Looking for the city and county high points

Published 8:50 am Friday, April 23, 2010

Not long ago the question came up regarding Albert Lea’s highest point. It could be the top of the KATE transmitter tower at the end of Poplar Avenue. Then again, the real answer to this question isn’t based on the top of a high tower or even a large building, but on the actual altitude or elevation at the ground level. That’s the basis used for determining the elevation of a particular location with sea level being the zero point.

For example, the elevation of Albert Lea is officially listed as 1,229 feet above sea level. This statistic could be questioned because there are several obviously higher points within the city limits However, the official elevation is based on two benchmarks placed during 1931 by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. One benchmark, or bronze disc, with the altitude of 1,228.144 feet was embedded in the concrete sidewalk by the Clark Street entry to the former Albert Lea High School building. The second benchmark with a listed altitude of 1,228.777 is still on the former Milwaukee Depot (now Depot Liquors) building on South Broadway Avenue. (Both benchmarks were featured in my article in the March 26 issue. The old high school benchmark is now in a display case at the new high school building.)

The Minnesota volume of the American Guide Series, published in 1938, lists the 1,229 number for the city’s elevation. Yet, the 1991 and 1993 city directories, and maybe a few other fairly recent issues, list the city’s elevation as 1,265 feet. I have no idea as why this boost in footage came about and what it’s alleged location is.

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Here are some of the city’s other elevations I found during my research on this topic about 14 years ago. The normal elevation for Albert Lea Lake is 1,209 feet. Fountain Lake’s surface is 1,214 feet high and Goose Lake is a foot higher. A benchmark north of Graceland Cemetery by the railroad tracks (that I’ve never actually found) is 1,222.73 feet above sea level. Another benchmark near state Highway 13 and the County Road 74 railroad crossing (that I’ve also not actually located) is listed at 1,241 feet. At the corner of Bridge Avenue and Hawthorne Street the elevation is supposed to be 1,249 feet. Further to the east the elevation is 1,235 feet.

I could list a few more elevations for the city, but this will do for now. Anyway, I still don’t know exactly where the highest point of land is within the city limits of Albert Lea.

Now, let’s switch the focus of this column to another question regarding the highest point of land in Freeborn County. And with this answer may come a real surprise.

On Page 6 of the Tribune’s Section Two of the (Territorial) Centennial Edition dated June 1, 1949, was this statement:

“Pickerel Lake Township boasts the highest point of land in Freeborn County. Section Two is about 1,342 feet above sea level and there are only three places in the state higher.”

There’s absolutely no indication at all as to the source for this very questionable fact.

Back in 1996, a reader contacted me and said he thought the highest point of land in the county was a small hill over near Alden with an altitude of 1,360 feet.

Later on I was informed that a spot in either Chapeau Heights or Indian Hills was actually 1,380 feet above sea level.

However, as I was preparing this column, I did a Google search and found a listing of Minnesota’s highest elevations by counties. Freeborn County happens to rank 39th in this category. (This sure contradicts the 1949 comment in the Tribune.) And the location of the county’s highest elevation is not in Chapeau Heights or Indian Hills. It’s in Section 18 of Mansfield Township!

This particular place is near the corner of 140th Street and 610th Avenue. The elevation for what’s described as an “unnamed high point” or slight rise in the landscape is listed to be 1,400 to 1,410 feet. The source for this determination comes from an organization known as the Peakbaggers. As yet, I have no further information regarding this group.

In reality, Freeborn County’s highest point is part of the Kiester Hills and just a few hundred feet from the Faribault County line, which happens to be 610th Street. In fact, Faribault County’s highest point ranks 34th in the state listing is just .8 mile to the west with an elevation of 1,440 to 1,450 feet.

Ed Shannon’s column has been appearing in the Tribune every Friday since December 1984.