Lay of the Land: The History of Land Surveying in San Diego County

By Michael J. Pallamary, PLS

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Lay of the Land: The History of
Land Surveying in San Diego County

Click the cover icon to view larger imagesThe Lay of the Land is a must for Professional Land Surveyors, Civil Engineers, Title Officers, Land Planners, Land Use Attorneys and anyone interested in the development of San Diego County.

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About the Book

The Lay of the Land presents an informative history about the development of San Diego. The story begins with the liberation of Texas and continues with the subsequent war with Mexico. Mr. Pallamary’s book follows General Stephen Kearny and his corps of surveyors as they mapped and marched their way westward to California. The controversial actions of The Great Pathfinder, John Charles Frémont are also covered, as are early encounters between military Surveyors and Native Americans. The book also covers the challenges involved with locating the International Boundary Line between the United States and Mexico as specified by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Mr. Pallamary also provides informative insight into the creation of the government townships and section lines that govern the location of land throughout Southern California. Additional subjects contained in this informative manuscript include the impact of the land squatter movement on San Diego, the influence of the contentious No-Fence Law upon land settlement, the establishment of the San Bernardino Baseline and Meridian, and determination of the county boundary lines.

The Lay of the Land also examines the confusing land grant process and the obstacles involved with validating these claims before the United States Land Commission. Another important subject covered by Mr. Pallamary is the expansion of the transcontinental railroad and its impact upon San Diego. A number of the county’s most important engineering projects are also explored, including the relocation of the San Diego River, the transformation of False Bay into Mission Bay and the development of San Diego Harbor. Considerable coverage is provided on the subjects of land fraud, water boundaries, corrupt government Surveyors, and the Great Land Boom of 1887. Mr. Pallamary also documents the influence of many of the county’s more influential Land Surveyors including George Derby, Andrew Gray, Colonel John Coffee Hays, Cave Couts, Charles Poole, James Pascoe, Charles J. Fox, Myron G. Wheeler, Edwin Capps, Andrew Ervast, and Porter Perrin Wheaton, the Great Wheelbarrow Surveyor.

Mr. Pallamary’s insightful research into the creation of early subdivisions and the important lawsuits that were filed in connection with these nascent efforts provide a fresh insight into the mechanics of land subdivision and property surveying.

About Michael J. Pallamary, PLS

Michael J. Pallamary is a Professional Land Surveyor in San Diego, California. He has been surveying real property since 1971. He is a recognized expert in land surveying and real property matters. Mr. Pallamary has testified as an expert witness in numerous Superior and Federal Court cases. He is a frequent lecturer at conferences and seminars throughout Southern California. Mr. Pallamary is the co-author of The History of San Diego Land Surveying Experiences with the late Curtis M. Brown and the university textbook, Advanced Land Descriptions, written with Surveyors Paul Cuomo and Roy Minnick. He has also published numerous papers and articles on land surveying.

Mr. Pallamary formed Precision Survey & Mapping of San Diego in 1982 and served as its owner and president for seventeen years. In 1983, he obtained the business interests of Land Survey Service of La Jolla. In the process, he acquired the largest private collection of records relating to real property in La Jolla and neighboring coastal cities.

His work on The Lay of the Land commenced in 1983. The book represents the culmination of nineteen years of research conducted across the State of California. Mr. Pallamary is the principal and owner of Pallamary & Associates of La Jolla, California.

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Surveying is defined by Webster as “the act of one who surveys; the science or work of making land surveys; to determine the location, form, or boundaries of (a tract of land) by measuring the lines and angles in accordance with the principles of geometry and trigonometry.”

Beyond strict, technical definitions, surveying is a vital science that has played an important role in the historical development of many nations, culturally, politically, and physically. The sightings on a surveyor’s transit are far more powerful than those found on a soldier’s rifle; the Surveyor has conquered more land than the world’s finest militia. The Surveyor’s peculiar marks and lines have left a far greater impression upon humankind than upon the lands he conducts his business on.

In more general terms, the science of surveying involves the location and determination of points or positions upon the face of the earth. Many times, these represent not only conventional division lines such as those between farmlands, but also those of man’s unique races, religions, and nations. There are many diverse facets of land surveying, each demanding its own unique set of rules and procedures and each, a specialized science unto itself.

Because of the works of the Land Surveyor and his/her unique methods of locating land, San Diego and much of Southern California owes its very existence to the small handful of men and women who have divided and arranged the streets, communities, and neighborhoods that we live, walk, and drive through. It is to these brave and intelligent individuals that this work is devoted.


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Page updated: March 26, 2011