Towns and Townships

Carter Rila elcutachero at YAHOO.COM
Sun Jan 25 19:34:09 UTC 2009

Here is my take on this question. Speaking as a geographer, cartographer, and historian. 
Townships and Towns.
There are several quite distinct usages for these two terms from the general to the specific.  As a trained geographer I am aware of several. The most general usage is to distinguish between the closely settled areas vs. the sparsely settled areas. This is mostly clearly exemplified by the title of the magazine aimed at the upper class socialites Town and Country. 
>From which we get the distinction town car and townhouse compared with country house and station wagon. The latter being a wooden framed and paneled box like body on a passenger car chassis or pickup truck chassis used to carry one’s guests and their traps from local commuter or more remote passenger stations to one’s country estate for long weekends in the country during the season. 
That said, though I am not as familiar with the New England usage, as I am with the Main Line (which is the main line of the erstwhile Pennsylvania Rail Road) west of Philadelphia, which is lined with the country homes and commuter homes of the well to do. Similarly there is more than one line running North and West from New York. The city of Trenton is the dividing line between the Philadelphia and New York spheres of influence; the famous “Clockers" still run every hour between the two metropolises and many commute daily each way from one to the other.
Similarly, in the Boston area, there are commuter lines reaching out into the hinterlands from both the North and South Stations.  BTW, it is my understanding that the term Down East come from the custom of the railroad time table makers to provide a listing of “up” trains heading into the major hub, and “down” trains away from the hub, thus Down East. 
The next broad use of town is a political one and it is so used in New England.
In PA where I am from there are no political entities known as towns. In the event PA is one of the few states to have no unincorporated land. However in PA the counties are viable governmental units while in New England I understand they are simply not.
The hierarchy in PA was first, second, and third class cities, then boroughs, and the lowest was townships
After the conclusion of the Revolution all of the new territory had to be measured and demarcated in order for settlement but there was not time to survey it and use the ancient system of metes and bounds used in the original thirteen colonies. So the Public Land Survey System was used to quickly divide up the land, disregarding any local squatter settlements that had sprung up: the Public Land Survey System was devised to demarcate the large unsettled tracts disregarding the original inhabitants, the Indians. is thus a legal term for recording property.
The PLS system was so successful that after the Mexican War, it was extended to the newly acquired lands, recognizing parts of the SW with preexisting land grants from Spain and Mexico. Texas has its own system.
Connecticut had originally claimed lands in Ohio in order to reward its war veterans, the area where Cleveland stands is known as the Western Reserve. My conclusion is that the use of township in the upper Midwest. (The Old Northwest as it is known to we geographers and historians) varies too much to discuss here. Here is an article on just one state’s varied usage of township for municipalities. 
 © 2009 Carter Rila


The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list