Townships exist in various forms in about twenty of the United States. In my previous column I promised to talk about the difference between survey and civil townships. Simply put, a survey township is a plot of land with boundaries that have been drawn to establish regular parcels for ownership. A civil township is a form of local government. Sometimes a civil township occupies land with boundaries that coincide with a survey township, which is how it is in Indiana, and sometimes a civil township has boundaries that are unrelated to those of a survey township as do many of the townships in Michigan.
Under the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which laid out the territory now occupied by Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and part of Minnesota, the lands of the new territory were surveyed into six by six-mile townships. Each township was then divided into 36 one-square-mile sections and each section covered 640 acres. Sections were divided into quarter-sections of 160 acres each and quarter-quarter sections of 40 acres each. In the Homestead Act of 1862, one quarter-section of land was the amount allocated to each settler. This is where such expressions as “the lower 40” came from. That was the 40 acres on a settler’s land that was the lowest in elevation where the water drained toward a stream. The “back forty” was the portion farthest from the settler’s dwelling. “Forty acres and a mule” was the phrase going around after the Civil War when the United States considered repaying African-American families for their years of servitude under slavery (a promise that remained unfulfilled).
In Indiana, in fact in most of the Midwestern states, the townships were surveyed well before the territories achieved statehood. In fact, many of the state and county lines were drawn along the already established township lines.
A civil township is a form of government that serves a township area. Civil townships generally have a name—in our case it’s Wayne Township.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau “In most midwestern states, a civil township often corresponds to a single survey township, although in less populated areas, the civil township may be made up of all or portions of several survey townships. In areas where there are natural features such as a lake or river, the civil township boundaries may follow the geographic features rather than the survey township boundaries. Municipalities such as cities may incorporate or annex land in a township, which is then generally removed from township government. Only one state, Indiana, has township governments covering all its area and population.”
Wayne Township, which occupies a somewhat modified 6-mile square survey township, has like all the townships in Indiana a civil government consisting of a township trustee and a three-member board who administer township services. Wayne also still has, unlike most of the rest of Indiana, a township assessor. This happened because the voters of our township chose in a referendum to keep their assessor rather than turning those duties over to the county. Only thirteen townships in Indiana still have assessors.
Latest posts by Richard A. Stevenson - Wayne Township Trustee (see all)
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