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Land connects owners to Land Grant Legacy

Don Doolittle, Hamilton County landowner, gives Ray Hansen and Jerry Chizek a tour of the land-grant parcel that now includes a family pond
FARMING HISTORY: After learning that he had a land-grant parcel in 2016, Don Doolittle, Hamilton County landowner, took Ray Hansen and Jerry Chizek on a tour of the parcel that now includes a family pond.
Visit this special exhibit in the ISU Tent at the 2018 Farm Progress Show.

By Willy Klein

The 2018 Farm Progress Show runs from Aug. 28-30, in Boone, Iowa. For more information, visit

Northwest Iowa landowners may not be aware of a connection they have to Iowa State University and 25 other land-grant universities. In addition to being the soil that makes this state the top producer of corn and soybeans, Iowa land is also at the very heart of premiere agricultural education and research.

The Land Grant Legacy, an ISU Extension and Outreach project, has discovered Iowa land with a special significance to the development of ISU, the state’s land-grant university. The Land Grant Legacy project is the first attempt by any state to identify and digitally map land claimed under the Morrill Act of 1862. Along with the plotted land parcels, the legacy project has rediscovered individuals and land significant to the advancement of agricultural education.

“The project was born out of the curiosity of a few people. We wanted to know the location of land sold under the terms of the Morrill Act to help fund the beginning of Iowa’s land-grant college, what is now ISU,” says Ray Hansen, project co-chair. “We believed that current owners would be unaware of this distinction and excited to find out about it.”

The team set out to determine where the land was located and then share that information with current owners. Hansen calls the project “a cool little treasure hunt.”

The ISU researchers identified more than 200,000 acres in northwest Iowa that were leased and sold as quarter-section parcels for the purpose of establishing a fund in support of the ag college. The land-grant parcels are mapped on the ISU website,

After learning that he had a land-grant parcel in 2016, Don Doolittle, Hamilton County, took Ray Hansen, director of the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, and Jerry Chizek, ISU Extension regional director, on a tour of the parcel that now includes a family pond. Doolittle was grateful to learn about the history of his farm.

Identifying land-grant owners

Hansen and the project team worked with county Extension staff to identify current owners of land-grant parcels during the summer of 2016, with the goal to identify current owners of the first parcel leased in each of the 24 counties with land-grant parcels. The landowner interviews and family stories gathered that summer are included on the website, with plans to add more.

There also have been discoveries for the project team. As they validated land-grant parcels, they rediscovered five sections of land in Jasper County that were sold to fund buildings for the ag college, and records documenting land-grant parcels in Iowa claimed by 25 other states.

Landowners curious about possibly owning a land-grant parcel should visit the Land Grant Legacy display in the ISU Tent.

Klein is a communication specialist with ISU Extension and Outreach.

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