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Surveying Units

Acre - The (English) acre is a unit of area equal to 43,560 square feet, or 10 square chains, or 160 square poles. It derives from a plowing area that is 4 poles wide and a furlong (40 poles) long. A square mile is 640 acres. The Scottish acre is 1.27 English acres. The Irish acre is 1.6 English acres.

Chain - Unit of length usually understood to be Gunter’s chain, but possibly variant by locale. The name comes from the heavy metal chain of 100 links that was used by surveyors to measure property bounds.

Engineer’s Chain - A 100 foot chain containing 100 links of one foot apiece.

Furlong - Unit of length equal to 40 poles (220 yards). Its name derives from “furrow long”, the length of a furrow that oxen can plow before they are rested and turned. See Gunter’s chain.

Gunter’s Chain - Unit of length equal to 66 feet, or 4 poles. Developed by English polymath Edmund Gunter early in the 1600’s, the standard measuring chain revolutionized surveying. Gunter’s chain was 22 yards long, one tenth of a furlong, a common unit of length in the old days. An area one chain wide by ten chains long was exactly an acre. In 1695 Queen Elizabeth I had the mile redefined from the old Roman value of 5000 feet to 5280 feet in order for it to be an even number of furlongs. A mile is 80 chains.

Hectare - Metric unit of area equal to 10,000 square meters, or 2.471 acres, or 107,639 square feet.

 Labor - The labor is a unit of area used in Mexico and Texas. In Texas it equals 177.14 acres (or 1 million square varas).

League (legua) - Unit of area used in the southwest U.S., equal to 25 labors, or 4428 acres (Texas), or 4439 acres (California). Also, a unit of length-- approximately three miles.

Link - Unit of length equal to 1/100 chain (7.92 inches).

Out - An ‘out’ was ten chains. When counting out long lines, the chain carriers would put a stake at the end of a chain, move the chain and put a stake at the end, and so on until they ran “out” of ten stakes.

Perch - See pole

Pole - Unit of length and area. Also known as a perch or rod. As a unit of length, equal to 16.5 feet. A mile is 320 poles. As a unit of area, equal to a square with sides one pole long. An acre is 160 square poles. It was common to see an area referred to as “87 acres, 112 poles”, meaning 87 and 112/160 acres.

Pueblo - A Spanish grant of less than 1000 acres.

Rancho - A Spanish grant of more than 1000 acres.

Rod - See pale

Vara - Unit of length (the “Spanish yard”) used in the U.S. southwest. The vara is used throughout the Spanish speaking world and has values around 33 inches, depending on locale. The legal value in Texas was set to 33 1/3 inches early in the 1900’s.