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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.
6 5 4 3 2 1
7 8 9 10 11 12
18 17 16 15 14 13
19 20 21 22 23 24
30 29 28 27 26 25
31 32 33 34 35 36
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.

States and Corresponding Surveys

Histopolis currently supports Survey Areas in 35 states. Some states are covered by more than one survey but they do not overlap.