L is for Land Subdivision

August 9th, 2007

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Land ownership and subdivision in America has long been subject to detailed legal requirements and procedures. That was certainly true during America's Colonial era, as each colony prescribed the steps needed to lawfully acquire and prove ownership of land. Procedures for "patenting" (i.e., lawfully acquiring by deed) land typically required that a warrant be obtained allowing the land to be surveyed, and that the resulting survey plat (including a description of the property's location, size, and owner-ship) be filed with the colony's land office. Procedures for transferring land parcels were also spelled out.

Through the nation's early decades, quite large and irregularly shaped parcels were common in the East, as ownership reflected large agricultural properties which were usually defined by natural features such as stream beds and ridges. However some urban areas (most notably New Haven and Philadelphia), as early as the 17th century, adopted rectangular grid street and property systems. The grid system would reach its zenith in New York City's Plan of 1811, which established a 25 by 100 foot land subdivision unit, resulting in city blocks 200 feet deep and 600 feet long -– a pattern to be replicated in many newly developing cities.

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