General Land Office Surveyors of Washington


by Jerry Olson, President, Olson Engineering, Inc.

Much of my time in the '60s, '70s and '80s was spent in calk boots, suspenders and vest doing General Land Office (GLO)-type surveys. Sure, there were some town surveys involved, but the ones I remember best were the ones that involved cadastral retracement.

After awhile, patterns of behavior for various GLO surveyors emerge, and it is obvious that better surveys will result if a "profile" of the surveyor you are retracing is developed. Local surveyors were exchanging information at chapter meetings, but at this time the extent of Contracts for individual GLO was unknown.

About 1980, Steve Johnson of the United States Forest Service was pursuing a very tough survey in the Entiat Valley. His research led him to the Department of Interior Archives at Sand Pointe in Seattle, Washington. Many of the mysteries of the General Land Office opened up when he found boxes of archived material dating back to the time of the Contract Deputy Surveyors. There were contracts, bonds, inspections, correspondence, and more.

The items of interest dealt with here were several lists that catalogued the material by "GLO Contract", "Deputy Surveyor", "Date", and "Section, Township, and Range." Steve gave me a copy of the lists, and I set out to organize it. First, however, I dove in and found out where the Deputy Surveyors I had been following had surveyed. I used that information to contact other land surveyors and compare notes.

This was before databases or PC word programs. We copied the lists hundreds of times and then collated the two-foot-tall pile of copies. A private stenographer was hired to type up the draft list and Land Surveyors Association of Washington (LSAW) chapter members helped me edit the results. Even in the final result, there were many errors and much illegible information. The association paid for the printing, hoping to get reimbursed out of the sale of the product. My wife, Patti, did the cover illustrations.

After the development of the "Surveyors Database" in the mid-'90s, I took on the task of redoing the First Land Surveyors of Washington. The new information in the database helped get the names right, clear up mixed data and sort out brothers and fathers in surveying families. Also, many Contracts were under the Oregon Surveyor General, which had caused confusion. I created the information in Microsoft Word, using "Tables". Denny DeMeyer and Wes Schlenker helped review the new product.

The Department of Interior information is mostly from the original source and hand-written lists. It is my hope that new computerized data will emerge from an agency having higher technical capabilities. I have viewed many township plats online to correct data.

Jerry Olson: or