STANTON — Twenty years ago, a major surveying project got underway in Montcalm County.
The Montcalm Remonumentation Program was part of a statewide effort starting in 1993 with the goal of preserving history, protecting cadastral surveys (maps showing boundaries or property lines) and promoting professional surveying practices, according to William Tingley of Tingley & Associates, a land surveying and engineering service in Stanton. Tingley has a contract for the remonumentation of Gratiot and Montcalm counties.
Today, the Montcalm County project is approximately 60 percent completed. For example, Reynolds Township only has 12 markers left to complete
“Our goal is to eventually convince all townships of the value of remonumentation,” Tingley said.
In the early 1800s, a rectangular survey of Michigan was developed by state officials to promote settlement and to assess the value of the state’s vast wilderness, according to Tingley. The surveyor general supervised from an office in Detroit while deputy surveyors did the field work, which involved using a magnetic compass and chain to subdivide the entirety of state land into townships of six miles square. The field workers then subdivided the townships into square miles with corners each half mile, typically using a stake made of pine root, cedar or tamarack.
These corners, along with tree lines, meander corners and special witness corners where the rectangular survey ran into either old French claims or Indian reserve lands, were the controlling elements of lands that were patented into private ownership.
“Every legal description of land today originated or was supposed to originate at one of these original government land office corners,” Tingley said. “Imagine how difficult our ownership transfers would be today if those original corners had not been preserved in some way?”
Most of the original corners have been obliterated by natural decay over the past two centuries. Fortunately, many of the corners were preserved by county surveyors and monumented with a variety of items. Not just wooden stakes, but rings of stones, pointed stones, clay tiles, plow points, axle shafts, sleigh shoes, gas pipes and more were used to preserve each corner over the past two centuries.
Tingley and his field workers have amassed quite an interesting collection of these markers, which they house as a sort of small museum at their Stanton headquarters.
“We get giddy as children when we find these items,” noted Tingley with a chuckle.
Despite erosion over the centuries, county officials are able to recover many of those old county surveyor’s corners and even a very small number of the original government land office corners, thanks to historic notes from county surveyors and sketches dating back to the 1850s.
Michigan’s Survey and Remonumentation Public Act 345 of 1990 was established to provide a standard for the remonumentation project. A fund administered by a grant pays for the project in each county, funded by a $4 fee for each recording document collected at each county’s Register of Deeds office.
According to Montcalm County Register of Deeds Lori Wilson, Montcalm County sent a total of $45,932.52 to the state remonumentation program last year.
“We have a lot of surveyors who come in and ask to purchase copies of the remonumentation corners,” Wilson noted.
Public Act 345 allows for cash contributions to be added to the grant in each county. The grant will match a percentage of any cash contribution after two years and will then become part of the base grant amount. Tingley said this state matching allows for more corners to be completed and expedites the entire program.
Thanks to the matching program and the participation of 60 percent of township governments in Montcalm County, some townships are nearly completed and others are far beyond the expected completion, compared to counties of similar population and plans.
Tingley said while the goal of the remonumentation program is to preserve and protect the historical corners that control property descriptions, the program has other benefits as well, such as reducing the time needed to recover remonumented corners when performing a survey (reducing survey fees); scrutinizing corners where surveyors may not agree on a position of the original corner and settling that position (reducing litigation and survey fees); and providing a forum wherein surveyors can learn the nuances of the county.
These latter nuances include soil types and terrain, inherent errors in the original general land office surveys, types of historical data within the county (such as what type of monumentation was commonly placed by certain surveyors, how well different areas were originally surveyed, areas of fraudulent original surveys and more) and how to develop a better standard of practice amongst surveyors.
After all general land office corner positions have been preserved and witnessed, the next phase of establishing state plan coordinates for each position will begin. However, Montcalm County has not yet entered this phase as only 60 percent of the county is completed.
Anyone interested in learning more about how their township can participate in this program can call Tingley & Associates in Stanton at (866) 461-4202.