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The Public Lanc! Survey System That part of the United States acquired by the federal government by cession from the states, by treaty, and by purchase, now embraced in the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, made up the original public domain (Figure 2.1~. The rectangular system of surveys (designated the Public Land Survey System or PLSS) provides the basic ownership (cadastral) reference system for all states except for 18 eastern states, Hawaii, and Texas. The PLSS has been extended or is now being ex- tended over this area as the basis for the identification, administration, and disposal of the public lands and for the legal description of private lands. The United States Cadastral Program including the PASS is as old as the nation it- self, dating back to 1785. The PLSS was originally established by the Second Continental Congress to facilitate the orderly settlement of the Midwest, portions of the South, including Florida, and lands west of the Mississippi River except Texas. This orderly settlement was to be accomplished by ensuring marked boundaries and recorded titles. The ordinance of 1785 made the survey of public land a prerequisite to settlement and established a rectangular system of survey. In those affected states, this has resulted in a system of 6-mile-square townships, each township contains 36 sections (Bureau of Land Management, 1980; Wilcox, 1982~. 9 l
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The Public Land Survey System 2.1 EARLY HISTORY (see White, undated) 11 In the early 1780's the states decided to cede their claims to the western wilderness for the common good of the country; by 1802 all cessions were complete. In 1784 a committee, headed by Thomas Jefferson, was appointed to study and devise a system whereby this land could be divided into tracts and made available to the public. This committee drafted an ordinance that called for prior survey of the lands into squares called "hundreds" (10 geo- graphical miles or 60,864 feet on a side), which could be further subdivided into square lots of 1 geographical mile or 850.4 acres. This ordinance was debated at length and then referred to a committee composed of one man from each state. The committee under William Grayson of Virginia presented its report to the Congress in 1785. The basic rectangular shape was retained, but the size of the units was reduced from 10 to 7 miles on a side, the name changed to "townships," and statute miles were substituted for geographical miles. The report was discussed and debated, and on May 20, 1785, the Land Ordinance was passed after changing the township size to a 6-mile square. This Act of 1785 is the foundation upon which the present system of townships and ranges is based (Pattison, 1957~. The first survey under the Act of 1785 was accomplished in the territory that is now eastern Ohio (Figure 2.2~. Under the direction of Thomas Hutch- ins, the first Geographer of the United States, the survey was to begin "at a point that shall be found to be due north from the western termination of a line (extension of the Mason-Dixon line), which has been run as the southern boundary of the state of Pennsylvania; and the first line running east and west shall be at the same point and extended throughout the whole territory." The methods for running the north-south line (Ellicott's line) were those of Mason-Dixon: measurements by chain, compass bearings, and astronomical observations each night to correct the magnetic compass readings to true- north bearing (Wilford, 1981~. The east-west line, the first baseline, was known as the "geographer's line." The only known instruments that Hutchins possessed were a sextant, common compasses, and circumferentors. The lati- tude of the beginning point was probably obtained by observations of Polaris and the Sun as they crossed the meridian. The error in this latitude determina- tion was approximately 25 seconds of arc. The field note records show that, as a general pattern, the north-south lines (range lines) run southerly from the geographer's line using a common compass or a circumferentor. There is no indication that any attempt was made to correct the compass needle for the magnetic variation. As a result, the range lines have an actual bearing of about N 5.2° W. with a maximum bearing of about N 5.3° W. The east-west township lines deviate about the same amount and intersect the range lines at
~ E r (~) Michigan i~tiarldian Surveye (~) Tv~alvc Ilile Reecrve (~) North ond Eoet of Firet Principol hIcridian 56? South and Eost of First Prlacipol iBlerldion O Firelande O Conaceticut Westcrn Reecrve (2 ) Ohio River Base (~) Muskingum River Base (~) Miomi River Base (~) Betwacn thc Miiamie (~) Symmae Purchoea O Viroloio elilihry Rasarva ~) U. S. Milltery Reearva Originol ~even Rongae O iDonation Troct Ohio Company Purchaea O Eaet of the Scioto O Scloto River Baea (~3 Frcach Crante FIGURE 2.2 Original Ohio land subdivisions. 12
The Public Land Surrey System 13 approximately a right angle. Not until 1894 was the magnetic needle elimi- nated in the execution of the rectangular land surveys (Act of August 15, 1894, 28 Stat. 285~. The current practice (Bureau of Land Management, 1973) is to determine true (astronomic) direction from north by one of the following methods: 1. Direct observations of the Sun, Polaris, or other stars; 2. Observations with a solar attachment; 3. The turning of angles from triangulation stations of the horizontal control network. (This method provides a geodetic azimuth from north, but the difference between geodetic and astronomic azimuth is within the error budget permitted by Bureau of Land Management instructions.) Hutchins, in 1785, was to survey 42 miles (seven ranges) west along this line numbering the ranges from the Ohio River. The townships were numbered from the south. Only the section and township corners around the exterior boundary were monumented. This area is historically known as "The Seven Ranges" (Sherman, 1 925; McEntyre, 1 978~. In 1796 the first Surveyor General of the United States, Rufus Putnam, was named, replacing the Geographer. Putnam devised the modern method of numbering the sections, running out their boundaries on the ground, and placing the excess or deficiency of land in the sections along the north and west boundaries of the townships being divided ~White, undated). As many prospective land owners could neither afford nor use one whole section (640 acres at $2.00 per acre) the Acts of May 10, 1800, and February 11, 1805, were passed, which provided for subdividing and selling land in quarter sections (160 acres). Later, on April 5, 1832, Congress passed the last major act affecting the system of rectangular surveys, which provides for the sale of quarter-quarter section lots (40 acres). Today, by aliquot parts, the smallest government land unit is nominally 2.5 acres (Figure 2.3~. Putnam also laid out a line in surveying Ohio, north from the Great Miami (Figure 2.1, inset), which was both a principal meridian (designated the First Principal Meridian) and the boundary between Ohio and Indiana. Jared Mans- field, who had replaced Putnam, extended his Indiana Baseline to the Missis- sippi River and established the Third Principal Meridian near the center of the Illinois Territory. Since surveys in the Orleans Territory were much older and of French and Spanish origin, they were not usually of the standard rectangular order but followed meandering courses. In 1821 the Surveyor General in Mississippi was given authority to follow the old surveys by trying to adhere to a 160-acre plot with as near as possible 40-chain frontage on the river and 40 chains deep. |
14 MODERNIZATION OF THE PUBLIC LAND SURVEY SYSTEM . _ . 40 CHAINS 20 CHAINS 160 RODS 2640 f E E T NW l/4 W 1/2 NE l/4 160 ACRES 80 ACRES 14 . 1320 FT. 20 CHAINS 660 FT. Wl/2 NWI/4 SW l/4 NE l/4 SW 1/4 NW l/4 40 ACRES 40 ACRES SE l/4 20 ACS 10 CHAINS N lo NW S W l/4 SE l/4 5 ACRES SW l/4 SW l/4 S E l/4 SW l/4 sw i/4 SE l/ 40 ACRES 40 AGRES 2 i/2 2 1/2 . ACS ACS 440 YARDS 80 RODS 330' 5 CHS 660 FT. E 1/2 NW l/4 SE l/4 20 ACS 40 RODS W LIZ N E l/4 SW l/4 SE ~4 330' 80 RODS E 1/2 NE 1/4 80 ACRES 1320 F T. N l/2 NE 1/4 SE l/4 20 ACRES S 1/2 NE 1/4 SE 1/4 20 ACRES E /2 NE S W 1/4 S E l/4 330' 80 RODS N W l/4 S E l/4 S E l/4 10 ACRES 660 fT. N E l/4 SE 74 SE ~ 0 ACRES 660 fT. S E /4 S W 1/4 SE l/4 660 fT. SW '/4 S E '/4 SE '/4 10 CHAINS SE >4 SE ~ SE 74 40 RODS FIGURE 2.3 Normal division of a section. A Fourth Principal Meridian was established at the intersection of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. The Fifth Principal Meridian was planned in 1815 to control surveys in all of Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, and North Dakota; in most of Minnesota; and in the south half of South Dakota. As more land was surveyed, Edward Titian, who was appointed Commissioner of the General Land Office in 1812, found a need for more control lines and estab- lished the system of guide meridians and standard parallels that are important aspects of the PLSS. Thus, by extension of baselines and establishment of new baselines and principal meridians the PASS was extended to the west and to Alaska (Figure 2.1~. As more and-more of the western territories were surveyed by various land
The Public Land Survey System 15 offices, inadequacies in survey data became evident. In 1836, the General Land Office was reorganized to coordinate the work of the field offices, and a set of standards was adopted. Starting in 1815 the chains in the various field offices were calibrated against a standard chain. With the improvement in sur- veying instruments and techniques, the establishment of corners of the PLSS in accordance with the original intent improved. However, no effort was made to establish the geodetic coordinates of these corners as the PLSS mon- uments and original cadastral survey data were and are the only legal basis for delineation of property boundaries. Hence, when monuments are lost the original survey must be retraced (Bureau of Land Management, 1974) and allowance must be made for, among others, differences between original distance measurements using chains that were difficult to keep at standard length and distances measured today using modern technology, the variations in magnetic bearing with time, and improvement in astronomic position determination (43 U.S.C. 2, 751, 752, 770, and 772) (Hibbard, 1924, re- printed 1965~. 2.2 SYSTEM OF RECTANGULAR SURVEYS The PLSS divides the public domain into rectangular areas bounded by par- allels of latitude and meridians. These areas (called townships), defined by township (east-west) and range (north-south) lines (Figure 2.4), are approxi- mately 6 miles on a side and are subdivided into sections that are approxi- mately 1 mile on a side. These sections are further subdivided into rectangular areas called aliquot parts. Land can be conveyed by naming the particular township, range, section, aliquot part, and the meridian (defined below). The township, range, and section lines are surveyed; the aliquot parts need not necessarily by surveyed for patent. The township and range lines form a grid system whose origin is called the initial point. In the vast PLSS there are numerous initial points, each having a unique name. At each initial point an astronomic position (latitude and longi- tude) and the direction to astronomic north were determined by observations of east-west stars, or Polaris, or the Sun. From each initial point, using astro- nomic observations of north at 1-mile (80-chain) intervals, a Principal Meridian was determined. From the Principal Meridian a line of approximate constant latitude (called the baseline) was surveyed from the initial point. It is possible to survey a curved line with solar instruments. Otherwise, a bearing is pro- jected 6 miles in a straight line either along the tangent to the parallel at the initial point or along a secant line from a point on the astronomic meridian south of the beginning corner (Bureau of Land Management, 1973~. At one- half-mile intervals along either line, proper offsets are measured to the parallel
16 MODERNIZATION OF THE PUBLIC LAND SURVEY SYSTEM North 1, 1, I L . ~ First - Standard l Para el 1 1 1 . . , r cn 6m I 1 4 3 ~ l ._ 1= 1 .m T2 S l R 3W 2 Firs t l in a' _ 6 5 _ 1- _ . 1 ~ a: i UJ. . . ;3 North _ ~- .= BASE . 1 LINE ~ ~ . 1~'6°1~4 2 At_ 3 -1 1 To _? Z ~~- I Standard T 1 1 1 4 44 So uth l South FIGURE 2.4 Township and. There are a number of variations to this and throughout the PLSS. on which line the corners are established. Along the secant line, the largest offsets to the parallel are at the beginning, 3-mile, and ending points; along the tangent line the greatest offset is at the 6-mile point. From the 6-mile point on the parallel the procedure is repeated for three more segments of 6 miles each. Normally, at a point 24 miles from the initial point, the astronomic latitude, longitude, and direction to north are again observed. Any discrepancy in latitude is distributed over the previous 24 miles, and a similar procedure is followed for subsequent 24-mile segments. At each integral multiple of 24 miles north and south of the initial point on the Principal Meridian, an east- west line was determined in a manner similar to that used for the baseline; these lines are called standard parallels. At 6-mile intervals between standard parallels, east-west lines (township lines) were run as random lines in a man- ner similar to the baseline and then corrected back on a true line. At each 6- mile point along the baseline and along the standard parallels, a north line (range line) was developed in a manner similar to that used for the Principal
The Public Land Survey System 17 Meridian. These range lines (the line at each 24-mile point was called a guide meridian) terminated (called a closing corner) at the next northern standard parallel or on the baseline (only for the first southern standard parallel). Owing to the convergence of the mendians, the closing corners for the range and guide meridians did not fall on the 6-mile points of the closing parallel (Figure 2.4~. Hence, along the baseline and each standard parallel there are closing corners and standard corners that are in the same vicinity; these must be distinguished. [For a more detailed description refer to the Manual of Sur- veying Instructions (Bureau of Land Management, 1973~.] The range lines are not numbered, but the tiers or ranges within these lines are numbered successively to the east and to the west of the Principal Merid- ian. The township lines, like the range lines, are not numbered. However, the rows of townships within those lines are numbered successively to the north and south of the baseline such as Township 2 South (T2S) and Range 3 West (R3W) (Figure 2.4~. The rows of townships coordinated with the tier of ranges are used to lo- cate a township. In formal land descriptions the principal meridians have distinguishing names. The land description must contain at least four distinct elements: the section, the township, the range, and the name of the Principal Meridian. Each 6-mile-square township is composed of 36 one-mile-on-a-side sections (Figure 2.5), the areas of which may vary somewhat. The section boundaries are established by north-south and east-west section lines at intervals of 1 mile from the eastern and southern boundaries of the township. The sections are numbered boustrophedonically from the northeast section and ending in the southeast section (Figure 2.5~. Each section is always referred to by its number, its township and range designations, and its Principal Meridian. A regular section contains an area of approximately 640 acres, although varia- tions exist. When section lines are established, monuments are placed at each ~h-mile point or corner. This creates a base from which the section can be divided into halves or quarters (Figure 2.3~. The half-section or the quarter-section can be subdivided again into halves or quarters. These parts can again be sub- divided into smaller halves or quarters. In the PLSS, the aliquot part is never other than a half or quarter of the next larger subdivision. The section can be divided into the north half and the south half or the east half and the west half. A half-section can be subdivided lengthwise as well as widthwise. The same rule applies to all the small subdivisions. Fractional sections create irregular tracts of land in a section that cannot be surveyed as aliquot parts. There also could be sections containing tracts of land described by other systems, such as metes-and-bounds. Such lots within a section have a unique number (Figure 2.6~. Act. ~
18 MODERNIZATION OF THE PUBLIC LAND SURVEY SYSTEM TOWNSHIP 2 SOUTH RANGE 3 WEST 6 5 ~ 3 2 7 8 9 10 ~ 12 18 17 16 O Section 13 19 2 21 22 23 24 30 29 28 27 26 2S 31 32 33 34 35 36 FIGURE 2.5 Boustrophedonic numbering of sections. SECTION 14 '\h - ~\F Northeast a_ _ _ _ __ ~ quarter Nl/2SWl/4 W`Lot ' ~ ' tot 2 Lake ~ i I 14- West Half of South ea st quarter (NEl/4) , El/2SEl/4 FIGURE 2.6 Diagram illustrating division of fractional section into government lots.
The Public Land Surrey System 19 Bodies of water, Spanish land grants, standard parallels, and mineral sur- veys create fractional sections. Those areas of a section that do not qualify as aliquot parts are called lots. Other unique features of the PASS are described as U.S. Survey No. , Tract No. , Mineral Survey No. , and Parcels. For a discussion of the PLSS as a national data base and as the basic land- ownership reference system see Section 5.1.2. 2.3 RECENT CONCERNS The federal land surveyors' prime concern has been and is the running of boundary lines. Theirs is an ancient profession, today called cadastral survey- ing or cadastral mapping, dating from ancient Egypt or earlier. The corner- stone of a cadastral surveyor's philosophy is that the location of an established boundary monument is inviolate. Hence, a body of cadastral practices sup- ported by case law has evolved that fosters this philosophy. Therefore, when corners of the PLSS are destroyed or obliterated, original and collateral evi- dence need to be developed and a dependent resurvey or other approved method must be undertaken to recover the original monument location. When a corner is lost, it must be re-established according to a set federal or state policy or procedure, dependent on responsibility; such a procedure is a method for replacing the corner from that time forward Simpson v. Stewart; 281 Mo. 229~. A dependent resurvey consists of a retracement and re-estab- lishment of the lines in the original survey in their true original positions according to the best available evidence of the positions of the original cor- ners (Bureau of Land Management, 1973~. In addition, such surveys must be certified by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The courts have also stated that original surveys of the United States, after acceptance, are pre- sumed to be correct and will not be disturbed except on clear proof that they are fraudulent or grossly erroneous (Henry O. Woodruff, 24 IBLA 190, 192, 1976~. Thus, by fundamental law the corners of the original survey are un- changeable, and, even if the original surveys were poorly executed, they still control the boundaries of patented land (Domenici, 1981~. As a consequence of this, the cadastral surveyor, particularly the federal cadastral surveyor, has considered the determination of coordinates for the PLSS corners as a math- ematical tool of low priority in boundary determination and will continue to do so until the courts legally recognize coordinates determined by acceptable surveying practices as one of the rules of evidence for the re-establishment of monuments and boundaries. The PLSS, a great national resource, would have a much wider impact on mapping, land-information systems, and land-re- source management if coordinates, tied to a national control network, were 1
20 MODERNIZATION OF THE PUBLIC LAND SURVEY SYSTEM established for the corners. Recently, to resolve an overlap of interest in the PLSS by the BLM and the Geological Survey, BLM has been assigned responsi- bility for locating PLSS corners geographically and is doing so when latitudes and longitudes can be conveniently derived along with their cadastral surveys (Department of the Interior, 1977~. The BLM has responsibility for re-establishment of corners within and on the boundaries of public lands. A recent problem resulted from a delay in certifying monuments. During 1967-1969 BLM began a retracement survey within the Lincoln National Forest, New Mexico, at the request of the U.S. Forest Service and set standard brass survey monuments for some lost original corners. This survey was not completed because of inadequate funding and a change in U.S. Forest Service priorities; therefore, a certificate of approval was not issued. Recently BLM retraced much of the 1967-1969 resurvey and found many original corners, which resulted in nearly all of the lines that were re-established in 1967-1969 being corrected to conform with the original corner monument evidence; this resulted in displacement of some monuments established in 1967-1969 by several feet. In the interim, local surveyors used the uncertified BLM monuments to make private land surveys; title companies and lending institutions have accepted these as "certified surveys" for clear title descriptions, as there was nothing of record to indicate that a particular monument was not the official monument (Domenici, 1981~. Much of the original public domain has been patented, and, therefore, many comers are outside BLM'S area of interest, although there are federal inholdings in patented lands. The responsibility for the restoration of de- stroyed or obliterated corners falls on local units of government in these regions. Using instruments and techniques far superior to those available to the original government surveyor, the local surveyor must exercise extreme caution and have knowledge of early survey practice in order properly and accurately to recover and re-establish an original corner. In addition, in many states no clear responsibility has been delegated or assigned for ensuring that the corners are preserved in their original location for those lands removed from the public domain; this administrative problem has resulted in disputes that can only be resolved by the courts. The greatest weakness of the PLSS as a basis of control for a land-informa- tion system or a multipurpose cadastre is the failure to provide monumented points in a coordinate system that is connected to the national geodetic net- work. The use of coordinates tied to a national network offers a means to compensate for the physical vulnerability of legal corners. Such coordinates for corners contribute to the densif~cation of the geodetic control network of the United States. Such densities control is an essential element for the development of a national land-information system, a system required for rational land and resource management, for digital mapping, and for relating 1
The Public Land Surrey System 21 land-attribute data, which exist in different data files (Committee on Geodesy, 1980). Any accurate mapping project requires a system of survey control. This control must permit the accurate correlation of property boundary-line in- formation with topographic data and must be permanently monumented so that lines on planning maps may be accurately re-established in the field when public works projects reach the construction stage (Committee on Geodesy, 1982~. In most states carved out of the original public domain, large-scale (e.g., 1:2400) topographic maps are based on lower-order control nets tied to the national geodetic datum. However, property boundary maps are rarely constructed on a framework of control. Hence, accurate correlation of such property boundary maps and topographic maps is nearly impossible (Com- mittee on Geodesy, 1982~. In recognition of this problem, the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission has combined the best features of the PLSS and the State Plane Coordinate systems (Claire and Adams, 1935; Mitchell and Simmons, 1945~. The establishment of such a control system requires the relocation and monumentation of all section and quarter-section corners within a mapping area and the tying of these corners by second-order traverses to the national geodetic datum (Bauer,1976~. The elevations of the monuments of the PLSS are determined by Second Order, Class II, level cir- cuits. These procedures provide a common, consistent, and accurate system of control for both real-property boundary lines and topographic mapping. [For greater details on this program the reader is referred to the case study included in the report Procedures and Standards for a Multipurpose Cadastre (Committee on Geodesy, 1982~.] l