Surveying History

The following sections about surveying history are provided by Olson Engineering, Inc. to help surveyors and other interested parties better understand the surveying past. We hope you find them useful and informative.


Surveying usually involves research and a detailed understanding of situations in the past. Property transactions are traced back to the original patents from the U. S. Government. Rivers and land features noted in deeds are many times relative to where those features existed geographically at the time of the conveyance. Road and street right-of-ways widen and move over time. Surveyors have created property descriptions and located property lines since the arrival of the Pilgrims. The surveyor's personal records perpetuate the location of missing monuments and surveys long after the surveyor is gone.

The West was surveyed by the U. S. Government just before or after settlement occurred. In Oregon and Washington, this started in 1851. The habitable countryside was divided into square miles, called Sections, with controlling corners being set about every one-half mile. Wooden posts or stones monumented the corners, and trees were marked nearby to reference the corner. An important guiding principle is, "...these original corners on the boundaries of the surveyed Sections were to govern the property lines within, even if the corners were obliterated, if their positions could be perpetuated by other evidence." Surveyors are continually asking themselves questions such as, "Is this where the monument was set in 1873?"

Surveyors have naturally developed an appreciation of history, and seek out sources of historical information to aid them in their property surveys. Employees of Olson Engineering have found documentation, photos, lists and maps to help them better understand the surveying past. Some are posted here to help other surveyors and to expand the understanding of surveying.