long-lot field

Before the township-and-range survey grid was imposed on most of the western two-thirds of the United States, land along rivers was often divided into narrow strips running at right angles to the stream, like ribs stretching away from a spine. Such long-lot fields gave the maximum number of settlers access to the river for transportation and, in dry regions, for irrigation. Crops needing the most water could be planted near the stream, while crops needing less could be planted farther back. In Spanish America, the width of these lots was measured in lengths called varas (eventually defined by the Texas legislature as thirty-three inches), and thus early deeds for allotments on the Rio Grande and other southwestern rivers refer to such fields as vara strips. In Quebec, along the St. Lawrence and its tributaries, the ratio of length to width of these long-lot fields ranged from 10-to-1 to 100-to-1.

Scott Russell Sanders