There are two principal kinds of townships. One is a small geographic area surveyed by the Federal Government Land Office for the purpose of locating and identifying ownership of even smaller plots of land. A township is a square six miles on a side and so it has 36 one square mile sections. It is commonly said that a man owns a section or quarter-section (¼ of a section) of land. These are called survey townships and the method used to create survey townships has been in use since the Land Ordinance of 1785. Once surveyed "survey townships" don't change (much, rarely; e.g. only when a referenced riverbed changes and the land has to be resurveyed).

The other type of township is called a "civil township." It too is a small geographic area. Counties are divided into civil townships. They may have an elected board of trustees, clerk, and constable. They may also have departments responsible for roads, trash collection, police and fire-fighting. These townships have changed over time as they were split or combined depending on the politics of the time. They haven't changed much since the automobile, telephone and television shrank the world.

An example of a "civil township" is Beaver Township in Jefferson County, Pennsylvania. It was named for Beaver Run the principal stream that runs through it. Beaver Run crosses the township from east to west. Worthville Borough and several small, unincorporated villages: Conifer, Heathville, Ohl, Pansy, & Langville are located in the township.

In western Pennsylvania many of the surveyed townships are also civil townships. I was unable to determine if the survey and civil township boundaries are identical in the case of Beaver township.

There are other geographic areas called townships (e.g. in Utah and Nevada). If you want to learn more about these less common forms you will have to do a little research on your own.

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