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What is a Section Corner?

by Cindy on July 25, 2014

A corner is defined as the end point of a line or the intersection of two lines.  A section corner is the corner of a section of land.  How did that corner get there and what is a “section”?

The U.S. Public Land Survey System (USPLSS) – which was conceived primarily by Thomas Jefferson – is a system whereby the public lands of the United States were (and still are in some states) divided into regular subdivisions called Townships, Ranges, and Sections.  Each regular township contains a nominal 36 square miles; and each township is divided into 36 squares, each of which is nominally one square mile.  Each one of these squares is called a section, and the corners of a section are called section corners.

In Indiana, the sections were laid out in the early 1800s.  At that time, wood posts – not less than 3 inches in diameter and not less than 3 feet tall - were set as section corner markers.  Starting generally in the mid-1800s, the county surveyors remonumented these corners – usually with stones.  Some of those stones were marked with the section number, township number, and range number, but many were not.  To this day, stones are regularly found that were set over a hundred years ago.

When surveyors perform surveys that lie within the USPLSS and relate to corners of a section, they must completely investigate the section corner locations necessary to properly complete their surveys.  Frequently, monuments marking section corners are found below the surface requiring excavation – often in the center of a roadway or intersection.  Other corners may be lost or obliterated.  When that is the case, the location of such a corner will need to be extensively researched, and any evidence found in the field must be located.  As noted above, excavation is often necessary.  If no original wood post or subsequently-placed stone is found, the corner’s location must be properly perpetuated and a new marker set. 

The process of corner perpetuation can be very expensive when all or most evidence has been destroyed.  Yet, property boundaries remain in limbo and the precision of maps – such as a county’s GIS or tax maps are compromised until those corners are properly reestablished.