Term: long lots
French system of land tenure found at Green Bay and Prairie du Chien, under which property was laid out in long narrow strips fronting on the shoreline of a river, rather than in blocks that fronted on streets.
The long lot system was widely used by French colonists in Canada and was based on the medieval French seigniorial system. Because rivers were the main transportation routes, French settlers all wanted access to shoreline. Settlements were consequently divided into lots that gave as many people as possible access to the water. Each long lot was a narrow strip (typically 350 to 600 feet wide) that extended ten times that distance back from the shore. Homes were generally built near the water and farms and woodlots occupied the back. As populations expanded and shorelines were entirely occupied, roads were often constructed across the back and a second range of lots laid out. Bends in the river produced odd fan-shaped lots, and subdivision of original lots over time produced extremely narrow slips of property. Other difficulties arose if a river altered its course.
The long lot system laid the foundation for towns from Quebec to Louisiana. In Wisconsin, Green Bay and Prairie du Chien are the best examples. When the United States took over administration of the those two towns after the War of 1812, they sent an expert to map the property holdings of the residents and resolve disputes. Isaac Lee gathered testimony and drew two maps showing the long lot system. View his map of Green Bay at Turning Points in Wisconsin History (click on the map to zoom in). A manuscript map of Prairie du Chien from 1828 is included in Wisconsin Historical Images.
[Source: Schaetzl. Randall. "Long Lots: How They Came To Be" at http://www.geo.msu.edu/geogmich/long_lots.html (viewed April 21, 2009)]