My question is this, For how long are property panhandles in use? Or
what technology / development made them relevant?
Some key historical developments:
- In the Middle Ages and into the early modern era, outside "free cities" almost all land was owned by a local lord who had serfs who were essentially like sharecroppers but not free to move elsewhere, who in turn owed allegiance and support to a middle level lord, who in turn owed allegiance and support to a higher level lord, all of the way up to the king in what was known as a feudal system. Few people had the right to travel and access across feudal estates was something that higher level lords did for the benefit of those below him and institutions like the church and traveling merchant communities (e.g. tinkers).
The lords were allowed, but also required, to pass their land and the associated responsibilities to their eldest male heir at law and could not sell the land or freely transfer it.
Over a period of centuries ca. 14th to 19th centuries CE, the right to choose who will inherit land in a Will is established, serfs are freed to become peasants with the right to relocate and travel, and the king maintains a set of public roads. Land ownership remains highly concentrated so access is still rarely a problem. Only towards the later end of this period is the transfer of land for money or other real estate without the permission of a higher up lord authorized. Also, only towards the later end of this period are physical barriers like fences erected. Previously, herders had quite a bit of freedom to roam, so long as they didn't enter into a hostile lord's fiefdom.
Starting around the 19th century CE, the enclosure movement begins and land is routinely fenced off. Herders lose the practical ability to roam without owning large tracts of land, and smaller peasant farmers who are successors to the prior serfs are often forced or bought out of their land and migrate to emerging cities. By 1900 this process has pretty much run its course and most land is enclosed. But, a legal doctrine called an "easement by necessity" preserves a right of access across the land of someone who sold land (or their successors) from the land of someone of bought (or their successors), creating a fairly organic set of easement routes across other people's land.
The "panhandle" accesses you see in someplace like Texas have a lot to do with the fact that huge swaths of land that were formerly owned by Native Americans or that were communal lands under Mexican land grants, came into the ownership of the government and the government, in turn, disposed of almost all land that had any economic value more or less all at once, via homesteading, large scale land grants to favored interests (e.g. schools and railroads), and sales to private persons.
As a result, instead of land parcels arising gradually and "organically" though decisions made by people on the ground who were using the land and dealing with access issues on a transaction by transaction basis, pretty much all land in the U.S. between the Appalachian Mountain and the Cascade Mountain range, was rapidly disposed of by government bureaucracies called "land offices" (hence the phrase "doing land office business") on the basis of maps to speculators, pioneers, homesteaders and the like, without much regard to topography or sensibly sized parcels of land given its economic capacity with prices and parcel sizes set in a very arbitrary basis at a very high level of central decision making.
Even these central decision-makers knew that access was necessary, but they were more or less totally unaware of where the historic pathways and access routes across these parcels of land were located, so they simply provided for arbitrary surveyor drawn roads with parcels drawn such that each one could access a road somehow, rather than through a system of easement over historic roads, pathways and trails that were tailored to topographic realities (e.g. along riverbanks and ridge lines) since the early maps that the people drawing the parcels were relying upon weren't topographic and in many cases there were no sedentary populations that had historically used the lands since they were previously used for hunting and gathering, were used for herding, or were used in a form of collective ownership in a pseudo-feudal arrangement with a New World equivalent of a feudal lord set up in Mexican territories.
This process started in the late 18th century (the Northwest Territories that became the Midwestern states started the process) and continued through most of the 19th century in the Continental United States.
Eventually this ran its course in the Continental United States because homestead policies put in place by Easterners who didn't understand the importance of water rights as a limiting factor on land use mandated parcel sizes that were far to small to support a household in places that had no access to water rights, and that were generously and indeed over generously large in places that had good access to water. Eventually, places with water were subdivided and developed, while parcels without water were snapped up by speculators from failed homesteaders and consolidated.
Also, much of the American West simply wasn't suitable for farming or residential occupation and except in cases where mining claims were established, couldn't attract anyone who wanted to own it even for free. The West is full of steep mountains, deserts, and the like where you just can't farm. So, eventually homesteading was largely discontinued and the government began to turn land into parks or hold it for management by government officials who would enter into grazing leases and the like. But, places like Texas had already run their course of transfers to the private sector before that happened.
Alaska is still open to homesteaders, but is too cold and too far from everywhere and not developed enough to be attractive enough to create a land rush, even though Alaska pays its residents a couple thousand dollars a year per capita just because they live there.
- Once you get in the 1920s and 1930s, developers start to get more sophisticated and aren't in a land office rush, so once someone consolidates land based upon a much closer familiarity with it, rather than crudely drawing boundaries on non-topographic maps, sight unseen, they start to subdivide land into planned communities with more thoughtfully designed public road access for all lots dedicated to a homeowner's association or local government entity. Even by the late 1800s, deeded easements across topographically sensible routes had largely replaced panhandle shaped boundaries.