Ribbon farms are long, narrow land divisions, usually lined up along a waterway. In the United States, ribbon farms are found in various places settled by the French, particularly along the Saint Lawrence River, the Great Lakes, the Detroit River and tributaries, and parts of Louisiana. Near Detroit, the ribbon farms were about 250 feet wide and up to three miles long.
French explorer Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac sailed up the Detroit River in 1701 and settled Fort Ponchartrain du Détroit, named after the comte de Pontchartrain, Minister of Marine under Louis XIV. The river itself became known as the Rivière du Détroit, as détroit is French for the strait. Cadillac was given authority to appropriate and grant land to settlers. Beginning in 1701, he awarded farms that extended two or three miles inland and were laid out with narrow river frontage. Detroit, which grew to 800 people in 1765, became the largest city between Montreal and New Orleans.
The ribbon farm layout gave multiple landowners access to the waterway. In addition, the long lots increased variation in soil and drainage within one lot, and facilitated plowing by minimizing the number of times oxen teams needed to be turned. Where farmers lived on their lots (rather than in a central village), the ribbon farm fostered communication and socialization, with houses clustered at the ends of the lots.
The ribbon farm system also strikes an economic balance, where houses are relatively close together and can be easily and economically accessed, yet the farmers need not spend excessive travel time to reach their fields some distance from a central village. Finally, in those places where ribbon farms were platted, the division of land into long rectangles was relatively easy to survey and establish boundaries.
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