North and south of the Geographer’s Line

The Stark County map offers much more than just highways. I have used it for years to find roads, ignoring the multitude of history and geography that only awaits the right questions. I can look at the map, focused on the correct wording of Nickel Plate Avenue, and completely overlook so much else. What are all those red numbers, 1 through 36, in every township? Why are several townships numbered “Township 19”? What is the Geographer’s Line?
The middle southern boundary of Stark County is the northern boundary of the Seven Ranges, the first land surveyed by the federal government under the guidelines of the Land Ordinance of 1785, which established the procedures to survey and sell land in the Northwest Territory, starting with Ohio. The ordinance is the foundation of the rectangular land system used across the country thereafter and established townships as the basic geographic unit. A row of townships, which are six miles to a side, is a tier, and a column is a range.
Thomas Hutchinson, geographer of the United States, began surveying the Geographer’s Line on Sept. 30, 1785, at the intersection of the Pennsylvania state line and the Ohio River, now the eastern edge of East Liverpool, Ohio. That line ran 42 miles west, the Seven Ranges named for seven columns of townships numbered north in each column from the Ohio River, with number one at the river. Because the river angles sharply southwest, townships beside each other have different numbers.
The Geographer’s Line bisects Highlandtown Lake and forms the south border of Franklin Township in Columbiana County; is the boundary between Brown and Harrison townships and between Augusta and Washington townships in Carroll County, and stopped at the western edge of the seventh range, just beyond Magnolia at the intersection of Stark, Carroll and Tuscarawas counties. Numbering continued north of the Geographer’s Line: in Stark County, Washington is township 18 and Lexington, 19, in Range 6; and Nimishillen is 19 and Marlboro, 20, in Range 7. Township numbers on the Stark County map are printed in black along the north and south borders, and range numbers are printed in black along the east and west borders.
The numbering of townships continued north to a base line established on the 41st degree of latitude to adjust for converging meridians. Townships narrow in width as ranges progress north because degrees of longitude converge at the poles, so base lines were established to avoid increasingly smaller townships. Townships are numbered anew north of the 41st parallel, which was established as a base line in Ohio. The 41st parallel runs just north of the Portage/Stark border in northeast Stark County, and the north-south borders of Mahoning County townships north of Western Reserve Road don’t align with those south of that road.
The Land Ordinance stipulated that townships were to be divided into 36 sections of one square mile each, numbered, starting in the southeast corner, south to north, ending with section 36 in the northwest corner. That numbering system was changed on May 18, 1796, by act of Congress, and sections thereafter were numbered from the northeast corner of the township east to west then west to east, like a farmer plowing furrows, with section 36 in the southeast corner of the township. In Carroll County, Section One in Harrison Township, which was surveyed under the 1785 method, is at the southeast corner, at the southwest edge of Carrollton, but Section One in Brown Township, surveyed by the 1796 method, is at the northeast corner, incorporating the eastern part of Minerva, and the two are nearly 12 miles apart. Sections on the Stark County map are numbered in red.
A section, comprising 640 acres, was the minimum land purchase, at $1 per acre, as specified in 1785. The price was doubled in 1795, and minimum purchase size was decreased to 320 acres in 1800, 160 in 1804, 80 in 1820 and 40 in 1832. Federal land offices in this area were situated in Canton from 1808 to 1816 and Steubenville, 1800-40.
Those are just a few questions answered — township, street, and stream names have their sources in history, some obvious, some obscure. A map is more than a key to roads — it’s history on a grid.

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