The Curt Brown Chronicles: Line Trees

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When the original section lines of the U. S. sectionalized land system were run, especially in forested areas, it was not uncommon for original surveyors to mark line trees in accordance with the instructions issued by the Surveyor General. The following question was raised by R. E. Schmeling on behalf of the Upper Peninsula Chapter of the Michigan Society of Registered Land Surveyors. "In accordance with the original surveyor’s notes, the following original points were found: (1) The NW corner of the section, (2) the north quarter corner of the section, and (3) a line tree located 7.12 chains easterly of the NW section corner and located 9 links north of a straight line connecting the section and quarter corners. The record distance between the section corner and the quarter comer was 40 chains and it was re-measured as 40.13 chains. The line tree was originally reported as being 7.06 chains east of the section corner and it was found to be 7.12 chains easterly (see figure). What effect, if any, does the line tree have on locating the 1/16 corner"?

The 1/16 corner was not originally set; no method other than proportional measurement can be used. The rule for setting the 1/16 corner for most sections of land, is to set the corner half way and on a straight line between the section and quarter corners (there are exceptions to this, but it is assumed that this rule, in the absence of line tree or other line objects, would apply in this case).

Contrary to locating the 1/16 corner on a straight line is the rule: An original monument, once called for, is unalterable in position except where a superior right is interfered with (senior right, etc.). A line tree is just as much an original monument as is a section or quarter corner. Can we ignore an original monument merely because it is not on a straight line? Do we ignore a quarter corner when it is not on a straight line between section corners? In reading court cases, I have found a number of cases where line trees have been recognized as controlling. Although there are probably a few cases to the contrary, I have never found a case where an original identifiable line tree was not recognized. In a few cases, even blazed trees located on either side of the line have been recognized as controlling direction. The difference between a line tree and a blazed tree off line can be distinguished by the types of markings (see Evidence and Procedures for Boundary Location, by Curtis Brown and Winfield Eldridge, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, page 47). Although I am not sure of the Michigan situation and there may be a rule different from the majority opinion (witness the remnant rule in Minnesota), I would use a line tree to control direction until proven otherwise.

In the matter of proration, there is the rule: Proration may never be applied beyond a found original position. The only fixed positions with zero error of position are called for objects or monuments in deeds or conveyances (water excepted). Original standard corners (not closing corners), once found undisturbed, are not altered by proration. This holds for all original called for positions. A line tree is declared by the notes to be on the line at a definite distance from other corners. My solution would be to set the 1/16 corner on a straight line between the line tree and the quarter corner at a point proportional distance between the two, that is: (20.00 x 27.12) 27.06 from the quarter corner.

This same type of reasoning is applied when prorating from a closing corner. You apply proration from the spot occupied by the closing corner; you do not apply proration from the relocated position on the line closed upon.

This situation verifies the need for laws permitting the surveyor to record evidence. Today, while the line tree is standing, the line is bent; after the tree is destroyed, another surveyor would make it a straight line. If the evidence were recorded in a public place, the later surveyor would also make a bent line. If we do not have all of the evidence upon which a conclusion is based, we make poor decisions.

Author Michael Pallamary has compiled the writings and lectures of the late Curtis M. Brown. These works are published in The Curt Brown Chronicles.

A 124Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with sketch—is available by clicking HERE