Canfield’s Transit

by Peter Shrake


On the second floor of the Sauk County Historical Museum is a brass device that looks something like a small telescope on a tripod. It is called a transit or sometimes a level.

According to the 1835 "Elements of Surveying" by Charles Davis, it was used for "determining horizontal lines, and the difference of level of any points on the earth." Our transit was made in Dublin, Ireland and was owned by William H. Canfield, an early Sauk County pioneer.

Canfield came from New York where he learned the surveying trade from his father Harvey. Together father and son worked on many surveying projects including lying out routes for canals.

Whether or not it was used on the Erie Canal is a matter for speculation but William Canfield certainly used it on his countless surveying jobs across Sauk County in the 1840s and 50s. Indeed, it is safe to say that this device helped create the first maps of our county. The transit is on loan from Ralph Tuttle Jr. and is on permanent display at the Sauk County Historical Museum.