ISU notes ag legacy
SPENCER – With about 125 people looking on, a Sept. 16 celebration at the Clay County Fair recognized current landowners with ties to the beginning of Iowa’s land grant college.
Iowa State University Extension honored landowners at Clay County Events Center Ballroom, and hope this is the start of finding all 210,000 acres that comprised the Iowa Agricultural College grant.
“That’s a lot of people to find,” said Cathann Kress , vice president of Iowa State University Extension.
Kress said organizers chose to announce the land grant legacy project at the Clay County Fair, because the vast majority of the parcels are in Northwest Iowa – Emmet, Palo Alto and Kossuth counties, in particular. She said she hopes to culminate the project next summer at the Iowa State Fair.
In the meantime,. she hopes landowners will consult the ISU map or their property abstracts to see if any of their acres are part of the original land grant.
“This is an exciting story and we’re just starting to find the landowners,” Kress said. “We want to continue recognizing the land owners and tell their stories. Want to collect and archive the stories.”
The Sept. 16 event saw several Iowans given the distinction of owning land identified as the first parcel in their counties to be leased under the Morrill Act.
Researchers at Iowa State have identified more than 1,200 quarter-sections as land grant parcels allowed by the Morrill Act of 1862.
ISU Extension gathered data, plotted locations on a web map and contacted owners to validate that the land has ties to the start of the university.
A few first parcel owners joined ISU Extension to unveil the Land Grant Legacy project to the public, including Earl and Helen Maxwell, of Woodbury County; Don and Royal Doolittle, of Hamilton County; Rod Dillard, of Clay County; and Dan Hummel, of Dickinson County.
Iowa landowners in attendance explored the map and located property that may be part of the legacy.
In the coming year, the project will expand and landowners will have the option to add family stories of the land’s use and development.
How it started
The Morrill Land-Grant Acts are United States statutes that allowed for the creation of land-grant colleges, including the Morrill Act of 1862.
It allowed for land to be leased by agricultural colleges, that were yet to be formed, in states still being populated through westward migration. The leases provided the annual funding for the college to construct buildings, develop curricula and hire instructors.
Jerry Klonglan, a retired sociology professor and storyteller, said people lined up in Illinois and waited for years to come into Iowa. After the doors were opened in 1836, they realized they needed to better understand this new kind of land and the agricultural production that was possible here.
Iowans pushed the legislature to fund and establish the best agricultural college possible for this new land.
Two years ago, Kress said she was contacted by a 1972 alum, Roger Joanning, who inherited his farm and recalls his father claiming it was a land grant farm.
He contacted ISU for confirmation. Kress said that in the process of confirming that no part of Joanning’s farm was part of the land grant system, “we decided to try and find the parcels and get the stories,” Kress said.
“In Extension we think our best ideas come walking through the door.”
Kress said researchers have found evidence there may be as many as 249,000 other acres in Iowa that6 were land granted for colleges in other states.
“Eventually, we’ll want to find them, too.”
How it was done
According to ISU research, Peter Melendy moved to Iowa from Ohio in 1857, having had successes as a farmer, conservationist and purebred livestock breeder.
His initial Iowa business venture failed, but his contributions live on in Cedar Falls and on the ag college’s campus.
ISU research indicates that Iowans were already pushing for developing an agricultural college. As a result, they were one of the first to take advantage of the Morrill Act land grant provisions.
Five years after arriving in Iowa, Melendy was asked to select 210,000 acres to which the land-grant college was entitled to lease.
Those 210,000 acres of prime land that was leased and sold to fund ISU were located in 23 counties in northwest Iowa; more than half were in Emmet, Palo Alto and Kossuth counties.
The land was first leased then sold, according to Melendy’s plan to maximize the income generated by the allotted acres, providing ongoing funding for the land-grant college.
With only one assistant, Peter Melendy took three months to complete the undertaking – a month for correspondence, study of maps, and the planning of the itinerary, and two for the tour of northwest Iowa.
Traveling by horseback and stagecoach, the two men “covered a thousand miles in twenty-eight counties and selected” three arable lands, as well as those rich in timber and limestone in 27 of those counties.
By selecting only the best lands, Melendy ensured that the state collected top dollar when renting and selling to settlers, which ultimately provided more funds for the up-and-coming university.
Meanwhile, Story and Boone counties joined forces and submitted the most attractive bid to be site of the new agricultural college.
The legislature had asked all 99 counties to submit a bid, but only six were submitted; Story/Boone, Tama, Jefferson, Marshall, Hardin and Polk counties.
All bids offered varying amounts of monetary and political support to be selected as the location.
ISU Extension is launching the land grant legacy project in the form of a storytelling and GIS mapping website.
It is gathering and sharing historical stories in a new venue and inviting landowners to add their personal stories as they discover their connection to Iowa’s land-grant legacy.
The website can be found at www.landgrant.iastate.edu/
Landowners may discover they own a parcel that was originally leased or sold to fund the land grant university.
ISU wants to identify and map the 210,000 acres and are inviting landowners to validate ownership for special recognition, as well as asking them to add a related story.
ISU is the first land-grant university to explore this legacy.
The project is built on a foundation that can expand as interest grows.
Growth may include campus unit stories, curriculum for 4-H youth, alumni stories. It is anticipated to serve as a hub for people to explore and contribute to the ever-growing land grant legacy story.
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