Early U.S. Land Division Methods

Early U.S. Land Division Methods


One of the earliest land division methods in North America was the long lot.
Sometimes called the French long lot or the riverine long lot, this land
division method can be found where French immigrants settled.
Characteristics of the long lot include a narrow frontage adjacent to a
river between 100 feet to 600 feet wide and about a mile in length. Early
French settlers were largely fur traders and this system maximized access to
rivers, which were their primary trade routes.

Metes and bounds was a system used for centuries in England and was used in
New England by English settlers. The system relied on physical features of
the landscape, along with directions and distances to define the boundaries
of a parcel of land. Metes refers to a boundary defined by measurement.
Bounds refers to a boundary, such as a large oak tree, a stone wall or an
adjoining public road.

Long lots and metes and bounds are considered organic land division systems
because they rely heavily on the natural features of the landscape. This
makes them problematic because natural features inevitably change. To this
day, in Louisiana and in the eastern U.S., disputes concerning early land
division systems often require courtroom adjudication.

William Penn, in the 1683 Philadelphia Plan, developed a better land
division method based on a grid. The Philadelphia Plan intentionally ignores
the landscape's natural features. The grid system consists of property
boundaries at right angles in a checkerboard-like pattern. Each lot is
identical in size and adjacent orderly numbered streets. The simple and
easily verifiable Philadelphia Plan has become the archetypal urban grid
street pattern in the U.S.