, especially in North Carolina, but apparently no serious situations in cooperation developed. On occasion Kellogg was a controversial figure, and there were periods of doubt as to the nature of the "cooperative survey." To his everlasting credit, he stressed greater training for soil surveyors and encouraged them to study for advanced degrees. All in all, he certainly added zeal to the job.
1. Aerial Photographs as Base Maps. With the advent of aerial photographs as base maps, there was a total revolution in soil survey procedure. No other factor has had a greater impact on any map work than the aerial photo. Although there was some use of "air pictures" in soil survey field work as early as 1928 (T. W. Bushnell in Indiana), these were of somewhat mediocre quality. It was mid-1934 before suitable air photographs were available in North Carolina. The long standard inch-to-the-mile scale for soil surveys exploded to scales as great as 500 feet to the inch. However, the mapping scale gradually settled down to a more practical system of 1320 feet to the inch. This scale, of course, gives the surveyor 16 times as much space as the old scale to indicate his findings. (Quite a contrast to Prof. Whitney's statement in 1901 that "a square of 10 acres represents an area 1/8 square inch on the map, and is to be taken as the unit of soil mapping.") Not only did the surveyor have far more space to indicate soil factors, he did not have to worry about constructing a base map. At least one-half the surveyor's time and much more of his energy had gone into preparation of the base map with plane table and other instruments. In addition, the surveyor with the aerial photo could leave the automobile and proceed to do all the work on foot—by far the more efficient means of getting about on practically all of the North Carolina landscapes he was called upon to survey soils and their related features.
It should be noted that during this stage most of the surveyors entering the work in North Carolina were college-trained soil specialists and soon were designated "soil scientists."
A further note: at the beginning of this Stage IV, two federal agencies were established which had almost as much impact on soil survey as did the aerial photo. These were the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the Soil Erosion Service which became the Soil Conservation Service in 1935 (SCS).
2. Cooperation with the Tennessee Valley Authority. This organization, soon after it began to operate, sought to improve land use for the protection of its several proposed hydroelectric projects. Control of soil erosion and the reduction of rapid run-off were considered essential. All areas—on a county-wide basis—draining into the Tennessee River were included in a major program. Thus, the 15 North Carolina counties which are drained wholly or in part by the tributaries of the river became a large area of an intensive land use project. As a sound basis upon which to build the program, the N.C. Agricultural Experiment Station and the TVA began cooperative soil surveys of the entire region. The station kept two or more experienced surveyors in the area who worked with USDA surveyors. The entire soil survey project was completed in 1947—beginning with Clay County in 1935 and ending with Avery. In these surveys, slope and erosion phases were indicated for the various soil types. The survey of Clay County was a joint project with the NCDA, N.C. Agricultural Experiment Station, and Bureau of Plant Industry of USDA. The surveys of Cherokee, Jackson, Madison, Transylvania, Swain, and Yancey counties were jointly with the above-named agencies plus TVA. The SCS became a cooperating agency with the Experiment Station, TVA and BPI (later Bureau of Chemistry and Soils) in the soil surveys of the other counties, namely: Avery, Graham, Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, Macon, Mitchell, and Watauga. Base maps for all county soil surveys, except of Clay and Cherokee, were planimetric maps mostly compiled from air photos by TVA.
It should be noted here that beginning with the surveys in the TVA region, the Experiment Station no longer—with very few exceptions—transferred the surveyors from one county to another for summer and winter seasons.
3. Cooperation with the Soil Conservation Service. The Agricultural Experiment Station, chiefly through its soil survey staff, has cooperated with the SCS from its beginning late in 1933 (as the then Soil Erosion Service) in practically all the survey projects in the State. The eight original watershed project areas, all within the Piedmont or upper Coastal Plain—Piedmont regions, were selected with the assistance of a soil surveyor representing the Station. The first consideration for each selection was representative soils for the type of agriculture common within the county or counties, and where soil erosion was a definite problem. The same criteria applied to the choice of placement of the 23 Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps concerned with improvement of land use as well as erosion control and preventive measures.
As the watershed projects were phased out gradually, the SCS began the establishment of Soil Conservation Districts over the State. The first such district in the United States was set up in Anson County in 1937, named Brown Creek. Prime mover in the project was the late Jimmy Cameron, the able county agricultural agent, who was assisted by a soil survey staff member jointly employed by Extension, SCS, and the Experiment Station. Several other soil conservation districts, each covering a complete watershed area, were established in the 1937-1945 period. In each instance the choice of the complete watershed area was based upon soils and land use representative of the region. As with Brown Creek, the respective agricultural agents usually were the principal sponsors of the districts. An Experiment Station soil surveyor also assisted in selecting watersheds representative of the soils and agriculture of the area. During the latter years of this Stage IV, soil conservation districts were set up on a county basis, rather than multiple counties or parts of two counties. Also during this period, the SCS county-by-county soil survey program was accelerated and the Experiment Station continued its cooperation, usually with the assignment of one or more surveyors to each county.
4. Research Stations New or Relocated. During the period of Stage IV, the NCDA and the Experiment Station separately or jointly established nine new Research Stations. Six of these were relocated, five at a later date, due to encroaching urban development or other nonagricultural conditions. Each of these nine stations, as with the other earlier established research centers, was selected by a member of the sate soil survey staff because it closely represented the soils of the area upon which the prevailing crops grown. Thus, research on representative soils is being conducted on practically all crops (as tobacco, vegetables, peanuts, tree fruits) at locations where these crops are principally produced, for example, in Columbus, Sampson, Bertie, Henderson, and Buncombe counties, respectively.
5. Special Projects. A number of the experiment station soil survey staff made special purpose, very detailed soil, slope, erosion, and land use surveys for a few relatively small areas (none more than 3,000 acres) during the period 1936-1939. Among these was the Rabbit and Cat Creek project in Macon County. This survey was the basis for an intensive land use and home management program in which the Experiment Station, Agricultural Extension Service, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the county cooperated. In Avery County, there was a similar intensive project for the Heaton Community. There the soil and land use survey was used as the basis for farm and home management planning. However, the Farmers Home Administration was the major agency conducting this program, along with cooperation from the Experiment Station, the Extension Service and Avery County.
By far the most intensive soil and land use program was that of Parker Branch in Buncombe County. This project was sponsored by the Hydraulic Data Division of the TVA. The practices and study on this small (1060 acres), but complete, watershed were probably as intensive and exhaustive as any that have been based on the improvement of soil conditions to further water retention very appreciably. Cooperating agencies were the Experiment Station, the Extension Service, and the county. A representative of the State soil survey staff, along with TVA personnel, selected the area over several others—based largely on the surveyor's reconnaissance surveys of each proposed area. The primary factors in the selection were soils representative of the region and which had long been in crops. These were mostly corn, which went to feed horses at the numerous livery stables in Asheville, but also some tobacco and sorghum cane had been grown. As a consequence, the soils were severely eroded. At the beginning of the project—1952, the Station surveyor made a very comprehensive map of the watershed. In addition to soil type with slope and erosion phases, 11 land use classes (cultivated, pasture, forest) were indicated.
The resident project leader was a member of the Extension staff of the college and was in constant contact with the farmers or land operators. He aided in the establishment of practices that would improve the "hydrologic potential" of Parker Branch. Twice each year for ten years, or through 1962, one or more station soil surveyors visited the project to record very carefully soil and land cover conditions of each field unit (which were originally delineated based upon soil characteristics). These visits coincided with the period of major vegetative growth (mid-May to mid-June) and that of the least growth (early November to late December). The TVA Hydraulic Data Division calibrated all the seasonal changes—an elaborate and comprehensive process and result. The changes in land use over the ten-year period resulted in considerable lessening of runoff and soil loss—factors which were completely monitored by instruments were analyzed, correlated, and evaluated.
Here, also, may be noted another project which involved the soil surveyors. As some will recall, vividly and sadly, there were many professional engineers, and others in allied work, without any employment in the depression years of 1933-35. To give some of these professional useful work, they were assigned jobs with soil surveyors. In the western part of the State, E. F. Goldston directed a large party in preparing an inch-to-the-mile scale map of Avery County, presumably for a later soil survey. In the eastern portion, S. O. Perkins had charge of make-work parties in revising or completing base maps for soil surveys. However, as with much of the make-work programs of the depression, the net result or benefit to the soil survey projects of North Carolina was practically nil.
1This article is a reprint of the original paper: Lee WD. 1984. The early history of soil survey in North Carolina. Raleigh (NC): Soil Science Society of North Carolina. 28 p.
2 Prof. Milton Whitney on Feb. 15, 1894, became director of a Division of Agricultural Soils in the U.S. Weather Bureau of the Department of Agriculture. On July 1, 1895, this division became an independent unit, and in 1897 was designated as the Division of Soils. As of July 1, 1901, it became officially the Bureau of Soils by act of Congress. Prof. Whitney, and associates, while he was with the Maryland Agricultural Experiment Station has made extensive studies of the soils of Florida and elsewhere on the Atlantic seaboard; and of soils in the arid regions of the United States ". . . from which might be learned the extent and comparable physical and chemical character, climate relationships, and adaptation to crops and soils of the U.S. For years the Geological Survey had been mapping and studying economic minerals; so why should a survey of the soils upon which the economic life of the country is dependent be neglected? The soils would be mapped, studied, and described in reports for public distribution."
Realizing the deficiencies in training of his personnel, Prof. Whitney, in 1903, arranged with Cornell University for detailing Dr. J. A. Bonsteel to that institution as Professor of Soil Investigations. There, for two years, Dr. Bonsteel, representing the Bureau, developed a course in soil science and soil surveying. From Crisscross Trails (1949) by Macy H. Lapham, who was on active field service in the USDA Soil Survey 1899-1944, and correlator 1944-1949.