Equalization Department

Kelly Rifenbark - Equalization Director
Jeff Wenglikowski - Senior Appraiser
Jennifer DeLorge - Tax Mapping & Legal Descriptions

Bay County Building
515 Center Avenue, Suite 212
Bay City, Michigan 48708-5941
Voice: (989) 895-4075
Fax: (989) 895-4078

A History of Government Surveys in Bay County

Compiled by Michael T. Neese, 2008   

With the expansion of the United States into the vast wilderness of the west, the federal government faced a situation in which it needed a system of allotting land into parcels easily described and well marked on the ground, in order to be able to sell and distribute the large area of newly acquired territory. A system of rectangular surveys was mandated by Congress by the Land Ordinance of 1785[1]. Several methods were tried, and amendments to the Ordinance were numerous through the next several years. Finally, a universal system was spelled out by the first set of instructions for the Deputy Surveyor issued by Surveyor General Edward Tiffin in 1815.[2] These instructions defined a universal system of establishing township section lines.  

In 1815 the surveying of what was then the Territory of Michigan commenced with the establishment of the Michigan Meridian and Baseline. The Meridian line was defined as running due north from the mouth of the Au Glaize River in Defiance, Ohio. From there, surveyors set out due north 78 miles to establish the initial point, which would be the intersection with the Baseline.[3] The Baseline was to run east and west from that point. The initial point eventually would lie on the border of Ingham & Jackson Counties. All townships would be measured by their number north or south of the baseline and east or west of the meridian. The township immediately adjacent north of the baseline & east of the meridian (with the initial point on its southwest corner) for example, would be called Town 1 North, Range 1 East (T1N R1E). The township and range lines were to be surveyed first. Each range line was to be run due north at intervals of six miles, a wood post or monument to be placed every half mile. The township lines were run east and west at intervals of six miles to complete the township line grid, posts or monuments placed in a similar manner as range lines. Using the guidance of the 1815 Instructions, surveyors would then subdivide the townships into 36 sections of one square mile each. 

6  5  4 3 2 1
7  8   9  10  11  12 
18 17 16 15 14 13
19 20 21 22 23  24 
30 29 28 27 26 25
31 32 33 34 35 36 

Typical Township of 36 Sections

The most noticeable characteristics of the 1815 Instructions are the offset intersections of section lines on the north and west lines of the townships and the system of "fractional" sections being the north line and west line of sections in the township. The instructions specified that section lines intersect the posts established on the south and east lines of the township by the survey of the town & range lines. The section lines running due north were to be monumented at the north township boundary exactly where they intersected; likewise, the section lines running west would be monumented at exactly where they intersected the west township line. The section lines, therefore, did not usually connect at the township boundaries, but would zigzag abruptly between townships. Section lines were run northward or westward with posts set every half mile. Any shortness or excess of measurement would be placed at the end of the last half mile of section, being at either the north or west end of the township, thus, a Fractional Section is created, due to the area being greater or less than a square mile. 

Over the next several years after the establishment of the Initial Point, several men commissioned as Deputy Surveyors for the General Land Office (GLO) formed survey parties who took to the wilderness and established town lines, range lines and eventually subdivided the townships into sections, to the specifications of their GLO contracts and the current GLO manual of instructions. The surveyors filled townships in throughout the Territory & eventually State of Michigan in a fairly piecemeal fashion depending on where the need was most urgent.  

The acquisition of the land comprising the present boundaries of Bay County by the United States can be traced to the Treaty of Saginaw of September 24th, 1819.[4] The Treaty between the United States and the Saginaw Tribe of the Chippewa Nation which had been negotiated on the banks of the Saginaw River by Lewis Cass and the chiefs and delegates of the Chippewa ceded the land adjacent to the Saginaw Bay to the United States. There were with several exceptions to the cession. These exceptions, or Reserves, were specified in the text of the treaty by a general location and size. Of the 31 specific Reserves specified in the Treaty, six lie within the current boundaries of Bay County.  

Map of Reserve and Township Surveys

The locations of the six reserves are described in the text of the Saginaw Treaty as follows: "One tract, of six thousand acres, on the north side of the river Kawkawking, at the Indian village", "One tract, of two thousand acres, where Nabobask formerly lived", "One tract, of one thousand acres, near the island in the Saginaw River", "One tract, of forty thousand acres, on the Saginaw River, to be hereafter located", "For the use of John Riley, the son of Menawcumegoqua, a Chippewa woman, six hundred and forty acres of land, beginning at the head of the first march above the mouth of the Saginaw River, on the east side thereof", and "For the use of the children of Bokowtonden, six hundred and forty acres, on the Kawkawling River". The Treaty of Saginaw was proclaimed by the United States on March 25th, 1820.  

Most of the boundaries of the six Reserves have been preserved in some manner by currently recognizable landmarks. 

Today, The Nabobask Reserve, later known as the Nebobish Reserve, lies on the east side of the Saginaw River and encompasses what is today the City of Essexville. The south boundary lies in the centerline of Nebobish Avenue and Woodside Avenue, the eastern boundary lies on the centerline of N Southeast Boutell Road in Hampton Township, and the north boundary lies roughly ¾ mile north of and parallel to Arms Road.  

The John Riley Reserve lies entirely within Bay City, and is also on the east shore of the Saginaw River. The south boundary of the Riley Reserve is the centerline of Columbus Avenue, the east boundary being the centerline of Johnson Street, and the North boundary being the centerline of Woodside Avenue.  

The 1000 Acres Reserve lies on the east side of the Saginaw River in the south end of Bay City, the north boundary being the centerline of Cass Avenue, the east boundary lying a few hundred feet west of Lincoln Street, and the south boundary lying approximately ¼ mile south of German Road.  

The Reserve at the village on the Kawkawling River, later known as the Kawkawlin River, was to contain 6000 acres. It lies north of the river and east of the town of Kawkawlin. The reserve's Western boundary runs northwesterly near the eastern side of the North Branch of the Kawkawlin River, then turns Northeasterly through Tobico Lagoon, the eastern boundary being Saginaw Bay.  

The Bokowtonden Reserve is a northwesterly oriented tract of 640 acres lying on the north shore of the Kawkawlin River west of the town of Kawkawlin. Its north boundary is defined by Townline 14 Road.  

The Reserve of 40,000 Acres encompasses all of Bangor Township south of the Kawkawling Reserve, most of Monitor Township south of the Kawkawlin River, all of Bay City west of the Saginaw River and most of the eastern two thirds of Frankenlust Township. Its southern boundary lies in Saginaw County about half a mile south of the Bay County line. 

The Reserve boundaries can be traced thanks to the work of the first GLO first surveyor to run lines in Bay County. Deputy Surveyor Joseph Wampler arrived in 1821 to run township and range lines in Bay County, and completed the outlines of townships east of the Saginaw River (T13N R5E, T13N R6E, T14N R5E & T14N R6E, being Portsmouth, Merritt, Hampton Twps. and part Bay City). After completing his work on the township lines east of the Saginaw River, Mr. Wampler returned in 1822 to set the outermost linear boundaries of the six Reserves.  

Later in 1822, Mr. Wampler established the outlines of T13N R4E, T14N R4E, T15N R4E, T16N R4E & T17N R5E (parts of Frankenlust, Monitor, Kawkawlin, Fraser & Pinconning Twps.) lying outside of the Indian Reserves. He then subdivided the parts of T13N R4E, T13N R5E & T14N R5E (Frankenlust Twp, part of Bangor Twp & part of Bay City) lying outside of the Reserves into their square mile sections. 

For 9 years GLO surveying activity in Bay County lay dormant, until 1831 when Deputy Surveyor Robert Clark Jr. received a contract to run more town and range lines[5]. He surveyed the northern and western town and range lines for T14N R3E, T15N R3E, T16N R3E, T17N R3E, and T17N R4E (Williams, Beaver, Garfield, Mt. Forest and part of Pinconning Twps.), and completed the work late in the year. That same year, Deputy Surveyor Hervey Parke subdivided T14N R3E & T15N R3E (Williams & Beaver Twps.). 

In 1833, a new manual of instructions was issued to Deputy Surveyors in Michigan. The instructions were much more specific than the 1815 instructions on the establishment of township lines, the subdivisions of townships, and accommodating for errors in measurement. A major change from the 1815 instructions was the connection of section lines on the west line of a township to match the intersection of the section lines of the adjacent township. This caused continuity of the east to west section lines between townships. The section lines running due north were still, however, to be monumented at the north township boundary exactly where they intersected. The section lines running north and south would continue to be offset at the township boundaries. 

Two years passed since the last GLO survey work concluded in Bay County. Then in 1834 the party led by Deputy Surveyor Orange Risdon surveyed the subdivisions of T13N R6E & T14N R6E (Merritt and part of Portsmouth and Hampton Twps.) while working on a large portion of the Thumb region to the east.[6]  

A few more years pass with very little work in Bay County being completed. In 1837 Deputy Surveyor Lewis Clason completed work for his contract to extend town & range lines in the north, including the remaining boundaries of T18N R3E (Gibson Twp.), and a good portion of what is now Arenac County.[7] 

Also in 1837, Deputy Surveyor James A. Rousseau completed his commission to survey subdivisions of T16N R3E, T17N R3E, T18N R3E, and those parts of T15N R4E and T15N R5E lying outside of the Reserve, while Deputy Surveyor Richard H. Rousseau completed subdivision surveys of T16N R4E, T17N R4E, T16N R5E and T17N R5E. James A. Rousseau's party also surveyed that part of T14N R4E lying southwest of the 40,000 Acres Reserve. Unfortunately, the work for most of these townships surveyed by the Rousseaus would be later rejected by the Surveyor Generals Office in Cincinnati. 

Within weeks of Michigan becoming as state on January 26th 1837, several chiefs and delegates of the Saginaw tribe of the Chippewa Nation met in Detroit and met with Michigan legislator and Indian Agent Henry R. Schoolcraft, who served as commissioner for the United States, to negotiate a cession of the lands covered by the Treaty of Saginaw.[8] The cession treaty was finalized on January 14th, 1837 and proclaimed by the United States on July 2nd 1838.  

The cession of the Reserves in the Saginaw Valley opened thousands of acres of valuable unsurveyed land on the west bank of the Saginaw River. The GLO quickly awarded the contract to survey the interior of the former Reserves to Deputy Surveyor John Mullett. By the end of 1839, he had the township lines and section lines established in those parts of T13N R4E, T13N R5E, T14N R5E & T15N R5E inside the Reserves (part of Frankenlust, Bangor Twp. and part of Bay City). In 1840 Mr. Mullett finished the subdivision of the interior of the 40,000 Acres and Kawkawling Reserves in T14N R4E & T15N R4E (Monitor & Kawkawlin Twps.); the interiors of the Bokowtonden and John Riley Reserves were not subdivided considering their smaller sizes. Later in 1840 Mr. Mullett moved on to resurvey the portion of T14N R4E (Monitor Twp.) north of the Reserve that had been completed by Mr. Rousseau in 1837.  

Acting upon several complaints, on February 1st, 1842, the Michigan Legislature passed a Joint Resolution requesting that the President of the United States have the General Land Office resurvey several townships in northeast Michigan on the grounds that they were "either not surveyed, or have been so imperfectly surveyed that said work be valueless."[9]  Included in the overall list of townships in the report were most of the Bay County townships contracted to James and Richard Rousseau, the work having been done in 1837. When directed by the President and the Commissioner of the GLO to act on the matter, Surveyor General Ezekiel Haines requested well known surveyor and inventor William A. Burt to field review the townships for shoddy workmanship.[10]  He would also be checking for the possibility that Rousseau had committed fraud in his survey work as had been rumored by some Deputy Surveyors in Michigan.[11] After receiving an unsatisfactory report on the status of the Rousseau surveys, Surveyor General William Johnston issued instructions dated May 12th, 1843 to Deputy Surveyors John Mullett & John Burt, son of William A. Burt, to complete the surveys.[12] John Burt completed the resurvey of T15N R4E, T16N R4E, T17N R4E, T16N R5E & T17N R5E (Kawkawlin, Fraser and Pinconning Twps.) in 1843. John Mullett returned to Bay County in 1846, fulfilling his contract[13] to resurvey the remaining Rousseau townships (T16N R3E, T17N R3E & T18N R3E, being Garfield, Mt. Forest & Gibson Twps.) and had them completed by the beginning of autumn. The only remaining portions of James Rousseau's work in Bay County not to be resurveyed were the sections in T14N R4E & T15N R5E. 

When John Mullett finished his commission in 1846, The General Land Office surveys of Bay County were nearly complete. In 1853, the Surveyor Generals Office, now in Detroit, commissioned Deputy Surveyor George H. Cannon to survey the islands of the Saginaw River & Saginaw Bay and connect them to the Michigan surveys.[14] Included in the commission was the "Middlegrounds" island in the Saginaw River. This island straddles the line between townships T14N R5E & T13N R5E. Mr. Cannon was instructed to connect this with the surveys of the left bank of the river and measure the perimeter at the low water mark.  The survey of the Middlegrounds was actually completed in 1856 by a Saginaw surveyor by the name of Alexander Alberti.[15] That work was finally recognized by the GLO on August 10th, 1870. 

With the conclusion of survey of the Middlegrounds, the General Land Office surveys of Bay County were complete.


[1] Stewart, L. O., Public Land Surveys: History, Instructions, Methods. Collegiate Press, Ames, IA, 1935, p. 16
[2] Robillard, W. G. et al. Evidence and Procedures for Boundary Location. Wiley & Sons. Hoboken, NJ, 2006. p. 264
[3] Berry, R.M., Special Instructions to Deputy Surveyors in Michigan 1808-1854. MI Museum of Surveying, Lansing, MI, 1990. p. 376
[4]"U.S. Treaty of  September 24, 1819", United States Statutes at Large, 7 Stat. 203.
[5] Berry, R.M., Special Instructions to Deputy Surveyors in Michigan 1808-1854. MI Museum of Surveying, Lansing, MI, 1990. p. 133
[6] Ibid. p. 217
[7] Ibid. p. 233
[8] "U.S. Treaty of January 14, 1837", United States Statutes at Large, 7 Stat. 528.
[9] Berry, R.M., Special Instructions to Deputy Surveyors in Michigan 1808-1854. MI Museum of Surveying, Lansing, MI, 1990. p. 251
[10] Ibid. p. 260
[11] Burt, J. S. They Left Their Mark, William Austin Burt and his Sons, Surveyors of the Public Domain. Landmark Enterprises. Rancho Cordova, CA, 1985. p.55
[12] Berry, R.M., Special Instructions to Deputy Surveyors in Michigan 1808-1854. MI Museum of Surveying, Lansing, MI, 1990 p. 263
[13] Ibid. p. 281
[14] Ibid. p. 343
[15] United States GLO. [Island in Saginaw RiverSec. 5 T13N R4E, Sec 32 T14N R5E][map]. 2" = 1 mile. (1856).

Map Sources:
United States GLO survey maps of townships, images available online at:  http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/