Sunday, July 14, 2019

Rural Illinois, Texas and South Dakota population densities

Population Density Vermillion, Edgar, Coles and Douglas counties 1830 to 2010
These counties are west of Indianapolis, just across the Indiana-Illinois line.

Illinois is so fertile that farm wives had to hang their brooms on the wall lest the broomstick strike roots. A population density of 50 people per square mile for the period 1870-1940 looks defensible for three of the four counties.
Population Density Freestone, Leon, Anderson and Houston County, Texas 1850-to-2010
These counties are approximately 100 miles north of the City of Houston. There is far more scatter than for the Illinois and Michigan data but 25 people per square mile for 1870-to-1940 can be argued.
Population Density Davidson, Hanson, Sanborn and Miner, South Dakota 1880-to-2010
I chose eastern South Dakota because many people are familiar with the Little House series written by Laura Ingalls-Wilder. The blue line is a county that has a college town. Would anybody argue with a historical population density of 12 per square mile?

The second cut
Yes, Judy, you are absolutely, 100% correct. Families 1870-to-1940 were much bigger than two kids. I weaseled and you caught me. I hedge by saying "maintenance" or replacement but that was not the mode they were in.

It is telling that even with large families the population was very stable. The excess spilled west or into urban areas. Point of interest is that cities are large net energy consumers and urban areas might not be able to sponge up surplus population in a Seven Cows scenario.

Another point is that many people, perhaps even the majority, live in towns even in rural counties.They are the blacksmiths and doctors and postmaster and school teachers. If half the people live in a "town" then the average farm size doubles.

One factor that has not been commented on is that farms smaller than 160 acres will likely require pushing roads into the section. It is possible to split up a square section into 80 acre parcels by giving each parcel a quarter mile of road frontage and having the lot a half mile deep but it gets challenging if the parcels are smaller.

Thanks for all the comments. The stake-in-the-ground to start calculating a an equilibrium population density is going to be highly dependent on WHERE you live.


  1. The 'spillage' you identified earlier was that the oldest got the ranch/farm. The second/third had to go elsewhere (town or West).

  2. I spent about 12 years working dairy in the Catskills of N.Y. Farm sizes there varied hugely early on partly because of topography and partly how things were surveyed. There is no such things as sections and section lines. Subdivisions were originally based on land grants. Many farms had sugar bushes (groves of sugar maples) and that required even more firewood for boiling sap. When the railroads and commercial dairy for the costal city market came in in the late 1800's many small farms were combined and ones that were too steep for cars to access were often abandoned in the early 1900's.