Land and Water Boundaries

Michigan lands and waters were surveyed in the early to mid-1800’s by the Government Land Office (GLO) of the Dept. of Treasury in accord with the Public Land Survey System. The PLSS is a series of Land Acts which were passed by Congress from 1785 to 1832 through the initiative of Ben Franklin and others pursuant to the Property and Supremacy Clauses of the U.S. Constitution. The public lands of 30 states had to be surveyed and plats prepared and approved prior to any sale of lands which would become part of Michigan and the other states.

The state was basically divided into townships (six miles square), and sections (36 of them which were one mile square, 640 acres). These sections were further divided into smaller squares by repeated halving and quartering. A quarter section is 160 acres and, a “quarter-quarter section” or fraction thereof is the smallest unit that the federal government surveyed and sold (40 acres). The original federal survey (PLSS) created these boundaries of lands but also included water bodies that were meandered by that survey, Indian Reservations and private claims. The PLSS has been referred to as the greatest legally created land survey system in the world. Every judge and surveyor should have an intimate knowledge of this historic legislation.

This concept is difficult to comprehend until it is realized that land and waters before they are surveyed have no legal or physical boundaries. The PLSS created the boundaries in the 30 states. Until property rights were transferred according to that particular survey, the Government Land Office (now the BLM, Bureau of Land Management) could alter the boundaries. However, once a property right was patented (deeded), all boundaries were legally sealed and could not ever be altered.

These original statutory surveys, which were created by these Congressional statutes, were and are without error and are forever unassailable as to boundaries, area and content. No authority has ever been granted to any state or federal court, state legislature or executive department to interfere with these original boundaries.