Surveying the Valley

The Government Land Office (now Bureau of Land Management) began the first rectangular survey of the Matanuska Valley area in 1911, continuing until 1916 when the surveys were officially signed.  This initial survey covered the heart of the Matanuska Valley, from Knik to Chickaloon and north to Talkeetna.

There is a wealth of historical information in these old surveys, especially in the field notes.  Some of the old survey is now available online, and other parts have just recently been electronically liberated from BLM microfiche files.  PHS is gathering this information in electronic format, and we hope our members will explore it and share their findings.

The survey started by locating the Seward Meridian, then adding township boundaries, section corners and midpoints, and meander lines of lakes and rivers.  The surveyors cut those straight lines through the forests and placed those brass corner monuments that define so much of what’s been built since then.  This survey opened up official homesteading of the valley.

Documentation included the survey plats, the basis for the first accurate maps and foundation for real estate property deeds.  These plats necessarily became updated or replaced over the years with each new subdivision and road; current plats and records can be accessed through the Matanuska-Susitna Borough’s website,

State and federal land records, including these original BLM plats, can be downloaded from by clicking on the map, and scrolling through the federal records.

For instance, clicking the map near the Matanuska Townsite between Palmer and Wasilla retrieves a page “Alaska Land Records”.  The “Get Federal Records” link shows files with MTP, USRS, USS, etc. prefixes.  The link “USRS S017N001E2” retrieves the plat for Township 17 North Range 1 East S.M.  The plats are usually the first 1-2 maps found in the USRS section.

The links “USS1169” and “USS-NOTES 1169” retrieve the 1916 survey and field notes for the Matanuska Townsite.  Unfortunately, field notes for the townships are not posted online, and reading them requires downloading each individual page.  The surveyors’ notes for a single township can exceed 100 pages.

Fortunately, PHS has compiled on a CD for easier viewing all the survey plats and over 1200 pages of notes for 15 townships in the central valley (generally Butte toBig Lake, Eklutna to Moose Cr.).    Rick Meron of BLM retrieved the scanned microfiche notes for us and provided a general index and instructions.   We have included the plats in pdf format, and the notes and specific indices are included as tif files.

The notes include historical tidbits such as cabins, owners, gravesites, and trails, and geographical features such as common names (in 1913), tides, timber, soils, and agricultural suitability.  This is the first location of rivers and creeks, some of which changed courses.  Lakes and rivers big enough to survey included a meander line.

An example page from the notes describes surveying the east-west section line between sections 15 and 22 Township 17 North Range 1 East, on the bluff just north of the Parks/Glenn Hwy interchange.  The surveyor is moving from west to east on this page.  Before the middle of the section line (“1/4 corner”), he encounters “Ranchers trail” (now the E. Matanuska Spur) which becomes the Nieland trail (now Trunk Rd) heading to the junction with the Watson trail (north mile or so of Trunk Rd).  The line then descends into a marshy swale (now Parks Highway) noting Nieland’s old cabin on the left, and then climbs the bluff to a patch of oat field near Nieland’s new cabin.  The traverse passes out of the burned timber into spruce and birch, encountering a clear lake (now Matanuska Lake).