Elgin & Knowles Release New Manual: “The U.S. Public Land Survey System for Arkansas”

Practically all USPLSS states suffer the same malady: No one manual which covers all aspects of the rectangular system of land surveys, specifically for their state. In one learned reference, where can the surveying student, the surveying educator, those preparing for the state-specific surveying exam (especially comity applicants), and even licensed practitioners study and learn of the USPLSS for their state? Typically such a manual does not exist. That void is now filled for Arkansas. The new manual, “The U.S. Public Land Survey System for Arkansas” contains complete instruction and reference on the subject. Funded through Arkansas State Surveyor Everett Rowland’s office and about two years in the making, this tremendous manual is believed to be the first of its kind in the United States.

It is fitting that this manual be prepared for Arkansas because the USPLSS in the state is so different and unique, compared to all other states. (Except, perhaps for Missouri.) The USPLSS there is different in several ways: 1.) It was surveyed under Tiffin’s Instructions and a few subsequent instructions issued by Principal Deputy Surveyor Rector in St. Louis. 2.) There are sets of “double corners” (standard and closing) along each township exterior, not just Standard Lines. 3) The Standard Lines were placed where needed, and do not follow any pattern (a method also used in Missouri). 4.) Arkansas has no statute law relative to the reestablishment of lost corners. 5.) The state’s common law is not replete with a full range of decisions from which legal principles for resurveys on the system can be discerned. (Actually there is a dearth of highly applicable cases.) 6.) With “Minimum Standards” not addressing resurveys on the USPLSS and the current “BLM Manual” being mostly not applicable to the state, the USPLSS resurveyor seeking guidance must look further. With this new manual, guidance is within.

This manual begins with the early history of the USPLSS in America. This is the period from the Land Ordinance of 1785 and continues with the development of the system into 1815. In the fall of 1815, surveys of the public lands began in the Missouri Territory with the establishment of the Initial Point to the 5th Principal Meridian in what is today east-central Arkansas. Chapter 2 describes how the state’s system of sections, townships and ranges were originally surveyed by the General Land Office (GLO) deputy surveyors. The chapter describes the surveying of standard lines, guide meridians, township exteriors and the township subdivisions. These are considered the “original surveys,” those which subdivided the State. Chapter 3 describes today’s task of conducting resurveys on the system. Once the monuments of the USPLSS become obliterated or lost, how they are to be restored or reestablished is detailed. This chapter describes the four phases of a resurvey on the system. Since statehood the Arkansas Courts have had before it issues related to resurveys on the USPLSS. The Courts have issued judgments and established precedents. Chapter 4 of the manual examines these cases and discusses the judgments. Chapter 5 examines the GLO’s “restoration manual,” and its guidelines, which came into effect shortly after the original GLO surveys in Arkansas were completed. Those guidelines (issued in 1883) are adapted to today’s practice and are converted to legal principles for the reestablishment of lost corners on Arkansas’ USPLSS. Calculations are a large part of today’s resurvey and reestablishment of lost corners. Chapter 6  explains the protraction of fractional sections and gives protraction examples. It also offers an array of single proportion and double proportion problems, applying coordinate geometry and the legal principles offered in Chapter 5.

Although written for Arkansas, the manual has application in other early USPLSS states, and especially in Missouri. It would behoove any comity applicant for an Arkansas Professional Surveyor license to read and study this manual. The manual price is $66.00 (post paid), and can be ordered through: Arkansas State Surveyor’s office; 11701 I-30, Suite 323; Little Rock, AR 72209. Phone: 501-683-1666. Email: kami.sharp@arkansas.gov.

The manual’s authors are Drs. Dick Elgin and David Knowles. These two coauthored “Legal Principles of Boundary Location for Arkansas” in 1984 and, with Dr. Joe Senne, coauthored the Lietz/Sokkia ephemeris (1985-2007) and codeveloped the celestial observation software, “ASTRO*ROM”, “ASTRO*CARO” and “ASTRO*DISK.” Dick is semi-retired and works for Archer-Elgin Surveying and Engineering, LLC (Rolla, MO). David is completely retired from the University of Arkansas and ties flies. They can be reached at elginknowles@gmail.com