TOWNSHIPS AND TOWNS
At first in the Midwest the territorial divisions were called states, the counties and the towns. In 1850, when the first federal census was taken in Portage County there were the towns of Plover, Stevens Point (previously called Middletown) and Grand Rapids which became Wood County in 1856.
In 1785, the Congress of the United States decided to measure the land that had not been surveyed before by the English, the French or the Spaniards and for this purpose created a new system which until now has remained unique in the world: The United States Land Survey. (Also called the Township and Range System) It consists in using geographic parallels (the straight lines paralleled to the Equator) and the meridians (the straight lines from the North to the South Pole). The parallels would be divided at six-mile intervals, called townships, the meridians also at six-mile intervals, called the ranges. The surface between the intersections would be squares named townships, the congressional townships having an area of thirty-six miles square. However, since meridians are not exactly parallel lines as they meet at the poles, the townships have not equal areas but, in the same range, decrease towards the North. To avoid great discrepancies, correction lines have been established, north of which townships are exactly six miles wide and south of which townships are somewhat narrower.
(The methods used to survey land is largely unknown to the general public. But, the Wisconsin Public Land Survey Records: Original Field Notes and Plat Maps site offers a complete explanation of this method as well as access to the original field notes and maps compiled by the surveyors.)
When the Land Survey was organized a number of parallels were designated as Base lines and a number of meridians as Principal meridians. Townships are numbered for each state, starting at the intersection of base line and principal meridian. In Wisconsin, the Base Line is the boundary between the state and Illinois so that there are no township South. The Principal Meridian is near the middle of the state; there are therefore ranges East and West. The location of Stevens Point is Township 24 North, Range 8 East.
Each township is divided in thirty-six sections numbered from 1 to 36, starting in the North East, following towards west (1 to 6) then from west to east (7 to 12) until 36 in the Southeast. Each section can be divided in quarters and each of these can also be divided in quarters. These quarters of quarters are called forties as they contain forty acres. The Portage--Waushara line is a correction line so that roads north-south following section sides show a small jog when entering Waushara County.
The U.S. Land Survey was made in Portage County in 1851 and 1852. On that year the towns of Almond and Amherst were organized and detached from the Town of Plover. Their limits were following the township and range system of the U.S. Land Survey but since the county was sparsely settled, the new towns were not congressional townships containing 36 sections but had many more sections. When other towns were organized they also had straight lines as limits. When the Town of Linwood was organized in 1856, it took sections from the Town of Stevens Point and sections from the Town of Plover. It was eventually found that the Wisconsin River was a better line and now it is the boundary between the towns of Linwood and Plover, Carson and Hull, Eau Pleine and Dewey.
When the survey of Portage County was made, in 1851 and 1852, it was made by teams of men working on the ground having lakes, swamps and trees as obstacles and not having possession of the accurate instruments of today. One team was working coming from the East and another team was coming from the West. They did not meet where the should and the result was that the townships line from the East came south of the line from the West and between Range 8 East and Range 10 East there were close to seven miles instead of six. As it was not possible to start the survey again or to change the number of sections in a congressional township, the sections 5, 7, 18, 19, 30, and 31 in Range 9 East have an area almost double of regular sections, the township lines in the same Range are not straight East-West but slightly Southeast-Northwest so that the section 1 to 6 in the Town of Alban and in the Town of Sharon have an area larger than sections in the same townships.
The towns in Portage County were organized at different times; the youngest is the Town of Dewey created in 1898, but several towns had boundary changes. At present, of the seventeen towns in Portage County which are sometimes called civil or political towns or townships only four correspond to congressional townships having an area of about 36 miles square and divided in 36 sections, namely Alban, New Hope, Lanark and Belmont; two Almond and Alban, have thirty-six sections but are sensibly larger than one square mile. The Town of Stevens Point does not exist any longer because the incorporation of the City of Stevens Point covered most of it, with the rest being eventually annexed to the neighboring towns of Linwood, Carson and Hull. Other towns expand more than one congressional township, the Town of Plover expanding over three such townships.
See our Permissions page for use and copyright information.