Dividing the land : early American beginnings of our private property mosaic by Edward T. Price (Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1995) is an exceptional resource to understand the use of land in the early American Colonies. Price argues that the means and method of “dividing the land” was very contingent upon the nature of each community and colony. Form follows function.
In New England the communities were often settled by religious communities seeking refuge and hoping to build a tight knit egalitarian, almost Utopian, community. The towns were plotted and organized to support a small farmer, community-based, town-centric environment. Small plots, community centers (town squares), and communal property (pasture land, commons) were all hallmarks.
Look at this New England town. Notice the size of the farms in relation to the legend marking one mile and the “cow common.” It’s clear that the layout is designed to support an integrated community that relies on each other for survival.
Compare the above with this map of Westerfield, Connecticut. “Everyone” wanted riverfront property for ease of transportation. As a result on one side of the river you have the small town plots, and on the other side you have “long lots,” very thin, long lots with river access.
Isn’t it just fascinating how the needs of the community were the guiding force behind the layout of the town, the size of the properties, and their orientation to the river.
Next post I’ll show you what happened outside of New England. It’s a whole different story.