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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Surveying Was Important Profession In Early Days

Dallas Bogan on 7 September 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Early land surveyors are credited with the laying out and marking the boundaries of the original land patents. Their methods consisted of many different practices, mostly in accordance to the times. The surveying of the original Thirteen Colonies was run in a very erratic pattern with undue regard to the compass.
A "section" consists of 640 acres and is one mile square, while a "township" is a tract of six square miles containing 36 sections. The familiarity of this method of measurement in the older states or English speaking countries was unheard of.
The procedure of land divisions and measurement called the "rectangular system" was first heard of in the report of a committee of the Continental Congress, May 7, 1784, chaired by Thomas Jefferson. The Ordinance was not passed until about a year later. This was the first time the words "section" and "township" were used in reference to land measurement.
(Originally the first report stipulated that public lands be divided into "hundreds" of ten geographical miles square, and these be divided into "lots" of one square mile each, numbered from 1 to 100. The original townships were to be "7 miles square each containing 49 sections." However, this method was never passed and used.)
It was the most convenient and simple land division technique in the world. By this procedure, roads were basically run on straight lines; even farm fences were run on a more consistent pattern.
To whom this method is credited is not known, but it was first used in the United States. Its first use was in Ohio when the tract, called the "Seven Ranges" in the eastern part on the Ohio River, was laid out, the work beginning in 1786. Shortly thereafter, a company called the Ohio Company was employed to survey the land on the Muskingum.
Symmes Purchase, the land between the Miamis, was to be surveyed next. Symmes, the owner of some 300,00 acres, was required by the Government to hire his own surveyors at his own expense. They began work about 1788 and ran their lines by the compass.
Carefree surveyors erratically laid out these lands. Some sections were too small and some too large, some ranging from 600 to 800 acres. This action caused many land disputes to wind up in court.
The first undertaking of surveying involving the true meridian and lines at right angles in the Miami country seems to have been made by Israel Ludlow, a deputy U.S. surveyor, on October 11, 1798. A line of true meridian was commenced from the mouth of the Great Miami River running due north. This was the first of the principal meridians established by our Government and is now the boundary between Ohio and Indiana.
Costs of surveying the public lands were interesting. The first Ordinance allowed the surveyor $2 per mile for every mile in length he should run, including the wages of chain carriers, markers, and all other expenses.
The Acts of 1796 and 1800 initiated a fee not to exceed $3 per mile for the same work. The price varied, however, from $3 to $20 per mile due to circumstances involving topographical features as in wooded or swampy outland. The highest prices have been paid for state and territorial boundary lines, which have been sometimes as high as $75 per linear mile.
Top prices of the cost of surveying a complete township of Government land in 1883 were placed from $600 to $768. There are over 23,000 acres in a township and the costs to the Government were about 2 1/2 cents per acre.
East of the Little Miami lay the Virginia Military Lands. These lands were not surveyed in any regular pattern. Some of the surveyors rode on horseback with hardly any regard to its quantity as far as land tracts were concerned.
The lands west of the Great Miami were Congress Lands and a great deal of care was taken by the surveyors to abide by the law. These lands were run north and south with true lines of meridian crossing themselves at right angles. If one were to observe the map lines on the west side of the Great Miami and lines on the east, differences would be obvious.

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This page created 7 September 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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