Definition of "Range lines"

Amanda  Labrador real estate agent

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Amanda Labradorelite badge icon

Re/Max Advisors

In the US public-land survey terminology, range lines refer to two parallel north and south lines. In other words, range lines are north-south division lines used in the government’s rectangular survey method. It goes without saying that range lines are essential in land surveying.

To have a firm grasp of the term, we need to investigate how the Government Survey System planned out townships.

Logical land surveying

The Government Survey System introduced geographical methods and terms for people to learn how to find plots of land or private properties centuries before Google Maps was virtually nowhere. Even nowadays, this proves efficient, especially when a patch of land has no concrete address nor streets in the neighborhood. We should understand how this works. 

Baseline and meridian lines converge at the Point of Beginning

The System came up with two reference lines. They called the first one baseline, and it runs east to west. The second one is the principal meridian and goes north to south. As the baseline and the principal meridian intersect at the Point of Beginning. They started drawing lines every six miles on each baseline side from this fixed point. Furthermore, they drew lines approximately six miles on both sides of the meridian.

How townships were born

They called “tiers” those lines which ran east to west. At the same time, “range lines” became lines running north to south. Remember, these lines are six miles apart in every direction. As a result, the lines create squares, which we call townships. Doing the math, we realize that a square adds up to a section of land of 36 square miles. Thus, township lines set up a township’s surface of 36 sq. miles. 

One square-mile section within a township

Since we are still talking about quite a large chunk of the area, they divided townships into smaller pieces. Thus, they invented 36 sections within the same 36-square-mile township. Each unit measures approximately 1 square mile unless a natural border upsets the land’s integrity, such as a lake. Note that section numbering initiates from a township’s northeast corner!

The Government Survey System identifies a township by laying out how many tiers it is located south or north of the baseline. In addition, how many range lines it is west or east of the meridian.


SW ½ NW ¼, S8, T3S, R4W 

It reads as follows: the southwest half of the northwest quarter of section eight, township three south, range four west.


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Comments for Range Lines

Vera Shilobod Vera Shilobod said:

What's a Range in a rectangular system. Is it 2 consecutive meridians or 2 consecutive paralells?

Jul 20, 2019  12:02:05

Real Estate Agent

Hi, Vera! In the Government Survey System, a range is the strip of land between any two lines parallel to the Principal Meridian and it is six miles in width. If you're studying to become a land surveyor, this article on the most common land surveys might be of interest to you. 

Aug 08, 2019  08:09:58
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