Surveys of the United States

Land Surveys are used to subdivide large areas of land and are used in the legal description of land parcels. A number of different survey methodologies and systems have been used in the US, but the Public Land Survey System is the most widely used.

Public Land Survey System (PLSS)

The Land Ordinance of 1785 and Northwest Ordinance of 1787 called for a systematic survey of public land using a rectangular grid system. The result is the Public Land Survey System (PLSS) which was used to survey and describe the land in all or part of 35 states.

The land in these states is not covered by a single survey, but rather a collection of 37 separate surveys. Each survey is defined by an origin or reference point and two reference lines running through the reference point, one running North-South called the principal meridian, and the other running East-West called the baseline. Each of the principal meridians are named and an individual survey is referred to by the name of the meridian (such as the Black Hills Meridian).


The major subdivision within a survey is the township, a square area with each side 6 miles long (36 square miles). Townships are laid out in rows and columns and each township is identified by a township and range designation. For example, the township identified as Township 3 North, Range 2 West is 3 rows north of the Baseline and 2 columns west of the Pricipal Meridian for the survey. Due to the curvature of the Earth (and errors in surveying), townships are not always exactly six miles on a side.


The area within a township is further subdivided into 36 sections, each one mile square. Sections are numbered 1 to 36 in the pattern shown at the right. As with townships, sections can vary from their nominal 1 mile by 1 mile size.

Section Fractions

Sections are typically further subdivided into quarters or halves. Quarters are designated as NE, NW, SE or SW while halves are designated as N, S, E or W (see figures at right). Those subdivision can be further subdivided by the same means, for example the SW 1/4 of the NE 1/4 is 1/16 of the section.

Availability on Histopolis

Until recently, Histopolis did not support sections as places or the mapping of sections. In November 2015 we introduced sections with initial support limited to the State of Nebraska. We expect to expand support of sections to additional states and areas based on user interest and feedback. If you would like to request section support for a specific area, please contact the webmaster.

Surveys and States Covered

Histopolis currently supports the following 37 PLSS Surveys. Some surveys cover more than one state while some states are covered by several surveys.

Black Hills Meridian South Dakota
Boise Meridian Idaho
Chickasaw Meridian Mississippi
Choctaw Meridian Mississippi
Cimarron Meridian Oklahoma
Copper River Meridian Alaska
Fairbanks Meridian Alaska
Fifth Principal Meridian Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota
First Principal Meridian Indiana, Ohio
Fourth Principal Extended Meridian Minnesota, Wisconsin
Fourth Principal Meridian Illinois
Gila and Salt River Meridian Arizona
Humboldt Meridian California
Huntsville Meridian Alabama, Mississippi
Indian Meridian Oklahoma
Kateel River Meridian Alaska
Louisiana Meridian Louisiana
Michigan Meridian Michigan, Ohio
Mount Diablo Meridian California, Nevada
Navajo Meridian Arizona
New Mexico Principal Meridian Colorado, New Mexico
Principal Meridian Montana
Saint Helena Meridian Louisiana
Saint Stephens Meridian Alabama, Mississippi
Salt Lake Meridian Utah
San Bernardino Meridian California
Second Principal Meridian Illinois, Indiana
Seward Meridian Alaska
Sixth Principal Meridian Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska (sections supported), South Dakota, Wyoming
Tallahassee Meridian Alabama, Florida
Third Principal Meridian Illinois
Uintah Meridian Utah
Umiat Principal Meridian Alaska
Ute Principal Meridian Colorado
Washington Meridian Mississippi
Willamette Meridian Oregon, Washington
Wind River Meridian Wyoming

States and Corresponding Surveys

Histopolis currently supports Survey Areas in 30 states. Some states are covered by more than one survey but they do not overlap.

Alabama Huntsville Meridian, Saint Stephens Meridian, Tallahassee Meridian
Alaska Copper River Meridian, Fairbanks Meridian, Kateel River Meridian, Seward Meridian, Umiat Principal Meridian
Arizona Gila and Salt River Meridian, Navajo Meridian
Arkansas Fifth Principal Meridian
California Humboldt Meridian, Mount Diablo Meridian, San Bernardino Meridian
Colorado New Mexico Principal Meridian, Sixth Principal Meridian, Ute Principal Meridian
Connecticut (none)
Delaware (none)
District of Columbia (none)
Florida Tallahassee Meridian
Georgia (none)
Hawaii (none)
Idaho Boise Meridian
Illinois Fourth Principal Meridian, Second Principal Meridian, Third Principal Meridian
Indiana First Principal Meridian, Second Principal Meridian
Iowa Fifth Principal Meridian
Kansas Sixth Principal Meridian
Kentucky (none)
Louisiana Louisiana Meridian, Saint Helena Meridian
Maine (none)
Maryland (none)
Massachusetts (none)
Michigan Michigan Meridian
Minnesota Fifth Principal Meridian, Fourth Principal Extended Meridian
Mississippi Chickasaw Meridian, Choctaw Meridian, Huntsville Meridian, Saint Stephens Meridian, Washington Meridian
Missouri Fifth Principal Meridian
Montana Principal Meridian
Nebraska Sixth Principal Meridian (sections supported)
Nevada Mount Diablo Meridian
New Hampshire (none)
New Jersey (none)
New Mexico New Mexico Principal Meridian
New York (none)
North Carolina (none)
North Dakota Fifth Principal Meridian
Ohio First Principal Meridian, Michigan Meridian
Oklahoma Cimarron Meridian, Indian Meridian
Oregon Willamette Meridian
Pennsylvania (none)
Rhode Island (none)
South Carolina (none)
South Dakota Black Hills Meridian, Fifth Principal Meridian, Sixth Principal Meridian
Tennessee (none)
Texas (none)
Utah Salt Lake Meridian, Uintah Meridian
Vermont (none)
Virginia (none)
Washington Willamette Meridian
West Virginia (none)
Wisconsin Fourth Principal Extended Meridian
Wyoming Sixth Principal Meridian, Wind River Meridian