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Local History Index - Original Survey of Lisbon Township

   The Survey of Township 8 North, Range 19 East of the 4th Principal Meridian

Compiled and Edited by Michael R. Reilly

Last Revised 03/03/2005

General Survey History

    The US General Land Office (GLO) was a part of the Federal government. Its main responsibility was to survey land in the central and western United States so that the land could be sold to settlers moving in to the area. Surveying the land made it easier to locate and legally describe the parcels purchased by settlers.

    Under the Ordinance of 1785, the United States Public Land Survey (USPLS) system was established with the Geographer of the United States as the director. This began the system of subdividing land areas into regular parcels so that it could be sold to provide income for the Federal treasury. The Act of May 18, 1796 appointed a Surveyor General, who was given the power to deputize surveyors to carry out their duties. The Act of April 25, 1812 established the General Land Office within the Department of the Treasury. In 1849, the General Land Office into the newly-created Department of the Interior. In 1946, it became part of the new Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

    The Public Land Survey required meticulous work by a large number of people laboring under unfavorable working conditions. What began as a way for the new Federal government to make money, turned into quite a vast undertaking. For more information about the history of the GLO, see Surveys and Surveyors of the Public Domain 1785-1975 (U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.) by Lola Cazier (1977).

    GLO surveys were completed to aid the Federal government in "disposal" of land. "Disposal" involved either selling land to Euro-American settlers or giving land to states, counties, schools, war veterans, railroads, steamboat companies, and others as rewards or economic incentives.

    The primary job of the deputy surveyors was to measure distances and mark the corners of each section.

    Deputy surveyors were also required to document their surveys by writing notes and drawing maps in their field books. As they surveyed each section line, they recorded distances and significant features along the way. The majority of the notes document the surveyors’ task of measuring, locating, and constructing survey monuments at section corners and quarter-section corners.

    Deputy surveyors were also required to describe "the face of the country." Their notes and maps briefly described the land and its natural resources (vegetation, water, soil, landform, and so on) at the time of the survey. The survey maps and notes produced by the GLO surveyors are among the few detailed, systematic data sources about Iowa before much of it was changed to a landscape of intensive agriculture.

    The GLO survey was a rectangular survey, rather than a boundary (metes and bounds) survey. In Surveys and Surveyors of the Public Domain 1785-1975 (U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.), Lola Cazier (1977, p. 17) said that by using the rectangular survey method, "the United States, for the most part, avoided the disputes, litigation, and bloodshed inherent in a metes and bounds system." There were three major steps in completing the GLO rectangular survey.

    Step 1 was to survey base lines and principal meridians on which all other surveying measurements were based. The GLO survey in Iowa is based on the 5th Principal Meridian (a north-south line at 91 degrees, 03 minutes, 42 seconds west longitude). The 5th Principal Meridian was adopted in 1815 and runs through eastern Iowa in the vicinity of Muscatine. The 5th Principal Meridian intersects its base line in east-central Arkansas (this east-west line is at 34 degrees, 44 minutes, 00 seconds north latitude).

    Step 2 was to survey township lines. Township lines were surveyed at six-mile intervals and subdivided Iowa into townships that are approximately 36 square miles each. Each row (tier) of townships is numbered 65 through 100. Each column (range) of townships is numbered 7 East through 49 West. This produces a coordinate system used to number each survey township by tier and range. By the way, the word "township" has several different meanings, causing some confusion. These GLO survey (Congressional) townships are different than civil (political) townships, although in Iowa approximately 1,158 (70 percent) of the 1,657 civil townships follow Congressional township lines.

    Step 3 was to subdivide townships into sections. Section lines were surveyed at one-mile intervals, creating sections that are approximately one mile square. Most sections cover an area of approximately 640 acres, although there are many sections that have a smaller or larger area due to survey correction lines, major rivers, state boundaries, or surveying errors. Monuments or other marks were made at half-mile intervals, to later aid in subdividing the sections into quarter sections of approximately 160 acres. Most of the land parcels originally purchased were aliquot parts of a section (even multiples of 40 acres), although due to size variation of some sections, fractional parts or lots were sometimes purchased.

    Each deputy surveyor was accompanied by several others. Each "survey party" typically consisted of the deputy surveyor, two chainmen, a flagman, and a marker (axeman). Sometimes one or two mound builders were added to the survey party.

    The deputy surveyor operated the compass (a surveying instrument on a tripod). The two chainmen dragged a 66-foot Gunter's chain along each section line to measure distances. The flagman marked the endpoint of the Gunter's chain each time it was put in position by the chainmen. The axeman and mound builders were responsible for blazing witness trees and bearing trees, erecting posts, digging pits, and building mounds to mark the section corners.

    During the Iowa GLO survey, survey parties were typically paid $2.75 per mile surveyed. This amount was split among all members of the survey party. Typically, each member was paid $15 per month plus their keep. One deputy surveyor said that they could make "good money" if the weather was optimal (often it wasn't). Survey parties were responsible for their own equipment, food, and other supplies. Surveying section lines within a township typically took 5 to 15 days. Surveying 60 miles of section lines required about 120 miles of walking. (East-west lines were surveyed twice ("over and back") and section lines were always surveyed from south to north (not a zig-zag pattern), that required walking from the north edge of the township to the south edge five times per township.)

    You can see why deputy surveyors needed help. Surveying up and down slopes, through prairie, wetlands, rivers, and woodlands was difficult. Other obstacles included weather, hauling supplies, finding food and fresh water, primitive surveying technology, limited technical training, equipment problems, labor problems, preemptors (squatters), hostiles (Native Americans), military maneuvers, snake pits, and the dreaded mosquitoes.

    GLO surveyors wrote their survey notes by hand in leather-bound field books. After the surveyors finished surveying a township and wanted to get paid, they returned their field books to the Surveyor General, whose office was in Dubuque. (It was moved there from Cincinnati a few years after the Iowa survey began.) The Surveyor General hired professional copyists, who made copies of the field notes by hand (manuscript copies). In the late 1930s (circa 1938), the Secretary of State hired typists to read the manuscript copies and type the GLO notes using manual typewriters. These typescript copies are stored in the library of the State Historical Society of Iowa in Des Moines and were microfilmed in the 1970s.

    For each mile of section line, deputy surveyors were required to write distances (in chains and links) between section corners and quarter corners. Along the section lines, they also noted distances from section corners to landscape features (such as streams, escarpments, rock outcrops, line trees, and timber stands) and cultural features (such as cabins, fields, and trails). Sometimes, width or other dimensions of the features were recorded in the field notes. At section corners, surveyors listed the common name, distance and direction to at least two witness or bearing trees (if there were any within a reasonable distance). For each mile of section line, surveyors summarized the predominant vegetation and rated the soils (first rate, second rate, or third rate).

    For each township, deputy surveyors were required to write a general description of the township's natural and cultural characteristics. This general description was usually one paragraph in length. It often included the surveyor's assessment of land use suitability for agriculture, mining, forestry, milling, or other use of interest to settlers moving in from the eastern states. Item 20 of the 1855 General Instructions to Deputy Surveyors required this description: "Besides the ordinary notes taken on line, (and which must always be written down on the spot, leaving nothing to be supplied by memory,) the deputy will subjoin, at the conclusion of his book, such further description or information touching any matter or thing connected with the township, (or other survey), which he may be able to afford, and may deem useful or necessary to be known- with a general description of the township in the aggregate, as respects the face of the country, its soil and geological features, timber, minerals, water, etc."

Did the surveyors describe any features away from section lines?

    This didn't happen very often. The Surveyor General instructed deputy surveyors to survey offsets around major obstacles, such as a lake. This required that the surveyor establish a line parallel to the section line that would skirt the obstacle.

    The Surveyor General also instructed deputy surveyors to survey rivers that were potentially navigable. This usually resulted in establishing a base line somewhat parallel to the river and measuring perpendicular lines to strategic points--usually meanders (bends in the river). Special data were recorded in the field books (a meander table) about these "meandered" rivers. In Iowa there are portions of 14 rivers that were meandered (considered by the GLO surveyors as potentially navigable).

    Of course, there were places along the section lines where surveyors could see features off the section lines (section interiors). The areas seen depended on the topography, vegetation, weather conditions, and other factors (such as whether or not they were in a hurry).

    Offsets, meanders, and observations away from the section lines were not common. Virtually all the data recorded by the deputy surveyors was limited to the section lines. For this reason, GLO surveys are considered transect surveys rather than area-wide surveys.

    The Surveyor General required deputy surveyors to draw a map of the township, noting significant natural and cultural features. These features were sketched and labeled on a diagram sewn in the field book. The General Instructions of 1843 instructed deputy surveyors to "also make out and return with your original field notes an accurate plat or sketch of your surveys, which must exhibit the true situation of all objects noted in your field book." According to the Surveyor General's instructions of 1855, these maps were to contain "all the objects of topography on line necessary to illustrate the notes, viz: the distances on line at the crossings of streams, so far as such can be noted on the paper, and the direction of each by an arrowhead pointing downstream; also the intersection of line by prairies, marshes, swamps, ravines, ponds, lakes, hills, mountains, and all other matters indicated by the notes, to the fullest extent practicable."

    Surveyors referred to these maps as "topographies." In Original Instructions Governing Public Land Surveys of Iowa (1943, p. 11),  J. S. Dodds described topographies as "rather crude sketches and plots." In many cases, features were incompletely drawn because surveyors were limited to what they could measure and observe along section lines. Even though rivers, creeks, lakes, timber stands, valley bottoms, trails, and other extensive features may be completely drawn on the township maps, there are data points (measurements) only along section lines, resulting in a great deal of uncertainty about the features shown interior to the section lines.

    Together, topographies and field notes were considered as the deputy surveyors’ "returns" to the Surveyor General. According to the National Archives, topographies were considered preliminary field maps rather than finished plat maps. Topographies were used as a guide (along with the field notes) to later draw refined maps at the Surveyor General's office in Dubuque. Official plat maps were drawn in triplicate at a scale of 2 inches per mile, using colored ink. After quality control inspection, these official plat maps contained the Surveyor General's statement and signature approving the plat as correct. Some of the plat map sheets include a meander table below the map.

    One copy of each township plat map was originally kept at the Surveyor General's office in Dubuque, then transferred to the Secretary of State's office, then stored in the state archives of the State Historical Society of Iowa). A second copy ("headquarters plats") was originally sent to the General Land Office in Washington, D.C. and is now at the National Archives. A third copy was sent to the local land office and used as an aid to "disposing" of the land. After the local land office no longer needed their copy, it was returned to the General Land Office in Washington, D.C. and is now at the National Archives. These copies contain additional lines and annotations referring to specific parcels and landowners.

Source: Frequently Asked Questions: General Land Office Research - Department of Landscape Architecture, Iowa State University, 

Our Town of Lisbon

     Township 8 North, Range 19 East of the 4th Principal Meridian, was primarily surveyed by Deputy Surveyor Garret Vliet, along with two chain carriers, and a marker. An Affidavit To the Surveyor General (then in Ohio), written December 1, 1835 that the survey (of the portion of town he was assigned) was completed with the following men:

A.D. Wagner (?) chain carrier

William J. Barrie, chain carrier

Edward S. Gridley, marker.

    Two other surveying teams completed lesser assignments within the township:

John Brink was also a Deputy Surveyor, March 13, 1836, who worked with: William H. Henley, William Ostrander, and Ira Egleston (?) as was, 

John H. Mullett, Deputy Surveyor, with Eles (?) E. Keeney, Samuel Hubbel, and H. Johnson.

    Vliet also completed on March 14, 1836 a  survey portion of Town of Menomonee with George P. Delaplaine, chain, Richard Schustz (?), chain carrier, and Samuel Spivey, marker.

    George P. Delaplaine later gained some fame and was interviewed by the editor of the Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Volume 11, stating the following about Vliet:

November 2, 1887. This statement is the result of queries chiefly regarding General Delaplaine's recollections of Solomon Juneau and Andrew J. Vieau. The language and arrangement are those of the editor, but the statement as here given has been read to the narrator and his sanction to its publication given.-- Ed .

    "I left Cincinnati in December, 1835, then a lad, in the company of Capt. Garret Vliet, a well known surveyor, who was coming to Wisconsin on service for the government. We went to Milwaukee overland via Terre Haute and Chicago. There were only two taverns in Chicago, at the time, and everything was in a decidedly crude condition. I remember one incident, trivial in itself, but illustrative of our experience during our brief stay. The guest who had preceded me in the occupancy of my room in the hotel, had caught a muskrat in the adjoining marsh and taken it with him to his quarters, as a pet. He went off and forgot the animal, which fed upon one of my boots during the night, for want of better provender.

    After spending the winter with Captain Vliet, chiefly in surveying around the Oconomowoc lakes, I returned to Milwaukee in the spring of 1836, and entered the employ of Solomon Juneau, as a clerk. Juneau's store, at this time, was on the northeast corner of East Water and Wisconsin streets. Soon after my engaging with him, perhaps in June, 1836, he sold out that plant to a Mr. Prentiss and moved to the west side, on West Water, near Spring street, the new establishment being known as Juneau's "yellow storehouse." I was then placed in charge of the store, in which I slept, although I had my meals with the Juneau family. their dwelling being a nice, large two story house.[p.244]"

    Below are some examples from Garret Vliet field book as reported back to the General Surveyor. Note that Section 25 is marked with a large area of "prairie". This is the location where Thomas Spencer Redford and his father's family choose to settle. With open land readily available, it must have made clearing and planting much less of a labor during their early settlement time.

Sketch Map by Deputy Surveyor Garret Vliet early 1836

source: Wisconsin Public Land Survey Records: Original Field Notes

Garret Vliet's General Description of the township he surveyed in 1835-1836

    From "The History of Waukesha County, 1880", this description: The town possesses many very fine general features. All monotony is removed from the scenery by the endless variety of hills and valleys, woodland and prairie.

    The soil is clay and limestone marl, the substratum abounding in extensive beds of excellent limestone. It is what would ordinarily be called a heavy soil, being not easy to till. Farmers usually call this kind of land "white-oak land", as white-oak timber grows particularly well upon it.

    By act of the Territorial Legislature, approved January 2, 1838, the land included in the present towns of Lisbon, Pewaukee, Brookfield and Menomonee, was erected into the Town of Lisbon [1838 - the Town of Lisbon is formed within the Milwaukee County Territory along with the Towns of Summit to the west), Muskego (to the southwest), and Mukwonago (to the south). 1839/December 20 - the Town of Lisbon (which was 12 miles by 12 miles square) is split into the towns of Lisbon,  Menomonee (Township 8, Range 20, East), Pewaukee and Brookfield (each 6 miles by 6 miles square). This was approved by the Wisconsin Legislature, but not effective until after March 1, 1840. Each of the other three original Towns (see 1838) divided themselves up in like manner, but all still part of Milwaukee County. 1846 - the Town of Lisbon becomes part of the newly created Waukesha County when the 16 western most towns split from Milwaukee County. ]; the first election to be held at the house of Charles Skinner. A Subsequent act, passed March 9, 1839, established the town lines as they are now.



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