Surveying the Western Reserve

The Connecticut Land Company had a tiger by the tail. The tiger was the 5,700 square miles of undeveloped land that the Company had purchased from the State of Connecticut for $1,200,000. Sadly, they could not let go of the tiger’s tail until the land lying west of the Pennsylvania border had been surveyed and divided into townships. Only after this land had been surveyed could deeds be written, recorded, and the land sold. A group of 50 surveyors, chainmen, axmen, and packhorse men were assembled by Moses Cleaveland and sent west into the wilderness to hack out the boundaries in what was to be New Connecticut. Starting in April 1796, they traveled to the west by way of the Mohawk Valley and along the southern shore of Lake Erie to the cornerstone marking the northernmost point on the Pennsylvania State Line. This marker had been set by Andrew Ellicott some 10 years earlier. From Lake Erie Mr. Holley and Seth Pease, being astronomer-surveyors, were in charge of locating the southeast corner of the Western Reserve Territory. This meant surveying for seventy-four miles along the Pennsylvania line through difficult terrain occupied by rattlesnakes and unfriendly Indians. At the same time Moses Cleaveland and his survey crew continued west to the mouth of the Cuyahoga River to lay out what was to be the capitol of New Connecticut.
Surveying in the Western Reserve was extremely grueling. All of their provisions had to be carried by packhorses and were not always promptly delivered when needed. Their instruments were imperfect and trees and underbrush interfered with running long sights. The old-fashion compasses in use then required frequent correcting. Ravenous mosquitoes were never idle day or night and in clear weather the heat was oppressive. Clothing became ragged from climbing over logs and through the thickets, while the men’s shoes wore out rapidly. Surveying in the wilderness started out as a novelty, but soon the romance wore off. Every day was toil and drudgery and long intervals passed without a drop of spirit-sustaining old New England Rum.
All went well for the first 20 miles for Holley and Pease and then the land turned into a swamp for the next ten miles. (This area has become the Pymatuning Reservoir.) Excerpts from one surveyor’s journal state, “At twenty-five miles from the lake we traversed the most abominable swamp in the world. The land appears to be covered by water the greater part of the year.” Another journal entry at the fifty-third mile states, “A large creek or river about 150 feet wide, bottom gravelly and current brisk.” (This refers to the Shenango River that flow through Sharon and Farrell, Pennsylvania.) At the sixty-fifth mile from the Lake, or about one mile north of the Mahoning River the survey crew crossed the “Old Indian Path” used by eastern Indian tribes to reach the salt springs eighteen miles upstream. This path was later used by early settlers to reach township two, range two now called Youngstown, Ohio. (This Indian highway passes through the northern part of Poland Township.)
On the afternoon of July 21
st Holley and Pease arrived at what they had determined to be the southeast corner of New Connecticut. Two days later Surveyors Moses Warren and Amos Shafford arrived with a party of thirteen men. Together they placed a chestnut post sixteen by twelve inches at this spot with the inscription on the west side: “New Connecticut July 23, 1796” and on the east side “Pennsylvania.” From that post all the surveyors started westerly, measuring the southern border of the Western Reserve as they went. At the southwest corner of Poland Township Holley turned north to run the first range line back to the Lake. At another five mile interval Shafford ran the second range line, Warren the third, and Pease the fourth. This completed the survey for the first year’s effort and although it was less than the officials back in Connecticut had hoped it was still a good beginning. Continued on next page……

Surveying continued…..

Back in Connecticut the surveyors’ journals were eagerly read to find the most desirous lands for development. It was noted by Turhand Kirtland that the east boundary line of Town One, Range One (Poland) was only twenty-five miles by river from Beaver Town where provisions of all kinds could be procured, and that the west boundary line crossed a valley ideally suited for the construction of dams for grist and saw mills.
Most colonial farmers understood the rudiments of surveying. They had grown up reciting the catechism of land measures imported from England: 660 feet to a furlong, one square furlong bounded 10 acres: eight furlongs to a mile, one square mile bounded 640 acres. All were divisible by the surveyor’s measure of distance, the
Gunter’s chain, with its 100 links and length of 66 feet, each link being 8 inches in length. Surveyors were hired to run property lines to encompass the best land. This system was called metes and bounds and it made for good farms. Its disadvantage lay in the landscape it produced: a crazy quilt of property lines of great complexity. The remedy for such confusion was found in New England where square townships were laid out in the cardinal directions (NSEW) before the settlers came, placing church, school, and meeting hall at the center. This clear and straight-forward planning for settlements could be surveyed quickly and reduced needless disputes and litigation. The directors of the Connecticut Land Company chose the five-mile square township for the Western Reserve because its size was small enough to be crossed in several hours by wagon and large enough to require civil administration. Each of the square miles could also be divided into quarter sections containing 160 acres and further divided into quarter-quarter sections of 40 acres whose purchase price most settlers could afford.
The Gunter chains with their iron links would wear with continuous use and in time the chain would become slightly longer. This may account for the fact that the southeast corner of the Western Reserve is approximately four-tenths of a mile further south than the forty-first parallel, which was the boundary set by the King Charles II Charter. It may also be that the first surveyors in the field were being rushed by their bosses back East and could not find the time to check their calculations. Whatever the cause, this error was not discovered until the southern boundary line of the Western Reserve had reached its western end. By that time it was too late to make any changes.
While the surveyors were busy staking out the land, governing bodies in our new nation’s capitol were at work laying out new states and counties. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 had set the number of states northwest of the Ohio River at no more than five and no less than three. It also established a plan for territorial governments and a system for the entry of new states into the Union. Jefferson County was established in 1797 to include the most eastern portion of the Ohio Territory. Three years later it was further divided at the forty-first parallel and called Trumbull County with the City of Warren being the county seat. (See Issue No. 28) It is interesting to note that this city was named for Moses Warren, a surveyor who was part of the first group hired to lay out the eastern five ranges of the Western Reserve. It was later in 1808 that Trumbull County was divided north of Kinsman, Gustavus, Greene, Bloomfield, and Mesopotamia Townships and this northern portion was named Ashtabula County. The name “Ashtabula” came from the Indian name for “Fish River”, which flows north through the county and empties into Lake Erie at the City of Ashtabula.
In the three months the surveyors had been on the Reserve they had only measured 20 miles westerly from the southeast corner. All the territory east of the Cuyahoga River and west of the fourth range line remained untouched. None of the land intended for sale was ready except in the neighborhood of Cleveland. Neither the surveyors nor the land company were satisfied with the results. The investors had little to show for the $14,000 that had been expended and they were still holding the tiger’s tail.