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"Ohio Lands - A Short History"
Part 5

Grants to the State of Ohio

The state of Ohio received land grants from Congress for specific purposes. The state disposed of these land grants through Acts of the Legislature. The following is a description of these land grants, with a brief history of their disposition.

School Lands - Section 16.The federal government’s gift of land for educational purposes traces its origin to the Land Ordinance of May 20, 1785. Within the ordinance, the following language can be found. There shall be reserved the Lot No. 16, of every township, for the maintenance of public schools within said township. Thus began Congress’ intent to encourage public schools by land grants. By 1920, 73,155,075 acres of the public domain had been given as school lands to the public land states.

The township referred to in the ordinance is a surveying unit. Used in public land surveys, a township describes a square containing 36 sections, each one-mile-square (640 acres). Sections are numbered one to 36 within the township. Civil townships are political subdivisions (units of local government) within a county. In states using the federal rectangular survey system, civil townships and surveying townships often have the same boundaries but exceptions exist.

The Northwest Ordinance (July 13, 1787) is a document for the establishment of government in the Northwest Territory and not for land surveys. Specific language is not found in it for the reservation of School Lands. However, in the Enabling Act of 1802, (Act of April 30, 1802) Section 7, Congress offered three propositions which, if accepted by the Ohio’s constitutional convention, "shall be obligatory upon the United States." The first proposition stated "That the section number sixteen, in every township, and where such section has been sold, granted, or disposed of, other lands equivalent thereto, and most contiguous to the same, shall be granted to the inhabitants of such township for the use of schools."

In answer to the proposition, the Ohio Constitutional Convention passed an ordinance-resolution, November 29, 1802, which was a counterproposal. The ordinance-resolution, when accepted by Congress, would greatly affect the state from 1803 to the present day. The November 29, 1802 ordinance-resolution required the United States to donate one thirty-sixth (2.77%) of the land area of Ohio for the support of schools; give the state not less than three percent of the net proceeds derived from the sale of public lands in Ohio; donate one township (23,040 acres) for an institution of higher education (now Miami University); and give the Ohio Legislature control of the donated lands, in trust, for the purposes Congress intended when making the grant. Congress accepted these counterproposals March 3, 1803. By this Act, Congress appropriated public land to honor the commitments it had made to the state.

Each township received Section 16 for its school land whenever possible or one in lieu of it as stated in the first proposition above. These in lieu of sections are not uncommon in Ohio because of early grants. Downtown Columbus, for example, is situated in Range 22, Township 5, Section 16 (Matthew’s Survey), which should have been reserved for schools. However, the Refugee Tract grant overlapped this Section 16. Therefore, it was unavailable except to claimants of the grant. Township 5’s schools were given Section 15 in Township 11, Range 21 (Matthew’s Survey), which is located right next to Township 11’s school section now in Madison Township, Franklin County, near Groveport.

The Virginia Military District (VMD), Connecticut Western Reserve (CWR) and United States Military District (USMD) all received school lands to use for the support of their schools. These federal grants were not located within the VMD or CWR because neither tract was under federal jurisdiction.

The Virginia Military District school lands (105,600 acres) are found in Wayne, Holmes, Ashland, Richland, Crawford and Morrow Counties.

The Connecticut Western Reserve (CWR) school lands are located in two different geographic areas of the state because two appropriations were made. Holmes and Tuscarawas counties have 56,000 acres of CWR school lands, while Williams, Defiance, Paulding, Putnam, Henry and Van Wert counties have 37,724.16 acres. The total land granted came to 93,724.16 acres.

The United States Military District school land grants totalled 72,000 acres located in Guernsey, Coshocton, Muskingum, Licking, Morrow and Delaware counties.

The Donation Tract, the Two Mile Square Reserve, the Moravian Tracts and French Grants were granted school lands either within the tracts or adjoining them.

The United States government granted 704,204 acres for public school purposes in Ohio.

The Acts of the Ohio Legislature relating to school lands and school funds, as well as the history of the school lands, would make a fascinating book. Unfortunately, only the highlights can be mentioned in this booklet.

The Ohio Legislature passed its first act concerning school lands on April 15, 1803. The act provided for the leasing and administration of these lands.

At first, school lands were leased for seven to 15 years with requirements that the lessee improve the property by clearing and fencing it, planting 100 apple trees, as well as other duties. In 1817 school lands were permitted to be leased for 99 years, renewable forever.

By the Act of February 1, 1826, Congress consented to the state’s request that it be permitted to sell school sections. However, the act required that the township’s inhabitants would have to consent to the sale of the school section prior to any land being sold.

Map of First Principle Meridian and Baseline


The Ohio Legislature, on January 29, 1827, passed an act establishing the voting, appraisal, sale, and conveyance procedures to follow in the sale of section 16 school lands. School land sale proceeds were deposited into the Common School Fund, and interest on the principal paid to the schools within the original surveyed township, as required by the 1826 Congressional Act.

Article VI, Section 1, Ohio Constitution 1851, protected the principal of all funds received for the sale, or other disposition of lands granted or entrusted to the state for educational or religious purposes. Ohio voters approved an amendment to this Article in 1968. The trust monies were then dispersed for educational purposes.

School lands were administered by the trustees of the original surveyed townships until 1914. Unfortunately, their administration dissipated an asset that Congress had intended as a continuing endowment for education.

The Auditor of State became responsible for the leasing of mineral rights in 1914. The Garver Act of 1917, made the Auditor of State the Supervisor of School and Ministerial Lands, in addition to his other duties. He maintained administrative control until August 1, 1985, when House Bill 201 (116th G.A.) transferred most of the duties of the Supervisor to the State’s Director of Administrative Services.

At the time of transfer, four school land farms totalling 1,232 acres were under two year leases, while several small lots in Columbiana County were under lease for 99 years renewable forever. The four school land farms were located in Hardin County, Marion Township (R9E, T4S, S16 640-acres); Ross County, Green Township (R21, T9, S15 -312 acres); Marion County, Big Island Township (R14E, T5S, S15 -160 acres); and Franklin County, Madison Township (R21, T11, S16 - 120 acres).

On June 29, 1988, Amended House Bill 497 and Amended Substitute House Bill 549 (117th G.A.) became effective. These acts transferred the general charge, supervision, management and all remaining monies from the State’s Director of Administrative Services, acting as supervisor, to the Board of Education of each school district that had been allocated these lands. Title to these lands are held in trust by the State of Ohio, through the General Assembly, because of a March 3, 1803 Congressional Act.

The Auditor of State maintains the record copy of School and Ministerial Land deeds issued by the state of Ohio. Final certificates for these types of lands as well as lease records have been placed in the State of Ohio Archives.

Ministerial Lands - Section 29.On July 23, 1787, the Continental Congress adopted a resolution authorizing the Board of Treasurer and the Ohio Company of Associates. These ministerial sections, as they became known, can be found in the Ohio Company’s First Purchase in Washington, Meigs, Gallia, Lawrence and Athens Counties. Marietta was found to be within a reserve ministerial section after the tract was surveyed. Although the Ohio Company had planned for such a problem, the federal government would not permit the sale of Section 29 land in Marietta.

No ministerial land was set aside by Congress in the Ohio Company’s Second Purchase, located in parts of Morgan, Hocking, Vinton and Athens counties. However, on January 7, 1796, the Ohio Company did set aside Section 29 for religious purposes in each of the ten surveying townships found in this tract.

Congress also reserved Section 29 for religious purposes in John Cleves Symmes’ Miami Purchase. Symmes’ October 15, 1788, contract was similar to the Ohio Company’s contract with the Board of Treasury. These ministerial lands are found in parts of Hamilton, Butler, and Warren counties.

Ohio’s 43,525 acres of ministerial land were, at first, leased to settlers by the trustees of the original surveying townships. After statehood, the General Assembly became the trustee and passed laws permitting 99 year leases renewable forever. Some of the leases are still in effect in Marietta, as well as in Delhi and Green townships in Hamilton County. This has created title problems for persons in those areas because they really don’t own the land. To clear up this title problem, persons often pay the back rent and receive a deed from the state of Ohio. The back rent for some parcels has been as low as five cents a year because the original 19th Century (1805) formula for rent is still in effect.

The state of Ohio was authorized by Congress in 1833 to sell the ministerial land in Ohio. The money was invested, and the churches within the original surveying township received the interest and rent money until 1968. At that time, the constitutionality of such church-state relationships were questioned. Congress then authorized the remaining ministerial funds to be dispersed for schools. In May 1968, Ohio voters approved a constitutional amendment that resulted in any future ministerial income being used only for educational purposes.

Ohio is the only state in the Union where Congress gave land for the support of religion, except for a few small mission sites in the West. To what extent these land grants actually encouraged or benefited religion, will be up to future historians to answer.

Canal Lands.Two types of canal lands are found in Ohio. One is the 1,100,361 acres donated to Ohio by Congress to aid in the construction of the canals. The other is land actually used for the canals and canal reservoirs.

Begun on July 4, 1825, the Ohio Canal System ultimately consisted of over 795 miles of canals and feeders, five reservoirs (32,903 acres); 29 stream dams, 294 lift locks, and 44 aqueducts, which cost the state $15,967,652. Cost of maintenance and operations to November 15, 1901, was $12,464,130. Gross receipts from 1827 to 1901 were $17,556,722. Although these figures may not be impressive in today’s economy, the canal system could be compared to Ohio’s 1,550 miles of Interstate highways, including the 241 miles of the Ohio Turnpike.

Ohio’s major canals and their length in miles were: Ohio Canal (309); Walhonding Canal (25); Hocking Canal (56); Sandy and Beaver Canal (6); Muskingum Improvement (91); Miami and Erie Canal (248); Wabash and Erie Canal (18), and eight feeders (42 miles).

The land donated by Congress was sold by the state for $2,257,487. These are located along the Miami and Erie Canal, primarily in Northwest Ohio. The Auditor of State’s Land Office has the record copies of the deeds for both types of canal lands sold by the state.

Wagon Road or Turnpike Lands.Starting June 30, 1802, Ohio received three percent of the net proceeds from the sale of federal land in the state. This money could only be used for building roads. It was the seed money for many of the early roads in Ohio. By June 30, 1880, Ohio had received $596,634 from this fund.

Congress gave the state more than 60,000 acres along the 46 miles of the Maumee Road on February 23, 1823. This road ran east from Maumee to the Connecticut Western Reserve. The state also received 31,596 acres for the Columbus and Sandusky Turnpike in 1827. Both land grants were made to defray the costs of con-struction.

Salt Reservations.Salt was a necessity of life which the early pioneers found quite expensive. Before salt was found in abundance in Ohio, it had to be brought over the mountain by pack animal. In 1796, Congress reserved all salt springs because of this mineral’s value.

In Ohio, salt reservations were found in the present day counties of Jackson (23,040 acres), Delaware (4,000 acres), and Muskingum (1,280 acres).

The Scioto Salt Springs were the most noted and valuable. Their existence were known to the English as early as 1755. Visited regularly by Indians and settlers, a thriving settlement sprang up around the salt springs. The growing village caused the General Assembly to create the new County of Jackson, with the county seat at the salt works. Congress authorized the sale of 640 acres of this salt reservation in 1816. The proceeds of this sale, $7,196, were used to construct the county buildings.

In 1824, Congress authorized the state to sell all of the remaining Salt Lands. The proceeds were to be used for literary purposes.

Swamp Lands. This land was given to the state by an Act of Congress on September 28, 1850. These 25,640 acres are located in the northwestern part of the state, in part of an area of the Black Swamp. It was land unfit for cultivation unless it was drained. Once it was drained, it was found to be some of the best farm land in Ohio.

Ohio University.Two entire surveying townships, (46,080 acres) in the Ohio Company’s First Purchase, were reserved by Congress perpetually for the purpose of a university. These lands are located in the civil townships of Athens and Alexander, Athens County.

Ohio University, established February 18, 1804, became the recipient of this land grant. Unfortunately, in 1805, the legislature permitted the University Trustees to lease these lands to settlers for 99 years, renewable forever. The leases specify a fixed annual rent of six percent of the appraised value.

In 1826, Congress authorized the state to sell the land in these surveying townships. Yet even today, many persons still pay only the rent established in the 1805 law.

The university was opened in 1809. The first class, consisting of John Hunter and Thomas Ewing, graduated in 1815. These were the first academic degrees conferred in the states created out of the Northwest Territory.

Miami University.One of the provisions of the Congressional Act of March 3, 1803, authorized the state legislature to select one surveying township within the Cincinnati Land District for academy, and other public schools, and seminaries of learning.

This land grant was necessary because John Cleves Symmes had failed to reserve one surveying township for this purpose within his Miami Purchase. Congress expected Mr. Symmes either to give the government land equivalent to one surveying township, or pay $15,360, with interest, from the date of his patent in 1794. If he failed, Congress authorized the U.S. Attorney General to take action against Mr. Symmes.

In September, 1803, 23,321 acres were selected in Butler County, outside of the Symmes’ Purchase, to fulfill this grant.

Miami University was established on February 17, 1809. The legislature named the town Oxford in 1810, and directed that it be platted. The academy opened in 1818, became a college in 1824, and graduated the first class in 1826.

The university lands were leased to settlers for 99 years, renewable forever. These leases are valid today and provide very little income to the university.

Ohio State University.On July 2, 1862, Congress passed the Morrill Act. This act offered land grants to each state or territory which would establish at least one college related to agriculture and mechanic arts...

Ohio accepted the provisions of this Act on February 9, 1864.

The Morrill Act gave 30,000 acres of land for each senator or representative a state had in Congress. Ohio had 21, therefore, it received 630,000 acres. Because no federal public lands were available in Ohio to satisfy the grant, the state accepted land scrip.

Land scrip was issued by the federal government. It could be used to acquire land anywhere on the public domain open for private entry. Ohio sold its land scrip for $342,450.80 or about 54 cents per acre. This became the university’s endowment. Ohio State University was also the beneficiary of the unlocated lands in the Virginia Military District as discussed on pages _-_.

The Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College opened for students in 1873. The first class graduated in 1878, the year the university changed its name to Ohio State University.

Pictures of Ohio Seals


Copyright 1994 by the Ohio Auditor of State All Rights Reserved.
FOR FREE DISTRIBUTION ONLY. Researched and written by
Thomas Aquinas Burke, Internet Address F491.3 B86 1994 977.1
Eighth Edition - September 1996

"Ohio Lands - A Short History"
ReTyped & Graphics Rescanned December 1997
by Maggie Stewart-Zimmerman
Email at MaggieOhio@columbus.rr.com

This booklet is available on the Auditor of State home page under
Publications at: http://www.auditor.ohio.gov/auditor/

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