Township (United States)

Last updated

A township in some states of the United States is a small geographic area. [1]


The term is used in three ways.

  1. A survey township is simply a geographic reference used to define property location for deeds and grants as surveyed and platted by the General Land Office (GLO). A survey township is nominally six by six miles square, or 23,040 acres.
  2. A civil township is a unit of local government, generally a civil division of a county. Counties are the primary divisional entities in many states, thus the powers and organization of townships varies from state to state. Civil townships are generally given a name, sometimes written with the included abbreviation "Twp".
  3. A charter township, found only in the state of Michigan, is similar to a civil township. Provided certain conditions are met, a charter township is mostly exempt from annexation to contiguous cities or villages, and carries additional rights and responsibilities of home rule.

Survey townships

Diagram of survey township Theoreticaltownshipmap.gif
Diagram of survey township
Hierarchy of systemic numbering in the PLSS Systemic numbering in the Public Land Survey System.gif
Hierarchy of systemic numbering in the PLSS

Survey townships are generally referred to by a number based on the Public Land Survey System (PLSS). A reference to the township will look something like "Township 2 North Range 3 East", or "T2N,R3E" and such a notation is used in property descriptions based on the PLSS. Townships were originally surveyed and platted by the United States General Land Office, using contracted private survey crews, and are marked on the United States Geological Survey maps of the United States.

Townships are normally a square approximately six miles (9.7 km) on a side with cardinal boundaries conforming to meridians and parallels, containing 36 sections of one square mile (2.6 km2) each. The northern and westernmost tier of sections in each township are designed to take up the convergence of the east and west township boundary lines or range lines, as well as any error in the survey measurements, and therefore these sections vary slightly from being one square mile or 640 acres (260 ha). Survey townships exist in some form in most states other than the original 13 colonies, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vermont, and Maine.[ dubious ] Irregular or fractional townships with fewer than a full 36 sections are created where full townships cannot be laid out due to existing senior boundaries, such as Spanish/Mexican ranchos, Indian reservations, state boundary lines, etc.

In Kentucky, the Jackson Purchase (the area west of the Tennessee River) is divided into townships and ranges. In Tennessee, the entire state is surveyed into townships and ranges that make up 13 survey districts of the Tennessee State Survey. In extreme northern Maine there is an area divided into townships and ranges oriented to true north. A region in the central part of the state, made up of 17 surveys, is divided into townships, but these are not oriented to true north. The remainder of the state is on metes and bounds. Similarly, Vermont and New Hampshire are mostly metes-and-bounds states, but have areas in the north that are surveyed into townships not oriented to true north. Most of Ohio is surveyed using the Public Land Survey System, but several sizable areas are metes-and-bounds, including the Virginia Military Reserve, Donation Tract, French Grant and the three Moravian grants (Gnadenhutten, Schoenbrunn and Salem). A 150,000-acre (61,000 ha) area in southern Indiana (Clark's Grant) is not surveyed into townships, but is still a gridded survey. Portions of the Texas State Survey use square townships. Sizeable portions of Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington, are unsurveyed. Substantial swampy areas in Florida and Louisiana are also unsurveyed.

Both New York and Pennsylvania have metes-and-bounds surveys, but in the western parts of these states, the metes-and-bounds form square townships many of which are also civil townships. Besides these, nearly every state has areas of metes-and-bounds that were never included in the grids (like along major rivers) or were removed from the grid, usually due to surveying mistakes.

Civil townships

The township government is a unit of local government, often rural. Townships are geographic and political subdivisions of a county. The township is identified by a name, such as Raritan Township, New Jersey. The responsibilities and the form of the township government is specified by the state legislature.

The most common form of township government has an elected board of trustees or supervisors. Some additional offices, such as clerk or constable, may also be elected. The most common governmental responsibilities of townships include oversight of such things as road maintenance, land-use planning, and trash collection. Many townships in Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania provide police and fire protection, similar to what an incorporated city would provide.

In most midwestern states, a civil township often corresponds to a single survey township, although in less populated areas, the civil township may be made up of all or portions of several survey townships. In areas where there are natural features such as a lake or river, the civil township boundaries may follow the geographic features rather than the survey township boundaries. Municipalities such as cities may incorporate or annex land in a township, which is then generally removed from township government. Only one state, Indiana, has township governments covering all its area and population. [2] In other states, some types of municipalities, like villages, remain a part of the township while cities are not. As urban areas expand, a civil township may entirely disappear—see, for example, Mill Creek Township, Hamilton County, Ohio. In other expanding urban areas, the township may incorporate itself into a city; this can be seen in the numerous square cities of Hennepin, Anoka, and Washington counties in Minnesota. The Montgomery County, Ohio, cities of Trotwood (1996, formerly Madison Township), Huber Heights (1980, Wayne Township), and Kettering (1955, Van Buren Township) are further examples of townships incorporating into cities.

Pennsylvania and New Jersey have civil townships that are not based on the PLSS survey system, but on the older metes and bounds survey system. A New Jersey township differs only in name from other municipalities: its boundaries are fixed, it is an incorporated body, and it is free to adopt another form of government. The federal government has frequently failed to allow for federal funding unless they went under a different name;[ citation needed ] some New Jersey municipalities, such as the Township of the Borough of Verona or Township of South Orange Village, changed their names to qualify for additional federal aid.

Utah and Nevada have areas called townships, but they are not the same as civil townships. These areas are not separate governments, but have been granted some degree of self-rule by a county.[ citation needed ]

Charter townships

Michigan has created charter townships as a separate type of government to allow greater flexibility for township governments to serve urbanized populations. In Michigan, as in other states with like systems (though sometimes different names), a township is an administrative division of a county, which is an administrative division of the state. Counties and townships are local organs through which state law and public policy are administered, adapted to local need to the extent the law allows. A charter township is a township that has been granted a charter, which allows it certain rights and responsibilities of home rule that are generally intermediary in scope between those of a city (a semi-autonomous jurisdiction in Michigan) and a village, which (unless it is a home-rule village) is subject to the authority of the township(s) in which it is located.

Charter townships may also reorganize themselves into municipalities, as can be seen in Wayne County, Michigan, and elsewhere in the Detroit metropolitan area.

Census statistics

Towns and townships are sometimes considered minor civil divisions of counties by the United States Census Bureau for statistical purposes. [3] According to the Census Bureau, in 2002, town or township government applied to 16,504 organized governments in the following 20 states:

This categorization includes governmental units officially designated as "towns" in the New England states, New York, and Wisconsin, some plantations in Maine and locations in New Hampshire. In Minnesota, the terms town and township are used interchangeably with regard to township governments. Although towns in the six New England states and New York, and townships in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, are legally termed municipal corporations, perform municipal-type functions, and frequently serve densely populated urban areas, they have no necessary relation to concentration of population, and are thus counted for census purposes as town or township governments. Even in states beyond New England, townships often serve urbanized areas and provide municipal services typically provided by incorporated municipalities.

The count of 16,504 organized township governments does not include unorganized township areas (where the township may exist in name only, but has no organized government) or where the townships are coextensive with cities and the cities have absorbed the township functions. It also does not include the townships in Iowa (see Iowa townships), which are not separate governments, but are classified as subordinate agencies of county governments.

Of the 16,504 town or township governments, only 1,179 (7.1 percent) had as many as 10,000 inhabitants in the 2000 census and 52.4 percent of all towns or townships had fewer than 1000 inhabitants. There was a decline in the number of town or township governments from 16,629 in 1997 to 16,504 in 2002. Nearly all of the decline involved townships in the Midwest.

Usage by state

Because township government is defined by each state, the use of this form also varies by state. States using a township form include the following:

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Township</span> Designation for types of settlement as administrative territorial entities

A township is a kind of human settlement or administrative subdivision, with its meaning varying in different countries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania</span> County in Pennsylvania, United States

Philadelphia County is a county in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is the most populous county in Pennsylvania. As of 2020, Philadelphia County had an estimated population of 1,603,797 residents. The county is the second smallest county in Pennsylvania by land area, after Montour County. Philadelphia County is one of the three original counties, along with Chester and Bucks counties, created by William Penn in November 1682.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wayne County, Michigan</span> County in Michigan, United States

Wayne County is the most populous county in the U.S. state of Michigan. As of 2020, the United States Census placed its population at 1,793,561, making it the 19th-most populous county in the United States. The county seat is Detroit. The county was founded in 1796 and organized in 1815. Wayne County is included in the Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI Metropolitan Statistical Area. It is one of several U.S. counties named after Revolutionary War-era general Anthony Wayne.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alaiedon Township, Michigan</span> Civil township in Michigan, United States

Alaiedon Township is a civil township of Ingham County in the U.S. state of Michigan. As of the 2010 census, the township population was 2,894.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Unincorporated area</span> Region of land not governed by own local government

An unincorporated area is a region that is not governed by a local municipal corporation. Widespread unincorporated communities and areas are a distinguishing feature of the United States and Canada. Most other countries of the world either have no unincorporated areas at all or these are very rare: typically remote, outlying, sparsely populated or uninhabited areas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Public Land Survey System</span>

The Public Land Survey System (PLSS) is the surveying method developed and used in the United States to plat, or divide, real property for sale and settling. Also known as the Rectangular Survey System, it was created by the Land Ordinance of 1785 to survey land ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Paris in 1783, following the end of the American Revolution. Beginning with the Seven Ranges in present-day Ohio, the PLSS has been used as the primary survey method in the United States. Following the passage of the Northwest Ordinance in 1787, the Surveyor General of the Northwest Territory platted lands in the Northwest Territory. The Surveyor General was later merged with the General Land Office, which later became a part of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Today, the BLM controls the survey, sale, and settling of lands acquired by the United States.

A census-designated place (CDP) is a concentration of population defined by the United States Census Bureau for statistical purposes only.

A minor civil division (MCD) is a term used by the United States Census Bureau for primary governmental and/or administrative divisions of a county or county-equivalent, typically a municipal government such as a city, town, or civil township. MCDs are used for statistical purposes by the Census Bureau, and do not necessarily represent the primary form of local government. They range from non-governing geographical survey areas to municipalities with weak or strong powers of self-government. Some states with large unincorporated areas give substantial powers to counties; others have smaller or larger incorporated entities with governmental powers that are smaller than the MCD level chosen by the Census.

A civil township is a widely used unit of local government in the United States that is subordinate to a county, most often in the northern and midwestern parts of the country. The term town is used in New England, New York, and Wisconsin to refer to the equivalent of the civil township in these states; Minnesota uses "town" officially but often uses it and "township" interchangeably. Specific responsibilities and the degree of autonomy vary based on each state. Civil townships are distinct from survey townships, but in states that have both, the boundaries often coincide and may completely geographically subdivide a county. The U.S. Census Bureau classifies civil townships as minor civil divisions. Currently, there are 20 states with civil townships.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Survey township</span> Area of land used in US land surveys

A survey township, sometimes called a Congressional township or just township, as used by the United States Public Land Survey System, is a nominally-square area of land that is nominally six U.S. survey miles on a side. Each 36-square-mile township is divided into 36 sections of one square mile each. The sections can be further subdivided for sale.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Section (United States land surveying)</span> One square mile

In U.S. land surveying under the Public Land Survey System (PLSS), a section is an area nominally one square mile, containing 640 acres, with 36 sections making up one survey township on a rectangular grid.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wayne Township, Warren County, Ohio</span> Township in Ohio, United States

Wayne Township is one of the eleven townships of Warren County, Ohio, United States. It is located in the northeast part of the county and includes the village of Waynesville, Ohio. Its population in 2000 was 7,250, up from 5,744 in 1990; 4,436 of this total lived in the unincorporated portions of the township. Waynesville is noted for its antique stores and is the home of a sauerkraut festival. Caesar Creek State Park is located here.

Metes and bounds is a system or method of describing land, real property or real estate. The system has been used in England for many centuries and is still used there in the definition of general boundaries. The system is also used in the Canadian province of Ontario, and throughout Canada for the description of electoral districts. By custom, it was applied in the original Thirteen Colonies that became the United States and in many other land jurisdictions based on English common law, including Zimbabwe, South Africa, India and Bangladesh. While still in hand-me-down use, this system has been largely overtaken in the past few centuries by newer systems such as rectangular and lot and block.

Local government in the United States refers to governmental jurisdictions below the level of the state. Most states and territories have at least two tiers of local government: counties and municipalities. Louisiana uses the term parish and Alaska uses the term borough for what the U.S. Census Bureau terms county equivalents in those states. Civil townships or towns are used as subdivisions of a county in 20 states, mostly in the Northeast and Midwest.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Borough (United States)</span> Administrative division at the local government level in the United States

A borough in some U.S. states is a unit of local government or other administrative division below the level of the state. The term is currently used in six states:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">New England town</span> Basic unit of local government in the six New England states of the United States

The town is the basic unit of local government and local division of state authority in the six New England states. Most other U.S. states lack a direct counterpart to the New England town. New England towns overlay the entire area of a state, similar to civil townships in other states where they exist, but they are fully functioning municipal corporations, possessing powers similar to cities in other states. New Jersey's system of equally powerful townships, boroughs, towns, and cities is the system which is most similar to that of New England. New England towns are often governed by a town meeting legislative body. The great majority of municipal corporations in New England are based on the town model; there, statutory forms based on the concept of a compact populated place are uncommon, though elsewhere in the U.S. they are prevalent. County government in New England states is typically weak at best, and in some states nonexistent. Connecticut, for example, has no county governments, nor does Rhode Island. Both of those states retain counties only as geographic subdivisions with no governmental authority, while Massachusetts has abolished eight of fourteen county governments so far. Counties serve mostly as dividing lines for the states' judicial systems and some other state services in the southern New England states, while providing limited services in the three northern New England states.

The following is a set–index article, providing a list of lists, for the cities, towns and villages within the jurisdictional United States. It is divided, alphabetically, according to the state, territory, or district name in which they are located.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Village (United States)</span> Administrative division at the local government level in the United States

In the United States, the meaning of village varies by geographic area and legal jurisdiction. In many areas, "village" is a term, sometimes informal, for a type of administrative division at the local government level. Since the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the federal government from legislating on local government, the states are free to have political subdivisions called "villages" or not to and to define the word in many ways. Typically, a village is a type of municipality, although it can also be a special district or an unincorporated area. It may or may not be recognized for governmental purposes.


  1. Long, David (2001). "Townships" (PDF). StoryLines Midwest. American Library Association. Discussion Guide No. 1. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 20, 2012.
  2. U.S. Census Bureau (2002). "Government Organization" (PDF). 2002 Census of Governments. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. 1 (1): 8. GC02(1)-1.
  3. "Population and Housing Unit Estimates: Terms and Definitions". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 7 May 2019.