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Monument men, surveyors of Michigan’s land

By Kathleen LaveBy Kathleen Lavey, Michigan DNR
LANSING—Meridian Road. Baseline Road. Townline Road. Rangeline Road. Section Street.
    These road and street names refer all the way back to the early 1800s when the U.S. Congress established a General Land Office and created the Public Land Survey System.
    Early land surveyors systematically divided Michigan into a grid of 1-mile squares, marked with wooden corner posts at half-mile intervals, following a north-south meridian, an east-west baseline, township lines, range lines and section lines.
    The posts – known as monuments – would be the basis for documenting ownership of land and establishing cities and villages, roads, streets, bridges and the boundaries of public and private lands.
    Life for a surveyor back in those days was not one of luxury.
    Michigan was vast, forested and swampy with no roads, no GPS and no easy ways for the surveyors to get where they were going.
    It wasn’t uncommon for surveyors from southern Michigan to make their way to the western Upper Peninsula by walking to Saginaw Bay, where they’d catch a steamer to Sault Ste. Marie.
    There, they might hook up with a canoe-paddling voyageur for a ride west before walking inland to commence their surveying work. Now that’s a rough commute.
    “The logistics of what they had to do to survey some of the areas of our state is just amazing,” said Jeremy Pipp, a surveyor with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources who is based Norway. “You’ve got to appreciate these extraordinary individuals, enduring these hardships, and completing their assigned work.”

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