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Land Surveying History and Systems in Ohio

Land surveying in Ohio is said to be trickier than conducting surveys in any other area of the United States. The history of land surveying in the Ohio area dates back to relatively early in American land survey history, and in part because of this, there are several land surveying systems in use across the state. In Ohio, land surveyors must work between more than a dozen distinct surveying systems, depending on the area of the state; in many areas, two or more systems have previously been used to survey the same area of land.

The exploration of what is now Ohio began relatively early, by the French in 1669 and 1670. This area was disputed between the French and English until the French and Indian War, which ended in 1763, assigning all of the area to England. At this point, many large tracts in the area were assigned to pay debts to the Penn family, the Connecticut Colony, the Virginia Settlement, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and others. The English knew little about these lands due to their distance; as a result, a lot of guesswork was involved in these transactions. Because of this, many of the grants overlapped, causing legal problems almost since the start.

With the end of the Revolutionary War, the various colonies ceded certain areas to the newly formed government, and this land would be sold to pay off war debts. The new government needed a method to inventory and sell this land. Because Ohio was then at the edge of the Western frontier, it was the testing ground for many different surveys, including nine major survey systems and 46 smaller ones. The major surveys in Ohio include the Ohio River Survey (the first PLSS survey), the Virginia Military Survey, the Connecticut Western Reserve Survey, the Between the Miami Rivers Survey, the Miami River Survey, the United States Military Survey, the South and East of the First principal Meridian Survey, the North and East of the First Principal Meridian Survey, and the Michigan Survey.

In surveying history, Ohio is perhaps best known as the birthplace of the Public Land Survey System, which is still in use today. This system split public land into townships of six miles by six miles. These would be divided into sections, each one mile square and containing 640 acres. The first area surveyed under the Public Land Survey System was in eastern Ohio, and the work began in 1785 with the Point of Beginning, or the intersection of the Western boundary of Pennsylvania and the North bank of the Ohio River.

The Virginia Military Survey, which started in 1787, was a metes and bounds survey with tracts varying from 100 to 15,000 acres; this land was granted to Revolutionary War veterans depending on their rank. Land shapes were not necessarily rectangular, but drawn by the veteran himself to encompass the best available land. Over 16,000 distinct land plots surveyed by the Virginia Military Survey can be found in 23 countries across the state, and is the only surveying system in Ohio not based on rectangular plots of land.

Numerous other surveys were conducted to sell of the land in the Ohio area, both before and after Ohio became a state in 1803. As the area known as Ohio developed, numerous other survey systems were used to divide the land again and again. Other survey types included three-, four-, or six-mile square survey townships. In order to survey land in Ohio, one must be familiar with each of these surveys.


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