Tuesday, November 4, 2008

survey, survey, survey...who cares?

It is likely that the original settlers of what is now Dallas were a Caddoan group with seasonal camps along the Trinity River.* They would have first encountered Spanish explorers in the mid 1500s and French explorers and traders by mid 1600. By the time the Anglo settlers came there were at least 10 Native American tribes who frequented the area,** but none kept permanent camps that are known of.

Caddo village scene about 900 years ago (A.D. 1100) as envisioned by artist George S. Nelson. This scene is based on archeological details from the George C. Davis site in east Texas and on early historic accounts. Courtesy of the artist and the Institute of Texan Cultures, the University of Texas at San Antonio.***

The first record of permanent settlement in the vicinity is with the arrival of John Neely Bryan in 1841. Bryan surveyed an area, the heart of present-day downtown Dallas, just east of the Trinity River. (The triple underpass of JFK assassination infamy now stands in the center of the westernmost portion of Bryan's survey.) 

Using Spanish surveying convention, he laid out a plat in relation to a natural formation, in this case, the outer bend of the river (blue line). With this as the western boundary, he laid out his streets at right angles to this land form. At about this same time, two other surveys were made nearby: one, by Warren A. Ferris from Nacogdoches County for John Grigsby (red), used a grid oriented 45' west of north, and the other by Robertson County surveyors (yellow) using a grid 35' west of north with the river as its eastern boundary.

The Peters Colony survey was laid out according to English convention using cardinal directions (black grid), but also incorporated these barely earlier surveys.

This brings us to what I consider one of the most fascinating consequences of these early survey maps. Let's say you were one of the settlers given a section of land. That would be 1 square mile, or 640 acres as defined by the Peters Colony. This would be your farm. As wagon roads developed, you wouldn't want people traipsing through your fields, so those roads would naturally be confined to the section lines.

Today, 170+ years later, the major roads and throughfares of Dallas still follow this grid except where the Bryan, Ferris and Robertson County surveys dictated the odd overlay of angles in certain sections, which are also reflected in our modern-day road system.

In other words, being familiar with a few natural landmarks of the area and being given say, your grandmother's current Dallas area street address, it is a simple proposition to locate Grandma on either the original survey map of what was then virtually wilderness - or, on the mosaic map at the South Irving Transit Center.

This 1872 bird's eye view map demonstrates the various orientations of the street system in downtown and near east Dallas, and what was still farmland to the north which would eventually become a grid of streets oriented north and south. Also notable is the proximity of the Trinity River, which Bryan used as his reference point. The river is no longer where it is shown here, but has since been moved to the west. In some cases it has been moved as much as 2 miles west! More about that later...

* Albert Woldert, "Expedition of Luis de Moscoso in Texas in 1542", Volume 46, Number 2, Southwestern Historical Quarterly Online, http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/publications/journals/shq/online/v046/n2/contrib_DIVL2180.html

** the Delaware, Chickasaw, Waco, Tawakoni, Keechi, Caddo, Anadarko, Ioni, Biloxi and Cherokee.


Annie said...

And that is why I am still confused about directions in my home town. The Mississippi runs almost completely west to east there, but the town is laid out so that upriver is labeled north, (actually west) downriver is labeled south (actually east). So to me, the sun rose in the south, and set in the north. I was a confused child.

cornbread hell said...

obviously someone secretly moved the mississippi just to confuse you. or the town.

Left Coast Cowgirl said...

Wandered into Cornbread Hell and found an interesting history lesson. Love old maps and early American history. We've got a Miwok migration route and grinding stone on our property. I talk about it in this post:


cornbread hell said...

thanks for the visit. i like your blog. good luck with the nablopomo thing, cowgirl.