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The Jog in the Road

by Norman on August 19, 2014

Have you ever been out on that Sunday drive taking the back roads or even along city streets and come to a jog in the road and wondered, ‘Why did they do that?” 
 
Some of the time it is to get a better alignment for a bridge over a stream or for the road to go around some obstacle, but more often than not it is because of the way our public lands were surveyed some two hundred years ago. In the early years of this country’s growth, land conveyances in New England, Kentucky, and Tennessee were described by identifying objects such as centers of roads and streams, certain trees, rocks, or anything visible. Many problems arose from this type of description; roads and streams changed, there were disagreements over which tree or rock was intended to mark the boundary. There had to be a better way.
 
The Continental Congress passed the Ordinance of 1785 which initiated the requirement that lands be first divided into grids so that lands could be divided and described uniformly, now known as the United Stated Public Land System. There were several ordinances passed following the original of 1785, but in general those ordinances instructed the early surveyors on how to divide the country into those grids. Generally, the surveyors began at a base point and ran meridian lines north and south and a base line which ran east and west. The next phase involved dividing the land into six mile squares known as townships (these are not governmental townships found within counties). The lines run north and south from the base line were called range lines and the lines east and west from the meridian were known as township lines. The procedure involved placing a wood post on the township and range lines at one-half mile intervals (standard corners). The surveyors later divided the six mile squares into 36 one mile squares (sections). The method generally used to create the one mile squares was to start near the southeast corner of the township and run lines (section lines) north and west once again setting posts at one-half mile intervals. When they would intersect the north and west lines of the previously established six mile divisions a new post was set (closing corner) which probably would not have matched the older post (standard corner). They did not correct the section line to match the standard corner previously set. This distance between the closing corner and standard corner, or falling, was merely noted and could be within a foot or hundreds of feet different.
 
When counties began constructing roads, the preference was to follow the range, township and section lines. When a road ran north, let’s say, along a section line and came to the township line, it was necessary to jog the road to be able to run along the section line in the next township north, because of the falling between closing corner and standard corner. Don’t blame the surveyors, they were simply following the instructions given them on how to divide up the land.