Finding the Boundaries

Timberhill Aerial Photo

When our lawyer did a title search prior to closing on our first purchase of seventy five acres of Decatur County land he warned,  “Be careful they don’t slip an extra forty acres in on you.”

Our lawyer believed that land was only worth buying if it could produce an income.  But the overstocked woodlands we had purchased had no value except for hunting wild game and  harvesting firewood.  To Bill and me the land was beautiful,  I’ll never forget walking the East Savanna trail the day after we closed and the property became ours.  I couldn’t believe this mosaic of woodlands and prairie openings was really ours.

Bill and I purchased our Decatur County property in pieces.  From Doyle Butcher we bought the original 75 acres, the East Savanna.  In 2001 we purchased an additional forty acres the we call the West 40.  While we were negotiating the purchase of the West 40 we sought advice from an appraiser regarding price.  Looking across the fence at the hickory woodland overgrown with eastern red cedar and honey locust he shook his head in disgust.  Why would we even consider buying such worthless land? But the West 40 had not only wildflowers such as purple prairie clover and bottle gentian not found on our East Savanna,  it also contained a remnant white oak and bur oak savanna. And we were certain it had never been plowed.  

Original survey notes

Since the land was considered so worthless no one had ever located the exact boundaries.  The only permanent  survey marker was a steel post designating an abandoned right of way that used to run through the middle of the east savanna,  Whatever the original Government Land Office surveyor had available when he surveyed the property in 1847 marked the rest of the survey points.  For example, a harrow bar marked the southwest corner between the West 40 and West Creek units.  The northwest corner was marked by a buggy axle buried in the creek, the southeast corner a buggy pole brace. A wringer spindle (iron spindle of a wringer washer), chips of crockery or a peg fashioned from the wood of a nearby tree and placed under a large stone marked other survey points. To quote the survey map, “a stone under E  W fence about 2 feet west of fence line south”, and “stone & jig under gray boulder”.Re

Revised survey notes locating some of the 1847 markers

There were fence lines but they were confusing.  At the corner between the east property and the West 40 the east fence line ended twenty feet south of  its continuation to the west.  A road that used to run along this line had been abandoned in 1938 and the land divided between adjoining landowners.  But the owners kept the fence lines where they were, one that ran on the south side of the road and another on the north.  After we purchased the West 40 we asked the county surveyor to mark the corners with permanent survey marker.  With a copy of the revised survey notes which located some of the original makers he stood near where he thought the buggy pole brace might be and swung a metal detector back and forth until it indicated buried metal.  With a shovel he dug up the buggy pole brace and replaced it with a permanent survey marker.  To find the northwest corner he had to wade into the creek.  This time he set the permanent survey marker south of the actual survey point and drove nails into a nearby post  and box elder from which another surveyor could shoot the actual survey point.  

Since then Decatur land such as our has increased in value.  However, the increased value is not into its beauty or restoration potential but its ability to produce deer.  We are now surrounded by hunters who have paid up to $3000 per acre for private hunting grounds.  They know exactly where the boundaries are and monitor them constantly with trail cameras to deter poachers.