Famous Land Surveyors in American History

Land surveying has long been a rich part of our history and an important piece in the development of the United States.

Here is a list including America’s most famous land surveyors.

George Washington

America’s first president, George Washington, was one of the earliest land surveyors in the nation. He began his surveying career in 1749 at the age of 17. Soon after, he was appointed county surveyor of Virginia. Throughout Washington’s surveying career he surveyed over 200 plots of land and played a role contributing to the westward expansion.

Benjamin Banneker

Benjamin Banneker was an almanac author, surveyor, and scientist. In 1789, Banneker was hired as a surveyor by the U.S. Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson. He became part of the crew that surveyed the original borders of Washington D.C., formerly known as District of Columbia.

Thomas Jefferson

Prior to becoming the 3rd president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson was a surveyor. In 1773, he was appointed as surveyor for Albemarle County in Virginia. Jefferson’s most recognized project was organizing the Lewis and Clark expedition. During this expedition, they explored and surveyed the land acquired through the Louisiana Purchase.

Daniel Boone

Notable pioneer and explorer, Daniel Boone, was an American land surveyor. During the late 18th century, Boone carried out most of his surveys resolving settler’s land title claims in Kentucky. During his surveying career, Boone performed over 160 surveys. However, due to his lack of education and training, Boone received a lot of criticism for the accuracy and quality of his surveys.

Abraham Lincoln

Another famous land surveyor was our 16th president Abraham Lincoln. He was able to master his survey training books and developed into a highly trusted surveyor because of his accuracy. In 1833, Lincoln was appointed deputy surveyor of Sangamon County, Illinois. During his career, Lincoln performed a multitude of surveys including, school sections, farmlands, roads, and was called on to settle boundary disputes.

America’s greatest presidents and pioneers were some of the nation’s most notable land surveyors. Early land surveyors made a substantial impact on the expansion and development of our nation. Today’s land surveyors continue to play an important role in the growth of our nation.

Call Windrose Land Services for any surveying or platting needs in Houston.

Land Surveying Through The Centuries

Because land surveying establishes boundaries and mapping, it is an essential part of land development and land ownership. Land mapping and measuring can date back to the ancient Egyptians and has paved the way for today’s surveying techniques and methods.

Earliest Land Surveyors

Earliest practices of land surveying can date back to the old civilization of the ancient Egyptians around 1400 B.C. They accomplished the construction of the great pyramids and waterways using primitive surveying tools, such as measuring ropes, plumb bobs, and other gadgets that assisted them in evaluating a parcel of land. Later, the Greeks and Romans created the groma which helped in dividing the land and building new roads and structures. This instrument was used to establish straight lines and right angles.

11th Century

In England in 1086, William the Conqueror commissioned the Domesday Book, also known as the Great Survey. This manuscript held an extensive record of each piece of land owned, its boundaries, elements on the land, the landholders and their tenants.  

18th Century

It wasn’t until the late 1700s that improvements to the earliest form of a theodolite, consisting of a tripod and compass, were made. Jesse Ramsden, a scientific instrument maker, designed and created a modern version of the theodolite. He designed it with the dividing engine that was capable of obtaining measurements and angles with high accuracy.

19th Century

During the 19th century, land surveying jobs became prominent. The industrial revolution caused an increase in the demand of surveyors because of the rapid expansion in developments.


Early principles of measurement and surveying tools continue to be important in today’s practices. New technologies have improved the performance of older surveying instruments. New tools and methods like 3D scanning, GPS, and GIS Software have enhanced the efficiency and effectiveness of land surveying today.

Common Easements Affecting a Property

In many cases, there are restrictions on the usage of a property. Often parts of the property aren’t owned at all and this can come as a surprise to a buyer or builder.  Sometimes, years after purchasing a property, the owner decides to build a building or make other improvements only to then discover that it can’t be built due to legal restrictions on a property. Although not always top of mind, surveyors really should be one of the first firms you call to determine how much land there is and if there are any easements, setbacks or restrictions. 

How can this happen?

All properties have what is known as “easements”. Easements are designations that legally allow the city, public or utility companies  limited access to portions of a property.

However, it is important for the property owner to understand that even on easements you have reserved rights to use the land and deny access to individuals except for these easement holders. The individuals or entities that are allowed access you your property are known as “dominant estate”. The property owner who must share their property is known as “servient estate”.

Easements that commonly affect property owners

There are countless types of easements throughout the world, however here are the most common that can affect a property owner who wants to build or remodel on their land.

Utility Easements

In most cases, utility companies have access to your property above and below ground for maintenance or repair purposes. Utilities easement types include sanitary sewer, telephone, electric, gas, cable and more.

Drainage Easements

Typically, the city has limited rights of access and use of a property. In these areas, improvements are not allowed and are recommended to refrain from planting trees or landscaping. Drainage easements provide areas for storm water to flow or may be needed for access to the drainage infrastructures.


A right-of-way allows the public, access to your property such as sidewalk or driveway easements.

Sidewalk Easements

Amongst the most common, sidewalk easements typically allow the public access through the a property. Even when there is not a physical pavement in place, there still may be an easement in place.

Driveway Easements

When constructing on a lot, some properties do not border a road. In this case, an easement is created to provide road access through another lot.


When it comes to building an improvement near or in an easement there is some flexibility that a property owner is granted. However, dealing with these regulations can be burdensome. It is best to fully understand a property’s easement locations prior to purchasing or building on a property.

To determine the easements of a property one can look at the title documents received when the property was purchased or by ordering a survey. As surveyors, we specialize in the exact determination of property boundaries and any easements on those properties.

When you need a professional survey, trust Windrose Land Surveying & Platting to deliver accurately and on time.


Earliest Surveying Tools in History

Land surveying is believed to be one of the oldest professions in history. The earliest forms of surveying are believed to date back to ancient civilizations of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans who created monumental structures like the Great Pyramids and Stonehenge.

Over the years many surveying tools and equipment have been replaced with new modern tools that are more time saving and accurate.


Here are 5 of the earliest surveying tools:


1.    Gunter’s Chain

 A measuring tool developed in the 1620’s. This chain consisted of 100 links and can reach up to about 66 feet. In practice, the links are pinned to the ground and were stretched out to define a path. Measurements would then be recorded until an endpoint was met.

2.    Gunter’s Surveyor Compass

 Also known as a circumferentor, this tool was used to determine right angles. This tool could determine two points at the same location allowing for the corners and boundaries of a parcel to be established.

3.    Zenith Telescope

 Constructed by Herman Wanschaff this tool was said to be the most sophisticated instrument in North America during the 18th century. This tool was used to had the capabilities of determining six parallels of latitude by observing the stars near zenith.


4.    Ramsden’s Theodolite

 This was a highly precise tool constructed in 1770 by Jesse Ramsden. This tool provided measurement indicators that made the way for highly accurate surveys and mapping.

5.    Solar Compass

1.    This gadget was created in 1853 by William Austin Burt to determine the true north direction with precise accuracy. This tool allowed for corners and boundaries to be established.

These surveying tools and equipment were pivotal to the development of the United States of America. It allowed boundaries to be established to create villages roads and provide land grants. Although many tools and methods like, GPS and 3-D scanning, have changed dramatically the principles of the surveying and mapping processes remain the same.