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History of surveying at Old Mill



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October 03, 2012 - At 7 p.m., Oct. 16 the Ortonville Historical Society will host surveyor and historian Jack Owens, who will discuss his work regarding the history of surveying and the establishment of property lines in Brandon, Groveland and Atlas townships along with other communities of Michigan.

The event will be held at the Old Mill in Ortonville.

Owens has held survey licenses in seven states and has more than 45 years of experience in land surveying. He is a member of the Michigan Society of Professional Surveyors (MSPS). Professional surveyors from the MSPS travel around Michigan and beyond to various events and schools presenting the history of land surveying.

Like Owens, also a professional surveyor and historian, Craig Amey, of Shelby Township-based Anderson, Eckstein & Westrick—Civil Engineers, Surveyors, and Architects, has worked for several decades in establishing property lines throughout Michigan.

"The early surveyors of Michigan worked from about 1815-1857 under the Office of U.S. Surveyor General when the area was only a territory. The United States had just completed the War of 1812 and needed cash to pay the war debt so they decided to establish value in land to cover some of the shortfall. Congress then sent the surveyors to Michigan to measure and map land along with determining characteristics of the countryside. They also created an inventory of rivers and minerals along with natural resources that were available."

"Anyway that was the plan when the surveyors came first to Monroe County in the southeastern section of the state. They reported back that Monroe County was flat and swampy with not one in 100 acres that could be inhabited. For that matter not one in 1,000 acres were usable, according to the report. So the surveyors just quit. That's when Lewis Cass, who served as governor of the Michigan Territory from 1813-1831, convinced the surveyors to return. Cass led a horseback ride north from Monroe across Genesee and Oakland counties to show them there is some great land in the area," he said.

Army added that Michigan was the first territory to use a rectangular system set up by Thomas Jefferson, who was very interested in measurements. The largest subdivision of land established was the Public Land Survey Township (as opposed to political township), which measures six miles square. Then each township like Atlas, Brandon and Groveland is comprised of 36 sections, and each section has an area of one square mile or 640 acres of land.

"The early surveyors measured in 'chains,' no feet or inches were used. One chain is four rods or 66 feet. The surveyors would extend a chain end-to-end 40 times exactly one-half mile then a wooden post was put in the ground. They covered every inch of Michigan. But those old posts would not last forever. And we've found at least one of those posts in the area. That corner was established in 1817. The post was recovered about four feet under the road surface. For all property owners those points across the state are still used today."

Owens will discuss how those landmarks established are used today and some of the old equipment will be displayed during the event. To reserve a seat contact Mary Alice Seelbinder, 248-627-4429 or Judy Miracle, 248-627-4656.

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