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Township and Range System

  • By: Michael P. Conzen
  • In: Encyclopedia of Geography
  • Edited by: Barney Warf
  • Subject:General Geography, Earth & Environmental Science

The U.S. Public Land Survey System is a township and range pattern of land division that was imposed across the United States west of Pennsylvania's western boundary in territory deemed “public domain” as the early nation expanded to the Pacific Ocean. It is the foundation of a cadastral survey that defines boundaries for land ownership. It forms a gargantuan checkerboard of surveyed grid-squares defining millions of parcels of land that served literally as the framework for colonizing and developing the vast new country. Reminiscent of Roman land centuriation, at least in its geometry, the American system was first proposed by Thomas Jefferson, who saw it as the most democratic way to create a great agrarian commonwealth of independent farmers based on freehold land ownership. Neither ...

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