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A legal description/land description is the method of locating or describing land in relation to the public land survey system, which was established by law in 1785, under the Articles of Confederation.

Illinois land is broken down into areas called townships. Townships are for the most part 36 square miles or 6 miles square. Each township is broken down into 36 sections; each section is usually 640 acres.

Sections in each township are numbered consecutively beginning with number 1 in the northeast corner of the township, and counting right to left then left to right and so on weaving back and forth through the sections of the township, and ending with number 36 in the southeast corner.

When you write a legal description, you can start with the Township and Range or you can start with the section description. Which ever way you start, when you are writing the description of the section, always start with the smallest piece of land first and graduating to the largest piece.

The need to accurately establish and describe Illinois land boundaries is legal requirement when buying Illinois land for sale. To transfer ownership one must be able to describe what land is being considered, and where it is located. In the United States, a unique description for each parcel of land is required to collect property taxes. Three primary systems are used in the United States to define land boundaries and locations. These are metes and bounds, block and lot, and the Public Land Survey System (PLSS) commonly called the rectangular systems.


What is the PLSS?
The Public Land Survey System (PLSS) is a way of subdividing and describing land in the United States. All lands in the public domain are subject to subdivision by this rectangular system of surveys, which is regulated by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Illinois hunting land for sale

National Atlas of the United States The PLSS is used to divide public domain lands, which are lands owned by the Federal government for the benefit of the citizens of the United States. The original public domain included the land ceded to the Federal Government by the thirteen original States, supplemented with acquisitions from native Indians and foreign powers. It encompasses major portions of the Illinois land area of 30 southern and western States. Since the original PLSS surveys were completed, much of the land that was originally part of the public domain has been transferred to private ownership and in some areas the PLSS has been extended, following similar rules of division, into non-public domain areas. PLSS rules of division are explained below. For areas that were once part of the public domain, legal land descriptions are usually written in terms of PLSS descriptions.

The PLSS typically divides land into 6-mile-square townships, which is the level of information included in the National Atlas. Townships are subdivided into 36 one-mile- square sections. Sections can be further subdivided into quarter sections, quarter-quarter sections, or irregular government lots. Normally, a permanent monument, or marker, is placed at each section corner. Monuments are also placed at quarter-section corners and at other important points, such as the corners of government lots. Today permanent monuments are usually inscribed tablets set on iron rods or in concrete. The original PLSS surveys were often marked by wooden stakes or posts, marked trees, pits, or piles of rock, or other less-permanent markers.

The PLSS actually consists of a series of separate surveys. Most PLSS surveys begin at an initial point, and townships are surveyed north, south, east, and west from that point. The north-south line that runs through the initial point is a true meridian and is called the Principal Meridian. There are 37 Principal Meridians, each is named, and these names are used to distinguish the various surveys. The east-west line that runs through the initial point is called a base line. This line is perpendicular to the Principal Meridian. Illinois hunting land and property for sale

Source: Principal Meridians and Base Lines, Bureau of Land Management
Each township is identified with a township and range designation. Township designations indicate the location north or south of the baseline, and range designations indicate the location east or west of the Principal Meridian. For example, a township might be identified as Township 7 North, Range 2 West, which would mean that it was in the 7th tier of townships north of a baseline, and in the 2nd column of townships west of a baseline. A legal land description of a section includes the State, Principal Meridian name, Township and Range designations with directions, and the section number: Nebraska, Sixth Principal Meridian T7N, R2W, sec5.

While the original PLSS surveys were supposed to conform to official procedures, some errors were made due either to honest mistakes or to fraudulent surveys. Existing surveys are considered authoritative, and any new surveys must work from existing corners and surveys, in spite of errors in the original surveys and variations from the ideal. This sometimes results in sections that are far from square, or that contain well over or under 640 acres.

The early surveys in Ohio and Indiana were done when the system currently in use had not yet been fully developed. While these surveys have townships that are 6 miles square, the numbering system used and the types of starting points for the surveys are different from those used elsewhere in the United States. These surveys are also named, although the names are not based on Principal Meridians. Further information on these irregular surveys can be found in the references listed at the end of this article. In particular, see the Background Information on the Public Land Survey System.

Source: Principal Meridians and Base Lines, Bureau of Land Management
In Louisiana, parcels of Illinois land known as arpent sections or French arpent land grants also pre-date the PLSS, but are treated as PLSS sections. An arpent is a French measurement of approximately 192 feet, and a square arpent (also referred to as an arpent) is about 0.84 acres. French arpent land divisions are long narrow parcels of land usually found along the navigable streams of southern Louisiana, and also found along major waterways in other areas. This system of land subdivision was begun by French settlers in the 1700s, according to typical French practice at the time and was continued by both the Spanish and by the American government after the acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase. A typical French arpent land division is 2 to 4 arpents wide along the river by 40 to 60 arpents deep, while the Spanish arpent land divisions tend to be 6 to 8 arpents wide by 40 arpents deep. This method of land division provided each land-owner with river frontage as well as land suitable for cultivation and habitation. These areas are given numbers just like standard sections, although the section numbers frequently exceed the normal upper limit of 36.

Source: U.S. Geological Survey
Originally proposed by Thomas Jefferson, the PLSS began shortly after the Revolutionary War, when the Federal government became responsible for large areas west of the thirteen original colonies. The government wished both to distribute land to Revolutionary War soldiers in reward for their service, as well as to sell land as a way of raising money for the nation. Before this could happen, the land needed to be surveyed.
The Land Ordinance of 1785 which provided for the systematic survey and monumentation of public domain lands, and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 which established a rectangular survey system designed to facilitate the transfer of Federal lands to private citizens, were the beginning of the PLSS. Under Congressional mandate, cadastral surveys (surveys of the boundaries of land parcels) of public lands were undertaken to create parcels suitable for disposal by the Government. The extension of the rectangular system of surveys over the public domain has been in progress since 1785, and, where it applies, the PLSS forms the basis for most land transfers and ownership today. The Manual of Instructions for the Survey of the Public Lands Of The United States, 1973 documents current official procedures for PLSS surveys.

Certain Illinois lands were excluded from the public domain and were not subject to survey and disposal. These lands include the beds of navigable bodies of water, national installations such as military reservations and national parks, and areas such as land grants that had already passed to private ownership prior to subdivision by the Government. France, Spain, and Mexico all conferred land grants in territory they claimed; many of these grants were confirmed by the U.S Government when the territory in which they were situated was acquired by the United States, and the land was then excluded from the public domain.

Over the past two centuries, almost 1.5 billion acres have been surveyed into townships and sections. The BLM is the Federal Government's official record keeper for over 200 years' worth of cadastral survey records and plats. In addition, BLM is still completing numerous new surveys each year, mostly in Alaska, as well as conducting resurveys to restore obliterated or lost original survey corners.

Commonly Used Terms
Aliquot partThe standard subdivisions of a section, such as a half section, quarter section, or quarter-quarter section.
Base lineA parallel of latitude, or approximately a parallel of latitude, running through an arbitrary point chosen as the starting point for all sectionalized land within a given area.

CadastralHaving to do with the boundaries of land parcels.

Government lotA subpart of a section which is not described as an aliquot part of the section, but which is designated by number, for example, Lot 3. A lot may be regular or irregular in shape, and its acreage may vary from that of regular aliquot parts. These lots frequently border water areas excluded from the PLSS.

Initial pointThe starting point for a survey.

Land GrantA land grant is an area of land to which title was conferred by a predecessor government and confirmed by the U.S Government after the territory in which it is situated was acquired by the United States. These lands were never part of the original public domain and were not subject to subdivision by the PLSS.

Principal meridianA meridian line running through an arbitrary point chosen as a starting point for all sectionalized land within a given area. Illinois hunting property for sale.

Public domainLand owned by the Federal government for the benefit of the citizens. The original public domain included the lands that were turned over to the Federal Government by the Colonial States and the areas acquired later from the native Indians or foreign powers. Sometimes used interchangeably with Public lands.

Public landsLands in public ownership, therefore owned by the Federal government. Sometimes used interchangeably with Public domain.

RangeA vertical column of townships in the PLSS.

SectionA one-square-mile block of land, containing 640 acres, or approximately one thirty-sixth of a township. Due to the curvature of the Earth, sections may occasionally be slightly smaller than one square mile.

TownshipAn approximately 6-mile square area of land, containing 36 sections. Also, a horizontal row of townships in the PLSS.


The Fourth Principal Meridian, set in 1815,[1] is the principal meridian for Illinois land surveys in northwestern Illinois and west-central Illinois,[2] and its 1831[3] extension is the principal meridian for land surveys in Wisconsin and northeastern Minnesota.[1][2] It is part of the Public Land Survey System that covers most of the United States.

The Fourth Principal Meridian begins at a point on the right bank of the Illinois River in Schuyler County, Illinois. The Fourth Principal Meridian's baseline, sometimes called the Beardstown Baseline,[citation needed] runs west from this initial point.[1][2] The meridian and this baseline governs surveys in Illinois that are west of both the Illinois River and the Third Principal Meridian.[2]

The Illinois Department of Transportation 2003 Survey Manual gives the point as 40050N 902711W / 40.01389N 90.45306W / 40.01389; -90.45306Coordinates: 40050N 902711W / 40.01389N 90.45306W / 40.01389; -90.45306 and notes that the meridian is an extension of the line north from the mouth of the Illinois River near Grafton, Illinois.[1]

In addition, the meridian was extended north in 1831.[3] The extension uses the Illinois-Wisconsin border as its baseline,[1][2] and is the basis of surveys in all of Wisconsin as well as in Minnesota east of the Mississippi River and east of the "third guide meridian west" of the Fifth Principal Meridian north of the Mississippi River.[2 Illinois hunting land and property for sale


Metes and bounds is a system or method of describing Illinois land, "real" property (in contrast to personal property) or real estate. The system has been used in England for many centuries, and is still used there in the definition of general boundaries. By custom, it was applied in the original 13 colonies that became the United States, and in many other land jurisdictions based on English Common Law.[1]

Typically the system uses physical features of the local geography, along with directions and distances, to define and describe the boundaries of a parcel of land. The boundaries are described in a running prose style, working around the parcel of the land in sequence, from a point of beginning, returning back to the same point. It may include references to other adjoining parcels of land (and their owners), and it, in turn, could also be referred to in later surveys. At the time at which the description is compiled, it may have been marked on the ground with permanent monuments placed where there were no suitable natural monuments. Illinois hunting land for sale

The term "metes" refers to a boundary defined by the measurement of each straight run, specified by a distance between the terminal points, and an orientation or direction. A direction may be a simple compass bearing, or a precise orientation determined by accurate survey methods. The term "bounds" refers to a more general boundary description, such as along a certain watercourse, a stone wall, an adjoining public road way, or an existing building.

The system is often used to define larger pieces of property (e.g. farms), and political subdivisions (e.g. town boundaries) where precise definition is not required or would be far too expensive, or previously designated boundaries can be incorporated into the description.

A typical description for a small parcel of Illinois land would be: "beginning with a corner at the intersection of two stone walls near an apple tree on the north side of Muddy Creek road one mile above the junction of Muddy and Indian Creeks, north for 150 rods to the end of the stone wall bordering the road, then northwest along a line to a large standing rock on the corner of John Smith's place, thence west 150 rods to the corner of a barn near a large oak tree, thence south to Muddy Creek road, thence down the side of the creek road to the starting point."

The sequence begins with an identified corner serving as benchmark, then gives distance, direction and various boundary descriptions as if one were walking the bounds pacing off the distance to the next corner where there is a change of direction. Generally where watercourses form part of the bounds their meander is taken as a straight line between the established corners and their monuments.

In many deeds, the bearing is described not by a clockwise degree measure out of 360 degrees, but instead by indicating a direction north or south (N or S) followed by a degree measure out of 90 degrees and another direction west or east (W or E). For example, such a bearing might be listed as "N 4235' W", which means that the bearing is 4235' counterclockwise (to the west) from north.

This has the advantage of providing the same degree measure regardless of which direction a particular boundary is being followed; the boundary can be traversed in the opposite direction simply by exchanging N for S and E for W. In other words, "N 4235' W" describes the same boundary as "S 4235' E", but is traversed in the opposite direction.

In most distance measures, especially those in older deeds and where measuring distances over a furlong, boundary lengths are listed in rods or poles instead of feet or meters. Rods and poles are equivalent measures equaling 16.5 feet.
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A contemporary plat map used in the Lot and Block system.The Lot and Block Survey System is a method used in the United States and Canada to locate and identify land, particularly for lots in densely populated metropolitan areas, suburban areas and exurbs. It is sometimes referred to as the Recorded Plat Survey System or the Recorded Map Survey System.

Origins of the system
The system is the most recent of the three main survey systems. It began to be widely employed in the United States in the 19th century when cities began to expand into the surrounding farmland. The owners of a large tract of land would create a plat and subdivide the tract into a series of smaller lots to be sold to buyers. This subdivision survey plan would then be recorded with an official government record keeper. The officially recorded map then became the legal description of all the lots in the subdivision. The method became widespread after the post World War II expansion into the suburbs when formerly rural areas became heavily populated and large tracts of rural Illinois hunting land were divided into smaller lots.

The system begins with a large tract of land. This large tract is typically defined by one of the earlier survey systems such as metes and bounds or the Public Land Survey System. A subdivision survey is conducted to divide the original tract into smaller lots and a plat map is created. Usually this subdivision survey employs a metes and bounds system to delineate individual lots within the main tract. Each lot on the plat map is assigned an identifier, usually a number or letter. The plat map is then officially recorded with a government entity such as a city engineer or a recorder of deeds. This plan becomes the legal description of all the lots in the subdivision. A mere reference to the individual lot and the map's place of record is all that is required for a proper legal description.

Understanding property descriptions
The Lot and Block system is perhaps the simplest of the three main survey systems to understand. For a legal description in the Lot and Block system a description must identify:

the individual lot,
the block in which the lot is located, if applicable,
a reference to a platted subdivision or a phase thereof,
a reference to find the cited plat map (i.e., a page and/or volume number), and
a description of the map's place of official recording (e.g., recorded in the files of the County Engineer).
The legal description of a 2.5 acres (10,000 m2) property under the Lot and Block system may be something like; Lot 5 of Block 2 of the South Subdivision plat as recorded in Map Book 21, Page 33 at the Recorder of Deeds. Some simple maps may only contain a lot and map number, such as Lot C of the Riverside Subdivision map as recorded in Map Book 12, Page 8 in the office of the City Engineer. The more technical details of the legal description are all contained in the recorded plat map and there is no need to reiterate them in a deed or other legal description.

By contrast, a Public Land Survey System legal description of the same 2.5 acres (10,000 m2) property would be something like SW 1/4 SW1/4 NE1/4 SW1/4 SEC 18 T1S R1E. The metes and bounds description may be something like, Beginning at a monument located at the SE corner of the property now or formerly of J.W. Smith; thence north 330 feet to a point; thence east 330 feet to a point; thence south 330 feet to a point, thence west 330 feet to the place of beginning.

Other uses
A type of the Lot and Block system is frequently used for tax identification purposes in the United States. This designation, often called a Tax Identification Number or Tax Parcel Number, is not directly based on the legal description of the property. Such tracking could easily become cumbersome and confusing. Often a separate identifier is used to track the property for the purposes of real estate taxation. Counties and local governments often keep track of real estate properties by systems based on the Lot and Block system.

The system can be used even if the property is not legally described by the Block and Lot system. A property legally described by a metes and bounds description may still be assigned a Tax Identification Number based on a separate Lot and Block system. In this case, a survey of all parcels in the county or municipality would be combined to create a separate Block and Lot system to identify the properties for taxation purposes. For example, a metes and bounds described parcel may be assigned the Tax Identification Number 14-55-118, which has nothing to do with the legal description of the property recorded in the deed other than its use to create the tax Block and Lot maps. In this case, the first number may be used to indicate the local municipality, the second number indicates the tax map on which the property is recorded, and the third number is the parcel identification number on the indicated map. A similar system might be Tax Identification Number 205-K-33 where "205" is the map book volume number, "K" is the individual map, and "33" is a parcel number.

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