Patterns of Complexity in Gwynns Falls Land Grants

Daniel J. Bain, Johns Hopkins University
Grace S. Brush, The Johns Hopkins University

Original land surveys are commonly used to explain current landscape configuration in areas surveyed using the General Land Office's survey system. For areas in the Eastern United States, surveyed using a system of metes and bounds, use of land records is less common. The Gwynns Falls watershed (Baltimore, Maryland) straddles the rural-urban continuum. An accounting of the original land grants in this watershed is complete. The data suggests the original land grant configuration is an important determinant of current patch structure at several scales. At the watershed scale, much of the lower half of the watershed was originally ceded to the Baltimore Company in large tracts, providing forested areas for charcoal production. This precluded high-density residential and commercial land use in the watershed during Baltimore's early growth. As a result, the disturbances in this area are more recent and the patch structure comparatively more dynamic. On a smaller scale, the original grant boundaries form a template that determines current patch structure. Street networks are aligned with original grant axis. Parks and greenspace are coincident with larger original tracts. Tract boundaries amplify natural breaks in geologic gradients. The original settlement patterns must be accounted for in discussions of historic patch dynamics

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