Why are US state lines drawn that way?

It seems that many states have straight lines as borders that arbitrarily cut though natural geographic formations. It would seem to make more sense to match the lines with the geography so they can be readily identified without maps [especially back in the day, before GPS]. How was the Lone Ranger supposed to know what state he was in? Also, it would seem to make for better use of resources if land and water formations [lakes, rivers, valleys, etc.] were not split in awkward ways.

Is there a reason states are shaped like boxes? How were state lines formed, generally?

There was a huge long thread about this a few months back, chock full of good information. Search for “state boundaries” in IMHO or MPSIMS.

My searches turn up nothing of the sort. Maybe I’m just stoopid. Hmmm.

“A few months back”? No longer possible to search that far back, is it? I hope the admins can come up with a better solution to the board’s bandwidth problem, and soon.


Touching tangentially on the OP, the state line of California, bordering Nevada, was very difficult to properly survey from the point in Lake Tahoe where it stops running north south to the point that it intersects the Colorado River. As a result, for a short period of time, residents of Mono County had as their county seat the boom town of Aurora, only to find that it lay about five miles within the state of Nevada.

The highest point in Nevada, Boundary Peak, was also placed in California for a while until updated surveys placed it in Nevada. Many atlases still list Wheeler Peak, in the eastern part of the state, as Nevada’s highest point.

It wasn’t discussed in the thread linked above, and my question sort of fits in with this thread’s title.

One thing I’ve always noticed is that states west of the Mississipi tends to be significantly larger in area than those on the eastern side. Any reason why?

They were, when made territories (and even at the time of their statehood), vastly less densely populated than most eastern states. The prevailing (reasonable) view had it that these expanses of land should be formed into units large enough to make it worthwhile (adminstratively and politically), lest the western part of the country consist of another 75 states (alone) each with a population of about 12.

If you look at a county map of Texas, you’ll notice that in the eastern side, you’ll see counties with irregularly-shaped borders (suggesting borders drawn in line with rivers, forests, etc.), but at a certain point west the counties are a bunch of squares. What I was told in school was that when they were divvying up Texas, hardly anyone (white) lived out that way, and it had been so little explored that accurate geographical maps were unavailable. So they just made fairly unform squares out of it. I would guess this is the same reason for the sqarish nature of many Western States.

Oh, well that makes sense then.


Do you have cable? This gets re-run on History channel ALL THE TIME

Uber - check the date of the OP. It was raised by a troll for his own nefarious purposes.


I’ll take my seat in the failboat.

Still a decent link to a TV series that didn’t exist when the htread was first started.

I am confused as hell by your ideas but I bet your newsletter is AWESOME.

Well, Well, maybe it was being filmed then, or perhaps, there was an idea scribbled on a napkin somewhere, huh??

No. I should just check post dates better. :frowning:

So all those government surveyors were out doing what exactly? Were they being guided by this mysterious ‘hand’.

Moderator Action

I don’t see any good reason for this to have been raised. Let’s put the zombie back in its grave where it belongs.

Closing thread.