Government Corners 

What are Government Corners? What do they have to do with surveying? How many of them are there in Lane County? Why is it important to preserve, re-establish or remonument them, and what is the county doing about it?

First, a little history. Although George Washington was our only true Surveyor President, it was Thomas Jefferson who had the greater influence on the expansion of the United States and promotion of the idea of ownership by the "small" landowner. As the chairman of a committee on lands Jefferson was instrumental in the Land Ordinance of 1785, which led to our present rectangular land division system of principal meridians, townships, ranges and sections. He was also a proponent of the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark expedition, and legislation enabling purchase by individuals of parcels as small as 160 acres, all which came about around 1803-1805. It is this rectangular system along with the creation of Donation Land Claims, that forms the basis of nearly all land division surveys in Oregon.

Beginning in the early 1850’s the General Land Office contracted out the surveying of Oregon and Washington lands based on the Willamette Meridian and its Base Line, the North-South and East-West axis for our township lines. The township and range lines are six miles apart, with each 36 square mile township made up of 36 one-mile square sections. The Section Corners, Quarter Corners (half-way between section corners), and the corners of the Donation Land Claims are the Government Corners we are under mandate to preserve. These are the basis of all surveys, and it is extremely important that the location of these corners be determined as accurately as possible to preserve these location points by monumentation. There are over 13,000 Government Corners to be maintained in Lane County, exclusive of corners located within large timber company holdings and on Forest Service and BLM owned land.

 The original corners were mostly monumented by squared off posts and the posts referenced by witness trees, generally called Bearing Trees (B.T.’s). These monuments were in turn replaced by more permanent objects such as stones, iron pipes, shotgun barrels, and in at least one case by an Indian pestle. New references, either new B.T.’s or pipes, iron rods, stones, etc., were added as needed. Thus, a corner history was built, along with references made in various boundary surveys and ties to county roads. The history is of utmost importance in determining as accurately as possible the original location of the point for the corner.

 The Oregon State Legislature in 1985 and 1987, passed legislation enabling the counties to collect fees from recordation of certain documents to provide funds for the counties to do a better job of perpetuating government corner positions. This is called the Government Corner Preservation Program, and has provided non-tax funds for the Lane County Surveyor’s Office to have four 2-person crews working on Government Corners.

Our survey crews have the background of education and experience which qualifies them to do thorough records research, search for pertinent field evidence, and analyzation of survey data.


 Since 1991 the Lane County Surveyor’s Office has established a primary Horizontal Control Network throughout the county through the use of the worldwide Global Position System (GPS). The Horizontal Control system is based on the "Oregon Super Net" NAD 83/91. In addition to this primary network, there are multiple interior networks with GPS stations which have Lane County Control Monument (LCCM) designation stamped on brass-capped monuments. Many survey traverse ties have been made from the GPS stations to government corners in order to establish a grid State Plane Coordinate on the position. The purpose of determining grid coordinates on government corners is to further safe-guard the corner position, to provide GIS and "common mapping" control, and to assist the Assessor’s Office mapping section. This work continues as a field and office function of the Surveyor’s Office.

The Lane County Surveyor’s Office also maintains and is expanding a Vertical Control Network in the county. This is an elevation datum measured above sea level and is widely represented by the North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NAVD88). Elevation information may be required for floodplain studies, construction projects, solar setback and planning issues, and other uses needing a known vertical position. Elevation is also a component of geodetic positioning by GPS.


 The Lane County Surveyor’s Office surveys lands that are owned and administered by the county. These may include Facilities and Roads which are undergoing new development or are subject to an action brought before the Board of County Commissioners. An example of such a facility is the new Juvenile Justice Center on Centennial Blvd. near Autzen Stadium. County Road actions take place when a new road is created; when an existing road is altered, perhaps by width or location; or, when a public road is accepted into the county road system. These surveys typically require research of deeded ownership, road rights of way, floodway location, and areas that may have an underlying right because of continued use or unwritten conveyances. The field surveying portion retraces and collects information discovered during records research. The collected information is then shown on boundary and right of way maps drawn by our office using electronic drafting.