Memories of Emerson F. Baker

Excerpts from Emerson Baker’s obituary (thanks to Mary Jane Grace of the VT Dept. of Taxes for passing it along!) followed by comments from members of the VT mapping community (from the VGIS-L email listserv):

MONTPELIER — Emerson Francis Baker, 93, died Monday, March 7, 2011, at his home, with his family beside him.

Born in Gloucester, Mass., on March 29, 1917, he was the son of Ida Frances ( Lorentzen) Baker and William Emerson Baker.  He attended Gloucester schools, graduating   from Gloucester High School in 1934. He served in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps from 1935 to 1937 in Weston and Danby.

 In 1937, he was hired as a map draftsman by the Vermont Highway Department.   He spent several years in the Vermont National Guard. In 1941, he joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In September 1946 , he rejoined the Vermont Highway Department’s planning division in Montpelier as head of the mapping section. He became mapping and road inventory engineer. In 1973 he transferred to the Vermont Tax Department to head the newly established statewide tax mapping project in the property valuation and review division in Montpelier and Waterbury. After conceiving and instituting the statewide orthophotomapping project known as the Vermont Base Map, he retired from state service in 1979. For the following two years he was retained by the property valuation division as a consultant and during that period also served as a mapping consultant to the state of Louisiana. In 1981, he retired permanently from the state, and for several years produced tax maps of a number of towns in Vermont for a tax-mapping consultant.  

He served on many committees relating to mapping and was a longtime member of the American Society of Photogrammetry and a life member of the American Congress on Surveying & Mapping, the Vermont Society of Engineers and the Vermont Society of Land Surveyors.

From Harry Roush (head of the VT Mapping Program from 1979-2009):

I have attached a picture that hung in my office for 30 years. Emerson Baker is the one on the right with the light colored jacket. Gov Hoff is inking a contract with Raytheon to do a pilot project in the Hartland area with orthophotos and property lines.  

Emerson was working with Vtrans at the time he was tapped to start a search for a company to due parcel mapping of the entire state. When the state enacted the Property Transfer Tax (PTT) on real estate they needed the town clerks info and assistance to make it work. In turn the state promised the town clerks to do parcel mapping of each town statewide. With the original legislation, the first $500,000 went to the Mapping program each year. Emerson started his search, first he contracted with the state of Delaware (who had a good parcel mapping program) to generate a parcel map of the town of Whiting.  The problem they encountered was there was not a good base map. The second pilot program was of the Hartland area, with the first orthophotograhy and parcel information.

The knowledge of this pilot proved a statewide base map was needed in order to do good parcel mapping. Thus a second contract with Raytheon was signed. The contract covered Windhan and Bennington counties. That contract called for 1:20,000, 1:10,000, 1:5,000, 1:2500, 1:1250 and in urban areas 1:625 scale orthophotography. In the second year of the PTT the legislation came back and changed the law so only the first $50,000 went to the mapping program, then in October of the same year, they totally eliminated any funding.  At that point Raytheon dropped the contract and all the materials they had generated were shipped to Vermont in seven crates. These crates were 4 feet by 4 feet by 3 feet deep. Those crates were stored in a warehouse from 1974 to 1977. Somehow Emerson got $800,000 in funding in 1978 to restart the program in a different direction. The push was to create a uniform base map statewide that met National Map Accuracy Standards.

Emerson designed the layout, coverage grid, accuracy. Basically he individually designed the entire package. Without Emerson Baker’s foresight, the state of Vermont would NOT have the orthophotography program that led the nation for many years. We all owe Emerson a lot. I, individually, learned more than I want to admit from the man. But I do owe Emerson a lot as we all do.

From Giovanna Peebles (State Historic Preservation Officer/State Archeologist):

I remember him well. He was very handsome with thick white hair and spoke with a drawl and had a great smile. He was a senior statesman when I met him in 1976 (approx) and had been around a long time and knew the ins and outs of government. He was a history buff as I recall and I seem to also recall he may have worked with the Civilian Conservation Corps helping build roads, bridges,  parks, etc. He was a member (active member?) of the state CCC association. Great guy. I used to see him quite a lot even after retirement but I stopped seeing him around.

From Sara Moulton, VTrans Mapping Unit:

From 1946 to 1973, Emerson Baker was the head of the Mapping Section of the Vermont Department of Highways (now the Agency of Transportation).  His influence is still felt in the Mapping Unit.  He created many of the standards that form the foundation of our work today, and we encounter his work every day, from the correspondence recorded in our town highway files, to various standards manuals he created.

 In memory of his contribution to the Agency of Transportation, the Mapping Unit has created a poster containing a few artifacts from our file.  The poster is available online at

http://www.aot.state.vt.us/Planning/Documents/Mapping/Publications/Emerson_F_Baker_poster.pdf  (25 MB).

From Ron Wells:

I started work at Forests and Parks in 1966. I remember Emerson coming into our office quite often to look at aerial photo’s that we had and talking with Bob Farrington and Norm Greene. He was a history buff and a gentleman to be admired. He was deeply involved with the CCC’s having been in the corp during the 30’s and in later life as it’s Secretary and President.

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One Response to Memories of Emerson F. Baker

  1. Mrs. Shirley Baker, Mike Baker and Cathy (Baker) Czajkowski says:

    The family of Emerson Baker would like to offer our heartfelt thanks for the remembrances you all have posted about our husband and father. It is heartwarming for us to know that he is still remembered all these many years after he retired. It’s nice to see that his love of mapping is shared by you and that some of his creations and standards are still in use. We can still hear his “map talk” as if it was yesterday.

    Thank you.

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