The Rectangular Survey System

Land and Deed Terminology

The Rectangular Survey or Grid System was setup by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in order to simplify the division of land so that it could be sold. An imaginary grid was placed on the area west of the Ohio River. Baselines and Principal Meridians (PM) were set and 34 survey meridian areas were measured. The area was set to include a tract of land measuring 24 miles by 24 miles. Each tract of land was then divided into 16 townships. Townships were divided into sections.

Rectangular Survey System
Figure 1

BASELINE: Baseline is an imaginary east-west line and is used as the starting point of measurement in both directions. S would denote the land tract falls South of the line, N denotes the area falls North of the line. All parcels of land in Washington County are North of the baseline.

MERIDIAN: Meridian or Principal Meridian (PM) is the term for the imaginary north-south line used as the starting point of measurement of areas east or west of the line. Range numbers are given based on the vicinity of the area to the principal meridian. E would denote the area of land that falls East of the line and W would denote the area falls West of the line.

The early PM's were numbered, the later ones were labeled based on a geographic landmark. The Principal Meridian on which Washington County is measured is the 4th PM established in 1831 Minnesota/Wisconsin. All parcels of land in Washington County are East of the PM.

TOWNSHIP: A township is an area of land containing 6 square miles or approximately 23,040 acres. Each township was divided into 36 sections (as seen in Figure 1 above). Townships were given a number which indicated the direction of the township to the horizontal baseline (north or south). Not all townships are exactly square. Every few rows of townships there is a "jog" in the meridian because of the curve of the earth. Also due to geological formations, some townships are smaller.

TOWN: Town is the given name of an area established within an area (most often a county). Towns may or may not have the same boundary lines as a township. A town can cross over into several townships. The word town and township are often interchanged.

RANGE: Range Number indicates the direction and distance of the township in relationship to the principal meridian (east or west).

SECTION: A section is an area of land within a township. It is about 1 square mile containing approximately 640 acres each. The sections of a township are numbered as seen in Figure 1 above. Sections are then divided into half-sections and quarter-sections. Half-sections and quarter-sections could be divided and further subdivided into halves and quarters or into lots.

LOT: A lot is a fractional or odd shaped portion of land falling within a section. If a lot is included in a description of land, it will be denoted as a one- or two-digit number and may include a lower case alphabet. For example, "Lot 12a of the north-west quarter" is denoted as "12aNW" in the description.

Township: 23,040 acres
Section: 640 acres
Half section: 320 acres
Quarter section: 160 acres
Half of a quarter section: 80 acres
A quarter of a quarter: 40 acres

Thus a land description such as:
West half of the N.E. Quarter of Section 26, in the Twp no. 21N of Range 24E in Manitowoc County, WI

Would be 80 acres of land located in Two Creeks as shown below.