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Historical Background

Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

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Founders and Frontiersmen
Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings


Columbiana County, Ohio, and Beaver County, Pennsylvania, on the Ohio-Pennsylvania boundary, just east of East Liverpool, Ohio.

Ownership and Administration. Privately owned.

Significance. This site commemorates the inauguration in 1785 of the rectangular land survey system, which was utilized in surveying the millions of acres of land in the States created from the public domain and is still in use. The system facilitated the opening of vast expanses of public land to settlement and thereby contributed to the advance of the frontier. Its indelible imprint on the U.S. landscape is noticeable in the rectangular fields and right-angled section-line roads in many States. As the first mathematically designed and nationally conducted cadastral survey of lands in any modern country, it has often been studied by foreign officials interested in land reform.

The use of the rectangular survey system was specified in the Ordinance of May 1785 "for ascertaining the mode of disposing of lands in the western territory." The ordinance required that all public lands be divided into townships 6 miles square, laid out east and west and north and south of right-angled base lines. Furthermore, each township was to be divided into 36 square-mile sections, which local surveyors could divide into smaller rectangles of any size.

Between June and August of 1785 boundary commissioners representing Virginia and Pennsylvania surveyed a line due north from the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania to the Ohio River, where on the north side of the river they planted a stake marking the beginning point of the survey. The ordinance specified that Thomas Hutchins, the first Geographer to the United States, supervise the running of the first east-west base line. Beginning the survey on September 30, by October 8 he had proceeded westward for almost 4 miles from the beginning point, when an Indian threat forced him to suspend operations. The following August, in 1786, he resumed the survey and extended the base line 2 additional miles. At that point, to create the boundaries of the first township, he surveyed a line south to the Ohio River. He then extended the base line. At the 6 mile markers he directed subordinates to extend lines southward to the Ohio River to create ranges. The surveyors divided these by east-west lines at 6-mile intervals from the base line to create townships. When Hutchins discontinued his direct participation in the survey in September 1786, he had surveyed 45 miles of the base line and his men had completed 4 ranges. In April 1787 Hutchins' subordinates resumed the survey. After they had completed a total of 7 ranges, in July 1788, Hutchins made his final report to the Board of Treasury. Thus ended the first phase of a survey system that is still being used today.

Present Appearance. A stone marker commemorating the survey stands along Ohio 39, about 1,112 feet north of the point where the survey began.

NHL Designation: 06/23/65

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Last Updated: 29-Aug-2005