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Define Principal Meridian in Real Estate

Principal Meridian: 

In the context of land surveying and real estate, a "principal meridian" is a designated line that is used as a reference point to help identify the location of a property. It is one of the key components of the rectangular survey system that is used in the United States.

The principal meridian, runs north and south (up and down on a map), like a vertical line. It forms the starting reference point for measuring distances east and west. This is similar to the "vertical line" or the "y-axis" on a graph.


Let's say that a land surveyor is tasked with determining the location of a particular property. The surveyor would use a variety of tools and techniques to measure the property's boundaries and location. As part of this process, the surveyor would need to identify the property's location in relation to a principal meridian and a base line. The principal meridian is a designated line that runs north and south, while the base line runs east and west. Together, these lines create a grid that is used to identify the location of the property in terms of ranges, tiers, and townships.

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A few more things that can be useful to understand about the rectangular survey system:

Base Line: Along with the Principal Meridians, there's another important line in the rectangular survey system called the "Base Line". The base line runs east and west (left and right on a map), like a horizontal line. It forms the starting reference point for measuring distances north and south. Think of it like the "horizontal line" or the "x-axis" on a graph.

Townships and Sections: The system divides land into units called "townships", which are squares that are six miles on each side. These townships are further divided into 36 "sections", each one square mile or 640 acres. This makes it easier to identify the location of a specific parcel of land.

Legal Descriptions: The rectangular survey system is often used to provide "legal descriptions" of land, which are precise ways to describe a property's location that are recognized by courts. This is different from a street address and often used in legal situations, like transferring ownership of land.

Limitations: While the rectangular survey system is generally useful, it does have some limitations. It assumes that the Earth is flat, but because it's actually a sphere, the lines of longitude get closer together as you move towards the poles. As a result, the rectangular survey system is not used in the extreme northern and southern parts of the United States.

Historical Importance: The system was first proposed by Thomas Jefferson and adopted in the Land Ordinance of 1785. It was used to systematically divide the land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase and is still used today.

Remember, a strong understanding of the rectangular survey system can be very helpful in your work as a real estate agent or appraiser. It can allow you to more accurately describe and locate properties, which is crucial in many aspects of real estate.
Illustration of Dumb Ox mascot.

"Wit & Whimsy with the Dumb Ox: Unlocking Knowledge with Rhyme:"

In the world of surveying, to identify a plot,
We use a line that's north-south, it's called a meridian, a lot.
With a base line east-west, together they make a grid,
And help us find the property's place, yes indeed, they do, they did!

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