Episode 3: Fun With Historical Maps


[Piano Music – Lively] Hi Everyone!
Today we’re going to back in time and explore what Oregon looked like in the 1850s and 60s
through the Bureau of Land Management’s General Land Office Records! These records include
documentation of so-called “homestead claims” made by many Euro-American Settlers coming
over the Oregon Trail, but also detailed survey maps that show what the landscape looked like
before Oregon even became a state. We’ll also show you a quick way to translate what you
are seeing on these old maps to modern landmarks using the free, online ORMAP system. Before
we get started there are a few things you need to know about the Public Lands Survey
System. The survey system dates back to George Washington’s time and basically created a
gigantic, imaginary grid over the Western United States to help us pinpoint locations,
even if the landscape changes over time. The system is pretty simple. The grid is made
up of North-South lines, called Meridian Lines, and East-West Lines that are picked that are
called Base Lines Surveyors then draw out six by six mile squares, called Townships,
from the intersection of these two lines. The naming is standard for these townships,
based on how many units they are away from the intersection. For example, the yellow
shaded township is the second township south of the base line and the third township east
of the meridian. We would say this township is two south, range three east, and might
abbreviate it like this. What would you call the pink shaded township? [pause for answer]
That’s right, we would call it one north, range two west. Each township can then be
broken down into 36, one mile square units called sections. These are always numbered
1 – 36 starting in the northeast corner and then continuing back and forth to the southeast
corner. There is even a fancy word for the pattern used — Boustrophedonically — an
old word from ancient Greek that means “as the ox turns.” You can imagine an ox plowing
a field starting in the northeast corner and going back and forth, and back and forth until
it gets to the bottom. With the township, range and section, we can narrow places down
to within a square mile area. You can further narrow down the location by talking about
the northeast quarter of a section or the west half of a section. We aren’t going to
go too deep into that today, though. Most property in western Oregon and Washington
are based off the Willamette Meridian and base line that were established in 1851 and
intersect just outside of Portland. Ok! School’s out! Let’s try to apply this. Say we are interested
in learning more about Fabritus Smith. We know he came over on the Oregon Trail and
that he settled somewhere in South Salem, but where exactly was the land he owned? The
BLM GLO records can help us find more information about it. From the main page here we can hit
search documents. It gives us a lot of opportunities where to search for. Since I know the name
of the person I am interested in, I am just going to type in Smith, Fabritus and I know
he lived in Oregon. I actually know he was in Marion, so we’re just going to…we can
leave that blank or we click on it, too to get more pointed search results. So here we
go, we hit “Search Patents.” And up pops two options for Fabritus and his wife Virgilia.
So, we are going to hit the Accession Number right here and that is going to pull up the
details about the land claim. So it gives the name of the people that claimed the land,
gives us the date of issue – 1859. What we are really interested in here is in the land
descriptions. If you remember back to our quick lesson, these should look very familiar
to you. Seven south, range three west and section 34. Similarly, it looks like the claim
crossed a township line between 34 at the bottom of seven south range three west and
three at the top of eight south, three west. So I’m going to write that down real quick,
because I am going to want to remember that information when I go searching in the next
bit. So the other really neat thing here is I can go over to the “Related Documents” tab
right here, click on that and it will pull up a list of people that are neighbors to
my family the Smiths, but if I click on “Surveys” right here, it allows me access to original
surveys of that area, which is pretty nifty to see what it looked like in different years.
So, if we are interested in looking at what the land looked like in 1852, I can open up
the “Plat Images” here and, if your operating system is anything like mine, it really doesn’t
like the plug-in player this organization uses, so I have to scroll down and hit “basic
viewer” to get the image to show up. And what it shows me is in that 1852 date what my township
looked like at the time. Now, remembering back to how these sections are organized,
and remembering that my family was living in 7 South, Range 3 West, Section 34, I know
that one starts here and it goes down to 36 down at the bottom here, so I am going to
sneak over here and I am going to click here to zoom in on the property. Quick note for
people, this is a little difficult to navigate. If you click and try to move the screen, what
is going to happen is it is going to zoom. Instead you are going to want to use these
blue arrows to do your movement on the space. Takes a little bit of getting used to. And
you can also manipulate the zoom feature with the plus and minus here. Make it smaller or
bigger. Oops. Smaller or bigger. Or move up and down. Well, I found section 34 here and
what I can see when I am looking at section 34 here, is I can see Fabritus’ name, right
here and I can also see an outline of his land claim, going around this direction, in
the bottom half of section 34. And again we are looking at section 34 as a block. You’ve
got to use your imagination to see that grid right there, halfway between 33 and 35. These
early maps offer a lot of interesting details about the physical landscape. You’ll see some
cross hatching lines which helps give you some ideas of topography, how tall or low
the land was with hills and other things. You can also see this says “low bottoms” giving
you an idea that that is probably a marshy area over there. You can see the river. And
you can also see dwelling places put into space in the area. And these cross hatching
lines often times mean they are plowed fields, which is kinda nifty to see, too, what people
were at. It is interesting to note that it looks like there is a type of roadway or pathway
here, running along this area here, and it looks like Mr. Smith and his neighbor Mr.
Davidson have built up there houses and their barns kind of in a cluster here around the
road. Ok, let’s go back and see how things may have changed in the future. So I am going
to go back real quick and look. Again, to get at those maps, you are going to want to
hit “Related Documents.” “Surveys” And now I have got my list again, and I am interested
in looking maybe at what the survey looked like in 1861 now, so let me pull up that “Plat
Image.” Again, my system is a little slow, so I am going to go to the “Basic Viewer.”
And I am going to zoom in back down there. And this gives me a pretty good viewpoint
of how the property laid out totally, with this north half of the property in section
34 and the south half of the property in section 3 of Township 8 South, Range 3 West. So how
do I translate what I am seeing on this 1861 map to where this area is today? The tool
I use is the ORMAP System. It is pretty simple and easy to use and helps us overlay what
we know about Township and Range and section with a modern map. So what I am going to need
to do to start this process of translation is to really get a good idea of the shape
of this property in my mind with relationship with the Township. So again remembering that
grid that we’ve got, I’ve got this square that I am looking at between section 34 and
35, and if I parcel out the area that the property is in, I am really looking at the
south half of section 34. Ok, so keeping that in mind, this shape and that it is about the
south half of section 34, I can go over to the ORMAP system, and I can use the “Map Viewer”
option to access a modern map. Definitely hit “OK” for the disclaimer, I am going to
add my own little disclaimer that this is a little bit of guess and check system that
I use, but it is pretty effective at helping you kind of translate if you are not needing
to know exact details. So I am going to click here and I am going to remember that the Township
that this was in, cause I wrote it down earlier, is 07S Range 03W. I am going to hit Go. And
it is going to zoom me in to that township. So remember, Township is 36 square miles,
or six miles by six miles square, and I am really only interested in one square mile
in the bottom of that section. That is section 34. So again, understanding as I remember
from our lesson, that the numbering system goes like this, and that 36 is here, and I
am interested in section 37*, I am going to zoom into that section down below. And it
is going to continue highlighting your entire township for you, which can be helpful, but
it also can be a little distracting. So if you want that orange highlight to go away,
all you have to do is hit the clear search button there. Now, unfortunately, or fortunately,
the property I am looking at is in the City of Salem proper today, which makes it a little
difficult to see the different sections, but we remember the code. That I am looking for
the code here of 073W and then I am looking for the section 34. So I can see here that
this is 33, which is one square to the left of what I am looking for, so where I am interested
in is probably going to be right here. So we will keep zooming in until the computer
loads the overlay for me. Give me a little better idea of what I am looking at here.
Ah, there we go. Because there is so many different homes and property boundaries in
this area now it is split up into a lot of different maps, which can be frustrating and
confusing, but remember, keep an eye out for that prefix that you know. 73W34. So by looking
at this we can start to see where that imaginary square is again. So, this is 34, ok that’s
in our section, oh, this is 33, oh, this is 27, ok, the top left corner of my square or
northwest corner of my square is going to be here. Then I can come down here and look,
oh, look the bottom left corner, or southwest corner of my square is going to be here, between
where I am at 83W, no I want to be 73W. 34, oh 3 here we go. So I can start to kind of
map out in my mind’s eye, where this section, or one mile square, is. And once I get that
boundary kind of established, in my mind’s eye, then I can start thinking about ok- the
property, Mr. Smith’s property was in the south half of that property – er that section.
So, I am imagining my midline here between that square, and I am going to do a little
bit of guess and checking then that the property is probably going to be about in this area.
Now I can see some landmarks that I recognize. Right? This is South Salem High School, and
I can zoom in to confirm that a little bit, or if I am interested, this is showing a satellite
map, but I can also use a base map, if we go to the base map gallery here, click on
it. You can also choose a street map. And that actually might be more helpful, helping
me understand where the properties are that I am looking for. Ok! So again, keeping that
south half in mind, I am going to go back to my map again and look at the shape. So
about south half, now notice that property doesn’t go exactly to the midline in section
34 on the west side of it here, but it does appear to go to the midline here over here
and I am recognizing, too, oops, again I always have trouble navigating this one, use the
blue arrows, not the clicking! I am noticing that David Leslie right here is my neighbor
up here, Mr. Hoyt is my neighbor here and Mr. Davidson is my neighbor over here. That
might be helpful, because when we look at the map, the assessor’s maps, they are going
to actually show the corners of these property intersections, so in translating I am going
to need to know that information, and I also notice that there is a funky little square
here. So I am going to focus, because that is pretty unique, a unique shape, I am going
to focus on looking at that, because I know it goes totally to the line here, and I can
see that there’s going to be a lot of different corners that I am going to be able to see.
Alright. So that is going to be on the east, and the southeast side of this section in
there. Alright, I am back here. Midline of my section is going to be about here. And
I am looking down here – here is 34, here is 35, so this is going to be the far right
corner of that. So now is where the guess and checking starts. I am going to guess that
I am going to start out with this map here and see what happens. So if I click on here,
it should give me an opportunity to see the map associated with that area. Click on the
map number and it should open up a nice, big, clear map for me. I am interested in looking
for that corner, remember that funky little shape we are looking for, so I am going to
start up here in the corner and I’m going to zoom in, using my zooming in techniques
here. And looky there. Right here I see a little corner marker that says Northeast corner
F.R. Smith Donation Land Claim No. 47. We found that corner! And if I go over here too,
I see, oh look, here is another corner, with the southeast corner of David Leslie’s Donation
Land Claim. Again, flipping back and forth between the maps, I can clearly see, that
I found this corner here. Flip back here and you can see, again, oh look, here is the re-entry
corner for the F.R. Smith Donation Land Claim and the other funny southeast corner for Donation
Land Claim for David Leslie. That I can state that this little corner that I am looking
at here on the Donation Land Claim of Fabritus Smith corresponds to this area in Salem today,
or the intersection, or starting at the intersection of Hoyt and 12th Streets, that is 12th Street,
yep! All the way to the corner here, where Gilmore Field is, or Gilmore Park, where South
Salem High School today, and coming down, crossing that there. And then I can kinda
go back and do some more guessing and checking to see how far to the west this property goes,
by looking at maps that are in order next to it. I can also go back and do a little
bit of guessing and checking based on where I see the northwest corner being. It is almost
to very edge of this section, and just south of the midline of the the section. So I am
going to go to where I see 34 turning into 35 in my prefixes here. Takes a little while,
er, sorry, 34 turning into 33. And, I want to go about halfway between where 8 starts
and 27 begins, so I am going to guess it is probably around this area right here. So I
am going to click on this map since it is the closest one. Open that map up. And I am
going to start looking for corners again by zooming in. And if I pull in here really quick,
this one is a little tricky here for me, but I see that a northwest corner of a Donation
Land Claim (DLC stands for Donation Land Claim), number 47 is in this area here. So I’ve found
the northwest corner Mr. Smith’s property, because remember if we go back to that other
map, it says DLC, Donation Land Claim, number 47, corresponds to F.R. Smith. They have just
left off his name on this one. So the northwest corner then, of Mountain View Drive and McGilchrist
Street is the other side of that property here. That is a pretty good swath of property
and everything then in between it and south to the borderline was part of that Fabritus
Smith’s Donation Land Claim. Because I am a pretty visual person, I sometimes like to
go one step further with this and draw out the map, so what I’ll often do, is I will
often go to GoogleMaps and zoom in on the area that I know because I’ve figured out
that 12th Street the far right corner and Mountain View is the far left corner and I’ll
zoom in so I can kinda see what I am working with and then I’ll, oftentimes I’ll print
this out and then physically draw out what I am looking for from this corner, I know
that is Hoyt and 12th, coming over here to Mountain View, with a little bit lower, and
kind of draw out that same shape onto my map to give me a better understanding of where
Mr. Smith’s property was. [Music]

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