Survey Lines and the Michigan Road

I have mentioned, several times, in both this blog and the ITH Facebook group, survey lines and their effects on Indiana transportation. In general, the survey lines break Indiana up into one mile by one mile sections. These sections are combined into a six mile by six mile collection known as ranges and townships. There are several roads in the state named “Range Line,” as they are the north-south lines, roughly six miles apart, that separate the state into ranges east to west.

This system was set up in the “Northwest Ordinance,” the federal law passed to make sure that the land that would be sold would be easily located and documented. This was necessary because in the older states, sequentially from Delaware to Kentucky, marking land depending on more natural markers. This caused land claims to be hotly debated. It was possible that several people could own the same section of land due to these debates. Some people won, some people lost. This was not going to happen in the Northwest Territories and every territory added afterwards.

In Indiana, there are only three sections of the state that don’t follow the rules set out in the Northwest Ordinance: the Clarksville area; the Vincennes area; and the Michigan Road. The first two are actually angled to match the Ohio and Wabash Rivers, respectively. This was due to the fact that they were surveyed before the system of ranges and townships were set up. The Michigan Road doesn’t match the rest of the survey due to the treaty that created the road in the first place. While the sections are still one mile by one mile, they are not numbered as if they belong to the rest of the state.

1876 map of the Michigan Road in Cass County.

Along the old Michigan Road, now SR 25 out of Logansport, the town of Meta sits right on the border of the old Indian Territory. The treaty that created the Michigan Road stated that the Native Americans would allow the United States to purchase a 100 foot wide path from Logansport to South Bend, then west to the newly created terminus town of Michigan City. Starting east of what is now Meta, the land was surveyed, roughly from the center of the new road, in mile squares. Looking at a survey map of the state, one will notice that these sections are actually just a few feet south of the rest of the later surveyed areas surrounding it. Another thing that came be noticed is that the sections on either side of the Michigan Road sections are not, generally, one mile square. Most of them are narrower, east to west, then the mile square set by law.

Meta is in Section 16, just west of the “Michigan Road Section 45,” the is the highest number of these sections. They are numbered sequentially to a point two miles north of the Marshall-St. Joseph County line. The Michigan Road enters Fulton County, from Cass County, at the line separating sections 42 (Fulton County) and 43 (Cass County).

1876 map of the Michigan Road in Fulton County.

The Fulton County town of Fulton, still along SR 25, is located in the center of section 40. Eight miles up the road from Fulton, in section 32, the town of Rochester was planned. This is where the old road changes from what was, in 1917, the Michigan Road (not part of the new state highway system) to Original State Road 1. This is now where SR 25 intersected with the original US 31 in downtown Rochester.

North of Rochester, the Michigan Road turns due north, with the survey sections centered on the road. This starts in the center of section 28, due north to the Fulton-Marshall County line between sections 24 and 25.

The town of Argos was laid out in the very center of Michigan Road Section 20. From section 21 north to section 18, the township line between Green and Walnut townships runs along the western edge of the Michigan Road survey.

1876 map of the Michigan Road in Marshall County.

At section 13, the town of Plymouth would be platted. At this location, between 1850 and 1920, the area would be covered by the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Railway (later Pennsylvania Railroad), the Indianapolis, Peru & Chicago Railway (later the Nickel Plate), the Yellowstone Trail, the Dixie Highway and the Michigan Road. A later version of the Lincoln Highway was also traverse the area in 1928. But by then, the two major roads became US 30 and US 31.

The last of the older towns in Fulton county along this route would be La Paz, platted on the line separating sections 4 and 5. The Marshall-St. Joseph County line is located on the survey separating sections 3 and 4.

1876 map of the Michigan Road in southern St. Joseph County.

The last of the Michigan Road surveys ends one mile south of Lakeville, in St. Joseph County. Lakeville is actually in Range II East, Township 36 North, Section 34. It is located along the south line of that section, making it the line that separates Section 34 of the Indiana survey and Range II East, Township 35 North, Section 3 of the Indiana survey. The Michigan Road Survey Section 1 actually doesn’t exist.

Google Map snippet of La Paz, Indiana, showing the Marshall County roads.

Another consequence of this separate survey is that county roads, especially in Marshall County, are usually located just south of the Indiana survey lines in a section one mile around the old US 31. As shown in the map snippet above, Marshall County 1st Road jogs south as it crosses what is now called Dixie Highway (Old US 31). This was caused by the Michigan Road survey.

6 thoughts on “Survey Lines and the Michigan Road

  1. There are a few other areas of the state that are separate from the Public Land Survey System. I can think of reserves to the Northeast of Lafayette near Battleground, there are reserves in Logansport and in the Fort Wayne area. These tended to be located along waterways that were settled before the PLSS was implemented.


  2. Having read this I thought it was really enlightening. I appreciate you taking the time and effort to put this short article together. I once again find myself personally spending a lot of time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!


  3. My cofounder on the Michigan Road Historic Byway lives on Michigan Road lands in Marshall County. I remember him telling me about this ten years ago. First I’ve seen maps that show it.


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