History of Land Surveying

The rectangular land survey system established by the congressional land ordinance of May 20, 1785, set into motion a wave of exploration programs to measure, divide, and map public lands in America.


County surveyors, under the direction of territorial surveyors general, laid out townsites to define lots and distribute them to oncoming settlers. All of these surveyors and engineers produced a cartographic legacy as they explored the frontier, described arable regions, and laid the foundation for the orderly disposal of public lands.


The division of farmland outside of the townsites was conducted by the territorial or county surveyor, but these surveyors measured from the corner markers of townships sections established by the earlier federal rectangular survey.


The first Cache Valley surveys were laid out in sixty-seven days by Frederick H. Burr, U.S. deputy surveyor, who ran five miles of line per day under Contract No. 6, dated July 15, 1856. The completed surveys were approved by David H. Burr, then U.S. surveyor general for Utah, at the Salt Lake City branch of the U.S. land office on September 27, 1856—at virtually the same time that Peter Maughan's first colonizing wagons were rolling into Cache Valley at the foot of the Wellsville Range. The subdivision or farm surveys, as they were called, began in Cache Valley on January 21, 1859, when the valley's presiding bishop, Peter Maughan, appointed a committee of three men, John P. Wright, John Nelson, and Israel J. Clark, to see that the first tracts of land were surveyed and distributed equally.


The streets and lots within the boundaries of the first townsites (forts) were also surveyed by these appointed men. While the laying out of streets and lots within the primitive fort pattern was not dictated by a federally prescribed pattern, neither did they conform exactly to the typical grid pattern that has remained characteristic of Mormon settlements, and territorial surveyors later had to adjust the size and direction of lots. Utah Historical Quarterly Fall 2000 Volume 68 Number 4 "Running the LIne: James Henry Martineau's Surveys in Northern Utah, 1860-1882 by Noel A. Carmack.


"The surveyor goes in advance of civilization. He traverses the wilderness and the deserts, as the foremost drop of spray of advancing tide, as it encroaches upon the shore. And so his work, of necessity, carries him away from the comforts of home."  J. H. Martineau



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