Volume X, No. 3, Spring 1983
Your Bittersweet magazine is great. I was born and raised in Rolla, Missouri and was in the same civil engineering classes with Bob Elgin whom you featured in the Winter '82 copy. For some unaccountable reason we have not seen each other since our graduations from MSM-UMR in 1937. My congratulations to your fine writers.
Port Hueneme, California
How remarkable that Deidra Morgan could write so knowingly about surveying the frontier as if
she had been there. (Bittersweet, Winter, 1982) And how fine that the original surveyors of the
West are now getting a little credit after all the praise that has been heaped on those pioneer
glamour boys, the conquistodores, the explorers, the Indian scouts, the mountain men, fur traders
and cowboys. After all, the surveyors went into the wilderness ahead of the settlers, too. It must
have been a very difficult and dangerous job.
The results of their work can be seen any time you travel outside of the 13 original states and Kentucky and Tennessee. The frontier surveyors created the "world's greatest subdivision"--that checkerboard system of pinpointing the location of rural land that starts at the Pennsylvania-Ohio border and covers most of the remainder of the USA. In the older 15 states property boundaries were defined by cumbersome "metes and bounds" descriptions. Having grown up on the prairies of western Missouri, I have always marveled at the accuracy of the pioneer surveyors.
Deidra failed to say that in most of the flat Middle West, the rural roads are on the section lines, giving the countryside a succession of mile-square "country blocks." This results in most of the property lines and fences running due east-west and north-south, so that Midwesterners have a keen sense of direction that few Easterners have. Perhaps she omitted this reference because in the Ozarks it was usually too hilly to build roads straight along the section lines.
When you fly west from Pittsburgh, it is apparent below when you have crossed the Ohio state line. That is where the fence lines and roads begin to run straight in the four diections. At the Missouri-Kansas border the east-west township and section lines of one state miss the other state's by about 1/8 mile. So, when you fly from Joplin to Kansas City, you can tell where the state line is by all those jogs in the country roads, similar jogs are often found in the north-south lines. These are adjustments made necessary because the range lines or meridians all point to the true north and therefore cannot remain parallel forever.
I believe that Thomas Jefferson had a hand in devising the mile-square system of land identification that the pioneer surveyors laid down. It was used throughout his Louisiana Purchase. It was a very ingenious method for a flat and empty country. And Bittersweet is to be congratulated for telling how it was applied to the land.
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