The Loveland Blog

LOVELAND Tiny Movie On Re-Measuring America

By Jerry Paffendorf on March 31, 2015

Well, it finally happened. LOVELAND has gone Hollywood. Thanks to our friends at Detroit Lives! we have a snazzy tiny movie for our new site and The Great American Parcel Survey.

It involves Thomas Jefferson and time travel, of course. Check it out:

As background, the theme of the video and survey developed after reading "Measuring America: How the United States Was Shaped by the Greatest Land Sale in History" by Andro Linklater.

The book tells the surprisingly little-known story of the original US Public Land Survey which followed Thomas Jefferson's idea to grid the country into perfect square mile sections and six-by-six mile townships. These plots were then sold, further subdivided into parcels, developed, and incorporated into counties and states. They attracted immigrants, funded the young country, and literally set the stage for American democracy.

I found it so deeply fascinating that I bought a copy for everybody on the LOVELAND team, and highly recommend reading it.

A blurb from Publisher's Weekly:

"American democracy was less a product of revolutionary war and constitutional ferment than it was of a particular way of measuring land, argues British historian Linklater in his delightful new study. Private ownership of land was a new concept in England in the 17th century, one that was grounded (so to speak) in the developing science of surveying, in particular, Edmund Gunter's simple new surveying system of squares and grids. But the idea that land could "be owned as a house or a bed or a pig was owned" was central to the new United States. Thomas Jefferson and others contended that property belonged to those who could purchase it and labor upon it. Thus, when the land west of the Ohio River was purchased by the United States, a new wave of settlers headed there with the intention of owning their own patch of land. Before the land could be sold, however, it had to be measured in roughly equal plots, and the surveyors used Gunter's method of drawing the boundaries of land in square miles. Linklater's detailed chronicle of the physical development of early America demonstrates the ways that the desire to own private property grew out of the individualism of the frontier and shaped the peculiarly American notion that the individual's right to property is both a foundation and a guarantee of democracy."

As you explore the country with LOVELAND, you'll see evidence of the original square mile survey absolutely everywhere. If you live in America, you live in its echo, and its constraints literally shape your world.

We hope you find the notion of resurveying America to see what we've become as exciting as we do. Please try it out and let us know what you think at or on Facebook or Twitter.

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