Sargent County North Dakota Township Map

Information about Surveys of Public Lands

The Land Ordinance of 1785, enacted by the Continental Congress on May 20, 1785 authorized the rectangular system of public land surveys conducted in the Public Domain States. The Land Act of 1796 later changed this Ordinance.

The law provides that public lands of the United States (which includes North Dakota and 29 other states) shall be divided by lines intersecting true north and south lines at right angles so as to form townships six miles square. The townships, in turn, are divided into 36 sections, each one mile square and containing approximately 640 acres in each section.
Elements of the rectanglar survey include:

An Example of a Public Land Survey

In this rectangular plan the township boundaries are intended to be due north and south or due east and west. The boundaries running north and south are termed "range lines." The boundaries running east and west are called "township lines."

The Initial Point governing ND land surveys is known as the Fifth Principal adopted in 1815. The Fifth Principal governs surveys (wholly or in part) in the states of Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota*, and South Dakota. The coordinates for the Fifth Principal are latitude 34 38' 45" and longitude 91 03' 07". (* wholly) Thank you to Lorraine A. Manz, Geologist

North Dakota Geological Survey     Tel: (701) 328 8000
600 East Boulevard                         Fax: (701) 328 8010
Bismarck, ND 50505-0840            E-mail:

If you have other questions regarding initial points for land surveys Lorraine recommends this web page, which is on the California BLM website.

Click here to see how townships are numbered.

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Copyright 1997-2010
Char Kibbie
Sargent Co., NDGenWeb Coordinator