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Michael F. Hemmer Surveyors: Putting Sag Harbor on the Map

Posted on 03 April 2010

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By Kathryn G. Menu

As a technical research associate with the Brookhaven National Laboratory, F. Michael Hemmer found himself on the mathematical cutting edge, helping the laboratory build its Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), a tool physicists from around the world use to study what the universe may have looked like at the moment of its creation.

But for the last five years, Hemmer and his team of associates at F. Michael Hemmer Land Surveyors, have been leaving their mark around Sag Harbor, East Hampton, Shelter Island and Southampton. Hemmer founded the Sag Harbor based business, with friend and resident John Landi, in 2005. The private practice is focused on drafting surveys for real estate transfers and municipal permits.

 “I love working in the community and being a part of this community,” said Hemmer on Monday. “The caliber of people, both in Sag Harbor and at the laboratory, is pretty high. At Brookhaven, we were doing cutting edge work, and I do have nostalgia for that; but beyond that I love being in my own business. I have more control. I can take a moment and go down to Marine Park, enjoy a cup of coffee and have a chat with people.”

Hemmer discovered surveying was the perfect fit for him during the summer of 1972, during his first semester as a mathematics major at the University of Idaho, when he joined an Idaho State Highway Department survey crew, mapping a new two-lane highway between Bovill and Deary, Idaho at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

 “In the beginning, it was because I liked the combination of mathematic skill and working outside,” said Hemmer. “The funny part is, as soon as they understand you can do the computations they pull you from the field.”

After exploring other fields that kept him awash in fresh air, including as a logger and farmer in the Pacific Northwest, Hemmer returned to his hometown of Alexandria, Virginia, where he learned more about the trade, which is rooted in the history of the nation’s founding fathers.

In his first full time position, while surveying townhouses on Captains Row in Olde Town Alexandria, Hemmer discovered the boundary monuments set by Lawrence and George Washington in the early 1700s at intersections of the cobblestone streets. Washington, like virtually all of the founding fathers, was a surveyor by trade.

“I suspect George was a part of the survey crew,” said Hemmer, noting that while the younger Washington’s maps are well regarded, he believes much was taken from the work of his older brother, Lawrence.

“It’s a real positive feeling to feel your profession is connected to history,” said Hemmer. “One concept in surveying is to trace the steps of a previous surveyor. To realize some of these steps go that far back, to our founders and forefathers, is really pretty amazing.”

Working as a surveyor, 15 years later Hemmer was named technical research associate at Brookhaven National Laboratory, and given the task of conducting the statistical analysis for surveying and alignment of the superconducting magnets of RHIC, a 2.5 mile circular particle accelerator. Despite a zeal for the precision required for such state-of-the-art work, once the RIHC was completed, Hemmer and Landi, who had both been creating surveys on a part time basis since 2002, opened F. Michael Hemmer Land Surveying in 2005.

Staffed by Hemmer, Landi, Sag Harbor native Karen Cilli Sperling and Shelter Island resident Patrick Donahue, the practice uses modern digital instruments, infra-red lasers and electronic data collection devices that Hemmer said give field measurements today a high degree of precision, compared to the tools of yesterday, namely old invar steel chains. All maps and plans developed at the firm are created with computer aided drafting (CAD) software and given to clients in both hard and digital formats. Hemmer said the firm also uses GIS (geographic information system) technology, which helps produce surveys in a timely and efficient manner.

“To have the quality of people I work with – John, Karen and Pat – is really what it is all about,” said Hemmer. “It’s a small operation and a very rigorous profession, so everyone really has to get along. Attention to detail is critical. Every map is an attempt at perfection and yet we all still can make mistakes, as everyone does. So there is no perfect map. From our point of view, if we do a survey map for a real estate transaction we know at least three attorneys will be looking at it with a microscope. So, to love this profession is to be a little bit of a perfectionist, a little bit of an obsessive compulsive.”

F. Michael Hemmer Land Surveyors is located in Sag Harbor and can be reached by calling 725-7199 or by e-mailing


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3 Responses to “Michael F. Hemmer Surveyors: Putting Sag Harbor on the Map”

  1. Action Jackson says:

    Bogus profession, for bogus people.

  2. . . .Your body is engulfed by chemicals of rage and despair, you pound, you shriek, you batter your head against the trees. You come away wounded, feeling that life is unknowable, can never be understood, only endured and sometimes cheated.” Garrison Keilor

    Like Benji, the protagonist of Colson Whitehead’s “Sag Harbor”, I grew up in New York City. The city was my playground. My friends and I wandered the streets, went from playground to playground to play basketball, stickball, or roller hockey. We’d take the subway to Coney Island and spend days on the beach, on the boardwalk and on the amusement park rides. When we were feeling particularly frisky we’d head over to Riis Park at Far Rockaway and try to get a gander at the nude sunbathers. We’d rarely see our parents between sunrise and sunset. I felt in my element. This was my world. Then, when I hit 13 I was sent away to a boarding school. Right when I hit adolescence I was lifted up out of one world and placed by my parents in a new, ostensibly better world. The people I met were alien to me and the disaffection I felt at not quite fitting in was palpable. I spent 9 months longing to return to my universe but when I did I found that being in my old, more comfortable world, did not relive me of the unfettered angst of being a teenager or make me comfortable in a new world where girls, music, Colt 45 Malt liquor and the improbable dream of `becoming a man’ still made each day one filled with a mixture of unease and anticipation.

    In a very real way this is the same world Benji inhabits. Benji spends 9 months of the year at a Manhattan prep school, a world unlike the middle class world he grew up in. Benji’s disaffection may have played out along racial lines while mine was a divide of socio-economic class but the feelings Whitehead evinces in Benji seem to share a lot of the same DNA as my own. “Sag Harbor” is set in that 3-month summer gap after his return from prep school. Set in 1985 Sag Harbor is a local resort community created by and for middle class African-American families. Benji, 15, and his younger brother Reggie have the house to themselves during the week while their parents stay in the city to work. Their buddies lead similar partially adult-free lives. It is a gentle commingling of Lord of the Flies and Summer of 42.

    Sag Harbor is well-written and enjoyable. It evokes a time and place in the lives of teen boys. As some reviewers have noted there isn’t what you would call a plot-driven narrative. There isn’t a series of events leading to a dramatic climax. Like Seinfeld the book is about nothing but in the hands of Whitehead it is a charming read. The life I lived in my summer time was typically about nothing. What are we going to do today? What are we going to get up to? Can we find an older brother to get us some beer? Doesn’t so-and-so look hot? Laughing at jokes we didn’t quite understand and trying our best, but not successfully, to stay out of trouble, were the order of the day. The book may be about nothing but the writing makes it pleasurable. Benji’s observations about himself and the world around him seem spot-on to me. As the summer progresses we see the best-laid plans sometimes work and sometimes fail. Whitehead is a fine writer and managed to keep me laughing, chuckling or sighing at Benji’s `summer of `85′.

    Sag Harbor was a very enjoyable book to read. It brought back semi-sweet memories of days gone bye. If you are looking for a book with a roller coaster ride of highs and lows Sag Harbor is not for you. However, if you are looking for a very well-written piece that evokes memories of a time in your life when the fog of adolescence weighed heavily on each day’s activities, then I think you will enjoy Sag Harbor.

  3. strumpfhosen says:

    This is a wonderfully written coming of age story. The prose is thought-provoking, humorous, and engrossing. Colson Whitehead uses humor to effectively bring important issues to the reader’s consciousness. He brings the reader back to the 1980′s and all the quirky happenings of that time; New Coke – need I say more. We also get a view into the issues that race and class present for teenagers just trying to learn how to fit in to such a complicated world. Also important is the realization and subsequent respect of our history and what generations before us went through and accomplished so that we may live as we do today. It is coming to terms with/recognizing that things we take for granted now were fought for and a price was paid by those who fought for them. The book starts out somewhat light-heartedly and then slowly weaves in the darkness that comes with family dysfunction and alcoholism. It is a well-rounded, funny, and sometimes heart-breaking story of growing up in a world full of choices and consequences.

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