The Orbis Blog

6 Little Known Facts About Timberland Asset Measurement

We’ve been talking a lot about surveying and measurement the last few weeks and the topic is generating a lot of interest in the forestry industry, among our clients, and throughout our hallways.

From a historical perspective, it’s truly a fascinating topic. But what really makes this topic so compelling is this:

Historical land measurement has a direct impact on today’s due-diligence process for land sale transactions.

Next week we wrap up this series with a closer look at how modern technology can help provide error-free documentation to speed up the closing transaction.

For today, though, we’re going to have a little more fun looking at some of the little-known facts about historical measurement – some of which can lead to land records that are not always “clean.”


The link chain at 66’ in length was the primary unit of measure for the 13 colonies – but not for the western states. It impacted our land measurement from coast-to-coast and is the foundation for our system of measurement.


The chain deemed by the U.S. government in 1785 as the land measurement standard, was developed by Edmund Gunter, an English preacher and mathematician who lived from 1581-1626. That makes Gunter’s Chain nearly 400 years old now, and more than 150 years old during the Colonial period.


Colonial link chain measurements remained as-is for over a century. That means that any inaccuracies, miscounts, or other errors also have gone unquestioned.


Along with the disposition of land in the 1700s came various units of measurement, including base 4 and base 10 mathematics (which require multiplication), but also archaic English perch-based units (which required long division). The lack of standardization coupled with the potential for computation errors could impact your land record even today.


This precedent-setting government ordinance required a standardized unit of measure for all the western lands of the United States. That meant that everything beyond the 13 colonies was measured by one specific tool, the 66’ chain with 100 links known as Gunter’s Chain. Later on, further instruction was given by the Government Land Office to surveyors stating that the specific tool to measure with would be the 33’ half chain with 50 links.


Colonial America was pre-surveyed with the English-based chain and is one of the reasons the English system has prevailed over the metric system.

Tell us …

Which of these 6 facts did you find most interesting and why? Does knowing this part of history help you see the potential for land record errors and incongruences? As part of the due diligence process, does your organization perform a congruency check? Post a comment or message us your thoughts.

This post is part 4 of our 5-part series on historical land measurement and its impact on timberland investment assets today. Find the other posts in the series here:

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