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Iowa and the Nation

By George Chandler, Author of Practical Civics and Civics for the State of Washington


John L. Cherny, State Inspector of Schools, Department of Public Instruction Des Moines



 Transcribed by Elaine Rathmann




Chapter II


The Land Survey System





            Congressional Survey. We have learned that one of the services performed by government is to protect us in the right to hold property. If you own some land and some one claims that it belongs to him, you can prove that the land belongs to you by producing your deed. This deed will show that the land came into your possession lawfully, and it will describe the land in such a way that it cannot possibly be mistaken for nay other land in the country. This description can be mad as easily and in much the same manner as you would explain to a stranger which seat in the school room you occupy. You might explain that you sit in the third row from the north wall and in the fourth seat from the front. There is only one seat in the room that corresponds to this description. In 1785 Congress provided a system of surveys for locating land which is similar to the plan of locating your seat.


            This system is known as the Congressional Survey. By it all government land that had been surveyed is divided into plots six miles square, and each of these plots is again divided and subdivided The lines upon which these large divisions are based are known as principal meridians, range lines, base lines and township lines.


            Principal Meridians and Base Lines. Before commencing the survey proper, it is necessary to establish two main lines, one extending north and south and the other east and west. These lines are purely arbitrary and they are located without special reference to any other lines of the same kind that may have been surveyed before. The lines extending north and south and from which the survey is mad are called principal meridians, and those extending east and west are called base lines. The principal meridians are numbered westward and a separate base line is established for each.  


            The principal meridians are long distances apart, and so are the base lines, but lines, but lines parallel with the meridians and base lines respectively are surveyed six miles apart, thus dividing the land into townships six miles square. The lines parallel with the base lines are called township lines, and those parallel with the principal meridians are called range lines.


            Survey in Iowa. The fifth principal meridian forms the basis of the United States land survey in Iowa. It extends due north from the mouth of the Arkansas River, crosses Missouri and the eastern part of Iowa, and passes out of the state at a point between Clayton and Dubuque counties. The base line extends due west from the mouth of the St. Francis River in Arkansas, and crosses the principal meridian forty-eight miles north of its starting point. By surveying lines six miles apart parallel with the base line, and others the same distance apart parallel with the principal meridian, the land is divided into blocks six miles square. Each of these blocks is called a congressional township.


            Townships and Ranges. To locate land by this system of surveys two sets of numbers are used, one designating the township north of the base line, and the other the townships west of the fifth principal meridian. Land may also be surveyed south from the base line and east from the principal meridian. For convenience the tier of township east or west of the principal meridian are called ranges and those north or south of the base line are called townships. All the land in Iowa is surveyed from the fifth principal meridian.


            In the diagram the heavy vertical line marked P M represents a part of the principal meridian. It is crossed at right angles by a heavy line marked B L representing a part of its base line. The light vertical lines crossing the base line and parallel to the principal meridian are range lines, and those parallel to the base line are township lines.


            The Congressional Township. The congressional township is important only in connection with our system of locating land. It is a tract of land six miles square, divided into thirty-six square miles, or sections which are subdivided into half-sections, quarter sections, etc., as shown in the diagrams.


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