Rules of the Game: Types of Corners
Professional Surveyor Magazine - April 2008
Donald A. Wilson, LLS, PLS, RPF, Land Boundary Consultant
Since there sometimes seems to be some confusion as to what corners really are, perhaps further clarification is in order. The court system has provided considerable insight. In the previous article, a definition was presented. This article will focus on the different types of corners that might be encountered.
Care should be taken when discussing corners, as there are many types. There are property corners, but also street corners, building corners, and fence corners, which may or may not be property corners, depending upon the circumstances.
Classifications of Corners
A corner, according to the Tennessee court, may be defined as the intersection of two converging lines or surfaces; an angle, whether internal or external; as the "corner" of a building, the four "corners" of a square, the "corner" of two streets. A mere variation in a line does not constitute a "corner" (Christian v. Gernt, et al., 64 S.W. 399 [Tenn. Ch., 1900]). In this case, the court was quoting from the Century Dictionary. One of the parties insisted that a particular point was a corner, whereupon the court, relying on the above definition, stated that it cannot be a corner but is a mere variation in the line.
Closing corner: a corner at the intersection of a surveyed boundary with a previously established boundary line. In the survey of the public land of the United States, when a line connecting the last section corner and the objective corner on an established township boundary departs from the astronomic meridian by more than an allowable deviation, the line being surveyed is projected on cardinal to an intersection with the township boundary, where a closing corner is established and connection made to the previously established corner (quoted in Lugon v. Crosier, 240 P. 462, 78 Colo. 141 ).
Existent corner: one whose position is identifiable by evidence of monument, its accessories, or description in field notes, or can be located by acceptable supplemental survey record, some physical evidence, or testimony (Manual of Instructions, Bureau of Land Management , quoted in Reid v. Dunn, 20 Cal. Rptr. 273 ). This was addressed in Hartshorn v. Wright, 11 F. 715 (N.J. C.C., 1813), wherein the court addressed an objection that a description was uncertain because the courses of a creek were too indefinite a boundary and that no plot of the land had been produced to show the beginning and course of the western line. The court replied that the language, "'to a spot from whence a south course will strike the beginning,' though not marked by any visible object, is susceptible of precise location by aid of the compass, as there could be but one spot on the margin of the creek, whence a due south course would strike the beginning."
Lost corner: a point of a survey whose position cannot be determined, beyond reasonable doubt, either from traces of the original marks or from acceptable evidence or testimony that bears upon the original position, and whose location can be restored only by reference to one or more interdependent corners (Manual of Instructions, Bureau of Land Management , quoted in Reid v. Dunn, 20 Cal.Rptr. 273 ; U.S. v. Doyle, 468 F.2d 633 [Colo., 1972], paraphrased in Fellows v. Willett, 98 Okla. 248 ).
Meander corner: a corner marking the intersection of a township or section boundary and the mean high-water line of a body of water. Also a corner on a meander line. The Wisconsin court in Thunder Lake Lumber Co. v. Carpenter, 200 N.W. 302, 184 Wis. 580 stated in 1924 that a "meander corner" is not a fixed point for measurements, as are section and quarter corners, but is a marker for courses.
Nonexistent corner: one which has never existed, cannot be said to be lost, obliterated, or established under the rules relating to the establishment of lost or obliterated corners, but should be established at the place where the original surveyor should have put it (Lugon v. Crosier, 240 P. 462, 78 Colo. 141 ). In this case, the court rejected the arguments as to how this corner should be replaced. It concluded that the corner in question is a closing corner, but not one from which a standard parallel has been initiated, nor to which one has been directed. Therefore, the rules do not relate to the question in this case.
If it did, "it cannot be said to be lost or obliterated. It never existed and so cannot, strictly speaking, be said to be lost or obliterated. If the monument were lost or obliterated there would be some reason to attempt to re-locate it, and perhaps the method prescribed in rule 47 is as good a way as any other, but when it is a myth, never on the ground, the natural, straightforward and sensible way is to establish the corner at the place where the original surveyor ought to have put it and that is where the north course of the east line of the section meets the correction line at right angles, and that is where the report puts it. Everybody knows that that is where the section line ought to have closed and where the original surveyor, honest or dishonest, meant to close it; that his duty required him to close it there, so that the enclosure of his lines might be a rectangle or nearly so. Why should courts be less reasonable than reasonable men?"
Obliterated corner: one at whose point there are no remaining traces of the monument or its accessories, but whose location has been perpetuated, or the point for which may be recovered beyond reasonable doubt by the acts and testimony of the interested landowners, competent surveyors, other qualified local authorities, or witnesses, or by some acceptable record evidence (Manual of Instructions, Bureau of Land Management , quoted in Reid v. Dunn, 20 Cal.Rptr. 273 ; U.S. v. Doyle, 468 F.2d 633 [Colo., 1972], paraphrased in Fellows v. Willett, 98 Okla. 248 ).
A property corner is a corner of a parcel of land, right, or interest, which is created by title documents or some mechanism of title creation. It is the point where two property lines intersect.
Quarter corner: a corner of a Quarter Section of land. As distinguished from a section corner, in the government surveys, it means the corner on the section line midway between the section corners (Rud v. Board of County Commissioners of Pope County, 66 Minn. 358 ).
Section corner: a corner of a section of land, or a corner at an extremity of a section line.
Sixteenth corner: a corner of a sixteenth section of land or a quarter-quarter section. It may also be defined as a corner at an extremity of a boundary of a quarter-quarter section, or midpoint between the controlling corners on a section or township boundary.
Standard corner: one that is on a standard parallel or base line.
Township corner: a corner at the extremity of a township boundary or the corner of a township.
Witness corner: by conventional usage, a monumented point usually on a line of the survey and near a corner. It is employed in situations where it is impracticable (or impossible) to occupy the site of a corner. A witness point is a monumented station on a line of a survey and is used to perpetuate an important location more or less remote from and without special relation to any regular corner (Manual of Instructions, Bureau of Land Management ).
Corner accessory: a physical object adjacent to a corner to which the corner is referred for future identification or restoration. Accessories include bearing trees, mounds, pits, ledges, rocks, and other natural features to which distances or directions, or both, from the corner or monument are known. Accessories are part of the monument, and in the absence of the monument, may carry the same weight.
Problems are best solved by putting the problem in the right category and applying the appropriate rules, which may vary depending on the category. When it comes to corners, the rules do vary, and misidentifying the type of corner may lead to applying the wrong rule(s). That, in turn, may lead to disastrous results, at the least affecting the title to the land.
About the Author
Donald A. Wilson, LLS, PLS, RPF, Land Boundary ConsultantDon Wilson is president of Land & Boundary Consultants, Inc.; and part owner of and the lead instructor in Surveyors Educational Seminars, a member of the Professional Surveyor/RedVector Dream Team providing online courses for continuing education; and a regular instructor in the University of New Hampshire Continuing Education System for 25 years. He is also co-author of several well known texts.
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