American colonial cities such as Philadelphia, Savannah, New Orleans, St. Augustine, and Santa Fe all began as gridded towns. The idea was not new. The simplicity, elegance, and orderliness of the grid also appealed to the planners of ancient Chinese capitals, Roman colonial cities, and the fortified French medieval towns known as bastides. Even so, the extent of the application of the grid to the settlements of North America during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was without historical precedent. Part of the appeal was ideological: the grid appeared to promote the orderly and egalitarian distribution and use of land. But above all it was a simple and efficient way to survey, map, and distribute large amounts of public land quickly, a method of great value to the booming new towns and cities of the Midwest and beyond.

Most of the grid plans of streets applied to most Midwestern towns and cities, Chicago included, consequently followed patterns determined by a system devised primarily for the distribution of rural land.  The Land Ordinance of 1785 called for the rapid and coordinated survey, sale, and settlement of the new national lands in the unsettled West by the imposition of a series of grids. These grids usually consisted of square townships divided into 36 square-mile sections, subdivided, as desired by land purchasers, into smaller rectangular parcels. Originally applied to the Northwest Territory (the area between the Ohio River, the Great Lakes, and the upper Mississippi River), the U.S. Public Land Survey system was repeatedly expanded during the nineteenth century under the auspices of the General Land Office to cover virtually all of the habitable land west of the Appalachian Mountains, with a few exceptions—notably much of the former Spanish Empire in the Southwest, a few pockets of former French colonies, and the original thirteen states. Its greatest force was felt in the landscape west of the Appalachians and east of the Rockies. Though set up to facilitate the distribution and settlement of rural land, the system was already established when most of the urban places in this region were platted. Consequently, this national grid also became the organizational basis for countless American cities and towns. As the most successful of these communities expanded into agricultural land, and rectangular rural land holdings became the basis for the subdivision of primarily orderly rectangular street patterns, blocks, and lots.

While the Public Land Survey readily supported urban expansion, the creators of the Plan of Chicago were not fond of its impact on Chicago. Though orderly in appearance, the survey grid aided and abetted uncoordinated real estate development and as a basis for street layouts, did not respond to local needs for crosstown circulation.

 

PRINT

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Conzen, Michael P. “The All-American County Atlas: Styles of Commercial Landownership Mapping and American Culture.”  In Images of the World: The Atlas through History, ed. John A. Wolter and Ronald E. Grim, pp. 331-65. Washington: Library of Congress, 1997.

Conzen, Michael P. "The County Landownership Map in America: Its Commercial Development and Social Transformation, 1814-1939.". Imago Mundi 36 (1984): 9-31.

Conzen, Michael P. “Maps for the Masses: Alfred T. Andreas and the Midwestern County Atlas Trade.” In Michael P. Conzen, ed. Chicago Mapmakers: Essays on the Rise of the City’s Map Trade, pp. 46-63. Chicago: Chicago Historical Society for the Chicago Map Society, 1984.

Grim, Ronald E. “Maps of the Township and Range System.” In David Buisseret, ed., From Sea Charts to Satellite Images: Interpreting North American History through Maps. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

Johnson, Hildegard Binder. Order upon the Land: The U.S. Rectangular Land Survey and the Upper Mississippi Country. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976

Renkes, Jim. The Quad-Cities and The People. Helena, MT: American & World Geographic Publishing, 1994.

Roba, William and Frederick I. Anderson, eds. Joined by a River: Quad Cities. Davenport: Lee Enterprises, 1982.

Roba, William. The River and the Prairie: A History of the Quad-Cities, 1812-1960. Davenport, Iowa: The Hesperian Press, 1986.

Shadwick, George W., Jr. History of McDonough County, Illinois: A Record of Events and Personalities in McDonough County History. Macomb: McDonough County Historical Society, 1968.

Svendsen, Marls A. and Martha Bowers. Davenport—Where the Mississippi Runs West: A Survey of Davenport History & Architecture. Davenport, Iowa: City of Davenport, 1982.

Taylor, F. A Sketch of the Military Bounty Tract of Illinois. Philadelphia: Printed by I. Ashmead & C., 1839. Graff 4075.

Van Zandt, Nicholas Biddle.  A Full Description of the Soil, Water, Timber, and Prairies of Each Lot, or Quarter Section of the Military Lands Between the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. Washington: P. Force, 1818. Graff 4464.

White, C. Albert. A History of the Rectangular Survey System. Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, [1983].

Wilkie, Franc B. Davenport, Past and Present. Davenport, IA: Luse, Lane & Co., 1858.

 

WEB

W. R. Brink & Co, “Pictorial Map of the 130 Acre Farm of Jonathan Miller, on West half of section 36, Township 18, Range 6, Northwest suburbs of Athens, Menard Co., Illinois [map].”(1874). “The Newberry Library.” http://publications.newberry.org/k12maps/ module_16/index.html

Gardiner, John Ralph. “Map of the Bounty Lands in Illinois Territory [map].” (1818). 47 x 39 cm. “Historical Maps Online. University Library: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign”. http://imagesearch.library.illinois.edu/u?/maps,2224

The Geography of American Communities, Map 16, A Farm in Menard County, Illinois, Historic Maps in K-12 Classrooms, The Newberry Library.  http://publications.newberry.org/k12maps/module_16/index.html

Hogane, James T., Lambach, H., and Edward Mendel. “Map of the city of Davenport and its suburbs, Scott County, Iowa [map].” (1857). 103 x 139 cm. “Boston Public Library’s Norman B. Leventhal Map Center Collection.” http://ark.digitalcommonwealth.org/ark:/50959/4m90f963p

The Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division. “Landownership Maps and Atlases.” https://memory.loc.gov/ammem/awhhtml/awgmd7/landownership.html

Nicholas Biddle Van Zandt, A Full Description of the Soil, Water, Timber, and Prairies of Each Lot, or Quarter Section of the Military Lands Between the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, 1818. The Newberry Library. “Border Troubles in the War of 1812.” http://publications.newberry.org/digitalexhibitions/exhibits/show/warof1...

The Newberry Library. “Border Troubles in the War of 1812.” http://publications.newberry.org/digitalexhibitions/exhibits/show/warof1...