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ISU celebrates its land grant legacy

By Staff | Sep 28, 2018



In 1862, more than 1,200 parcels of land in northwest Iowa were obtained by the state in order to create Iowa State University.

However, none of those parcels were the land where ISU is built.

Instead, Iowa bought these 160-acre quarter sections to sell or rent out later, thereby raising the money to create ISU as a land grant college, said Ray Hansen, Land Grant Legacy project co-leader with ISU Extension and Outreach.

Hansen is spearheading a project to recognize each of these parcels, and teach people in the 27 counties that took part about the legacy of their land.

“Most people have no clue that their property, whether it be farm ground or lots right in Manson, have a historical tie back to the land grant story,” Hansen said. “We’re just trying to reintroduce those landowners to that connection … Connecting them with that historical tie back to the college.”

Celebrations are being held all across the northwest. One was held just a few weeks ago in Manson, meeting on a Saturday morning at the Good Samaritan care center.

“They wanted a place within the area, that was public, to do the program,” said Good Samaritan Society Manson Business Office Manager Sharyl Keil. “The school is not, and the library is not, but we are.”

In fact, a large chunk of Manson is within land granted by the state – an area bounded by Eighth Street, 12th Avenue, 15th Street, and reaching north to right around the fairgrounds.

“We were sitting right at the epicenter,” Keil said.

About 25 to 30 people came to the Manson meeting, Keil said, to learn about the land that now holds their homes.

“When Louisiana Purchase was purchased, it doubled the size of the United States,” Keil said. “When it was sold later to individuals who wanted to settle the ground and farm the ground, I can’t remember what he said the price was, but it was really cheap.”

The program was possible because of the 1862 Morill Act, Hansen said, which allowed states to claim this federal land in the years just after the Civil War.

“Iowa was the first state to take advantage of the Morill Act,” he said. “We were claiming ground. Actually the gentleman doing it, Peter Melendy, was basically cherry-picking all the land he could at the time, anything that wasn’t a pothole, really.

“They were wanting high quality, high value ground because whatever it brought during the lease or sale was what they were going to use for the fundraising for the college.”

In Manson, the owners of the oldest home in Manson were in attendance for the presentation, Keil said.

“The Cunninghams were here and they were very excited about it,” she said. “Their house was one of the first ones in Manson. It’s right there by the railroad.

“He had a book about – a kind of family history,” Hansen said. “They talked about the house. His house is two smaller houses that were moved in on the property. As generations needed, they built it bigger.

“Other than that, there were a lot of people who were just really surprised at the history of their land. They were wanting to be able to share that with their future generations.”

Attendees living in the parcel got a certificate of authenticity, Hansen said, showing the property’s identification number and explaining its tie to ISU.

The parcel including the Good Samaritan was once owned by a Henry Willey, with a purchase date of Sept. 29, 1876, according to ISU’s map.

“That was probably the first lessee, or the first person to lay claim to that. The may or may not have been the first owner,” Hansen said.

A parcel to the southwest, including part of Manson, was owned by Henry Frathers, purchased Dec. 26, 1879.

And a parcel to the northeast was owned by James Braginton. This parcel is located just north of the golf course, near the newest housing addition in town, the Braginton Addition.

“It was really interesting,” Keil said. “At the time, I never knew this – they had a railroad land grant going on, and a VA land grant. They had these other programs that were going on.”

It wasn’t just Iowa that claimed land for colleges. Other states claimed land as well to start their own colleges, including right there in Calhoun County, said Jill Mims, agriculture and outreach program coordinator for Calhoun County ISU Extension.

“In 1862, all the land east of the Mississippi was pretty well settled. Anything west of the Mississippi wasn’t,” said Mims, who helped verify which land should be included in ISU’s land grant legacy project. “States like Ohio that didn’t have land, they could grant to start a land grant university; they had to look in other states.

“I just got a call from one of the ladies who owned the parcel in Ohio. They have owned the land for 131 years,” she said. “We’re thinking that’s pretty close to the date the state of Ohio stopped collecting rent for it and put it up for sale. It has stayed in that family for 131 years.”

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