Follow the Blog

I highly recommend reading this blog from the beginning (June 2010). Context is helpful. If you are interested in joining me for an alumni mission to Cornell, Wisconsin, sign up as a follower/fan. I encourage you to post your own comments and questions. Thank you.


26 Heroes: Prof. Paul Gates, Scholar. Historian

I do not know what provided the initial inspiration to undertake this exploration of the Cornell land grant in Wisconsin.

As a high school student in Madison, I think I noticed that there was a "Cornell" on the Wisconsin map, but the idea that there was a connection to the University did not cross my mind.

Years later, it might have been a short online paragraph or Michael Whalen’s explanation of the Cornell’s early years that got me curious.  But however you approach the subject, one is quickly steered toward Prof. Paul Gates’s seminal, “The Wisconsin Pine Lands of Cornell University: A Study in Land Policy and Absentee Ownership (Cornell Univ Press, 1943; reprinted, Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 1965). lists used copies of this out of print book for $75.00 and $99.95.

Everything changes with this book.

Bill Cronon is the Frederick Jackson Turner and Vilas Research Professor of History, Geography, and Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison (you've seen him in Ken Burns's documentaries). Dr. Cronon has this to say about Prof. Gates and his "classic" on the Cornell land grant: “If you haven't read it, you should run, not walk, to figure out how to obtain a copy from a good library, since it should answer many of the questions you may still have about this fascinating subject.  It's a first-rate piece of scholarship by the most important twentieth-century scholar of the history of U.S. public lands.”

Dr. Cronon is worth getting to know as well.

[from Cornell Chronicle obituary]
"Cornell Professor Emeritus Paul Wallace Gates died January. 5, 1999, in Oakland, CA at age 97. He was an authority on the American West and US public land policies and an ardent conservationist who spoke out against using public lands for private gain. Gates' History of Public Land Law Development, published in 1968, immediately became the acknowledged authority for all historical research on US public lands, according to Lawrence Lee, a colleague from San Jose State University. "Paul Gates' career has a unique quality about it in its exceptional focus on one grand topic, US land history," wrote Lee in 1991. He also praised Gates for devoting his post-retirement years to "saving the natural resources on federal lands from profligate exploitation."

Gates taught at Cornell from 1936 until his retirement in 1971 and held two endowed chairs during his tenure: the Goldwin Smith Professorship of American History and the John Stambaugh Professorship of American History. He also chaired Cornell's history department from 1946 to 1956.

Before coming to Cornell, Gates taught at Harvard, where he also earned his Ph.D. in 1930, and at Bucknell. At Harvard he studied under Frederick Merk, a former student of Frederick Jackson Turner, who is considered one of the great American historians. In a "festschrift," or collection of tributes produced in 1968, Merk lauded Gates for being a stimulating teacher and "a producer of producing scholars." He noted that Gates' 23 Ph.D. students had already gone on to write 21 excellent books.
"In a sense, Gates was a student of Turner's," said Richard Polenberg, Cornell's current Goldwin Smith Professor of American History. He called Gates "a remarkable individual, an inspiration to colleagues who actively pursued his research and writing well into his 90s."

He was a historical expert for the justice department on cases involving Native American land claims and a consultant for the Public Land Law Review Commission.

In addition to the seminal book on land law cited by Lee, Gates' principal books include: The Illinois Central Railroad and Its Colonization Work; The Wisconsin Pine Lands of Cornell University; Fifty Million Acres: Conflict over Kansas Land Policy, 1854--1890; The Farmers' Age, Agriculture, 1815--1860; Agriculture and the Civil War; Land and Law in California, Essays on Land Policies; and Jeffersonian Dream, Studies in American History."

On my last visit to Madison and the Wisconsin Historical Society I had the pleasure of meeting Kathy Borkowski, director of the WHS Press. She expressed hope that Gate's book on Cornell's pinelands  might be reprinted in time for the Morrill Act's 150th annivesrary in 2012.

Me too.

American Historical Association tribute 


25 Numbers I: Counting to 990,000

If there are any readers with a suspicion that this author possesses a tad of nerdiness – your concern is well founded. So pardon this posting as I try to account for the 990,000 acres that the Morrill Land Grant Act subscribed to the Empire State.

The Morrill Land Grant of 1862 gave each state 30,000 acres of land or paper scrip for each representative in Congress as of 1860 (states at war with the Union were excluded for justifiable reasons). As the most populous state and with thirty in Congress, New York was entitled to 990,000 or roughly ten percent of the total grant. We know of Ezra Cornell's investment of 500,000 acres in northern Wisconsin. Where did the rest go?

First of all, New York never got the full 990,000. The scrip was allocated in 160 acre units or sections which any self-respected Cornell engineer knows does not divide evenly into 990,000. So Cornell lost the first 80 acres due to a rounding error. Down to 989,920. [See posting requesting the 80 back!]

New York State sold 76,000 at $.85 an acre in 1864, the proceeds going to the Land Scrip Fund at Cornell University as prescribed by the law. Then things got fun.

Most states sold the land or scrip and deposited the proceeds into a permanent endowment. Since Cornell University had no interest in investing the scrip in Western lands, Ezra Cornell offered. So Ezra paid for the scrip equivalent to 913,920 acres. First he purchased 100,000 at $.50/acres and then the balance of 813,920 for $.60 an acre (half down and half upon the future sale of the invested land). This brought the Land Scrip Fund to $602,792 and fulfilled the Morrill Land Grant Act provisions.

But instead of simply paying for this scrip with the purchase price going to the Land Scrip Fund, Ezra offered to invest the scrip and turn over all net proceeds to a separate Cornell Endowment Fund, thus providing a second round of profits to the University and ensuring the maximum flexibility for these funds to support any part of the institution, not just limited to the teaching of agriculture and mechanical arts as required by the Morrill Act.

Ezra was not close to being done funding his university.

Ezra eventually managed to secure land with 521,120 acres of scrip beginning in 1866. The stress and difficulty of the management and administration of the remote, non-contiguous plats limited what Ezra could undertake and by 1874, Ezra was dead.

He left 292,800 acres of scrip unused.

In all, Ezra's selection of prime timber land (only 11,968 acres were obtained in Kansas and Minnesota) and Henry Sage's subsequent stewardship and sale of this land and stumpage (the price charged by Cornell to companies or operators for the right to harvest timber on that land) by the early 1900s had netted the Cornell Endowment Fund $5,051,000 or an average of $9.69/acre. Remember that initially $1 an acre was thought to be a good price!

If Ezra had the energy to invest the remaining 292,800 acres of scrip, it might have added $2.8 million to the endowment.

All in all a remarkable deal for Ezra, his university, and New York State.

(Stay tuned for the continuing Numbers Saga as I try to account for each sale of the 521,120 acres)


24 Heroes: Raphael Zon Class of 1901

He was born one week before Ezra died and yet the connection between these two pioneers is notable, for Raphael Zon embodied the idealistic aspirations of Ezra’s university, and in fact, epitomized the ambition of the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862.

‘Born in Simbirsk, Russia in 1874, Raphael Zon fled Russia in 1896 while on bail following his arrest for organizing a trade union. Zon and his companion Anna Puziriskaya, whom he would later marry, fled to Belgium where he studied in Liége. He spent nine months in London before emigrating to the United States in 1898. Zon studied forestry at the New York State College of Forestry at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, earning a professional degree of Forest Engineer (F.E.) in the college's first graduating class in 1901. Upon graduation, he went to work for the U.S. Forest Service, where his career spanned 43 years as a forest researcher. A large stone memorial with plaque commemorating Zon stands at the USDA Cutfoot Sioux Experimental Forest, in Minnesota, near where his ashes were scattered [229 miles from Cornell, Wisconsin].’ Wikipedia and other unverified web sources.

Zon made the first attempt of a systematic inventory of the earth's forests; the first complete map of native vegetation of United States. He served as technical director of the Prairie States Forestry Project and pioneered studies of the relation of forests to streams and flooding.

As the first director of the USDA Forest Service Lake States Forest Experiment Station, Raphael Zon directed a vital program of research that helped restore vast cutover old growth forests to the production of wood promotion of forestry among political and social leaders helped to create a climate that permitted the eventual purchase of National Forest lands and made possible state activities in forestry.

His professional colleagues bestowed a bevy of awards on him. He also received popular recognition at the 1939 New York World's Fair as one of 600 "foreign-born citizens judged to have made the most notable contributions to American democracy in the past 100 years." He was a fellow of the Society of American Foresters. In 1952 he received the Gifford Pinchot Medal from the Society of American Foresters. He was inducted into the Wisconsin Forestry Hall of Fame on February 24, 1988.

Finally in 2005, the US Forest Service Centennial Congress Science Leadership Award was presented posthumously to Zon. In his lifetime he authored or co-authored roughly 200 articles in professional journals, business and development publications or popular magazines.

With 15 cents in his pocket Zon arrived in New York City. He quit his drugstore job to travel to Ithaca where Ezra's 40 year old university anticipated his arrival. Cornell changed him and he changed his world.

I'm glad to know him.

Thanks to blog follower Stanley Scharf for introducing me to Raphael Zon.

Trivia, I Love Ya: What genus of bacteria was named for the Cornellian who received the first doctor of veterinary medicine ever granted in the U.S.? Hint: Daniel Elmer Salmon 1872 DVM 1876.


23 Road Trip IIc – Enjoying the View

My new buddy
This blog and my musings have focused on the history, people and technical side of the Cornell-Cornell story. Today was recess. The third perfect day on this journey.

While I managed to fit in one brief meeting – where I received photocopies of some title abstracts from former Cornell land – I made an effort to enjoy this inspiring landscape. Early this morning, I drove up Route US Highway CC making a few stops on the way.

The first was to photograph the mist lifting on the Chippewa on this 35º morning. The second was to make friends with the second bald eagle of this trip. I disturbed his breakfast – the remains of a deer most likely the loser in a technology-nature battle that occurs with disturbing frequency.

Our stand off was brief before he flew off for more interesting prey.

After a quick stop for coffee I was heading 15 miles west to Chippewa Moraine State Recreation Area and the Ice Age Visitor's Center. I wanted to know more about the geology of the region. They had some useful exhibits about the arrival and retreat of the glaciers – how lakes and moraines were formed, but the information I wanted about the potential metallic mineral deposits would be recealed the next day in Madison Wisconsin.

So I went outside, laid claim to a wide bench, and enjoyed the southern vistas and incredible warm fall sunshine. It's easy to appreciate the physical beauty of the region on such a day. I, too, marvel that this land and forests fostered the early success of a university.


22 Hunting Copper: Digging Deep

Tom Evans' office is a classic. Stack of papers on desk, table, floor and cabinets. Two shelves of assorted rock and core samples. The signs of a brilliant scientific mind? Absolutely.

I came across Tom's name on the Internet as I posed questions about minerals and mineral rights in northern Wisconsin. Tom is assistant director of the WGNHS. The university still (after almost 150 years) owns the mineral rights to a sizable quantity of the original land that Ezra purchased in the 1860s and 1870s.

Were they worth anything? The profitable Flambeau Mine in Ladysmith, WI stimulates the imagination. Tom patiently explained mineral rights, mining law, and Wisconsin geology to me. I kept asking questions – actually rewording the same question. Finally I figured out the right wording: If you were advising Cornell University on their mining rights in Wisconsin's northeastern lands, what would you tell them to do?

There is a ribbon of sulfate (metallic) minerals in northern Wisconsin that has a nickname: Highway 8 Lineament. For Tom, there is little doubt that here lie substantial quantities of valuable  minerals: gold, silver, copper – maybe similar to the Flambeau find. The current value is in the billions – and billions.

Now Cornell's possible interest in this knowledge is tempered by four facts: (1) it is incredibly difficult to mine these minerals, (2) local officials, state government and the public resist the idea of mining, (3) Cornell's mineral rights are sometimes shared with other owners – where Cornell owns 50% mineral rights any lease or contract would have to be agreed upon by a fellow owner(s), and (4) Cornell's 500,000 original acres and the remaining "severed mineral rights" ownership are not contiguous (see map on blog posting 15) but in 40 and 160 acre increments.
Core Samples

But it is still fun to think about. The Flambeau Mine reaped 881,000 tons of copper (as well as significant amounts of gold and silver). The Crandon deposit, sold to Native American tribes for $16 million,  most likely has a billion or more in mineral reserves.

Here come the what if's. What if Cornell's mineral rights are worth a few billion? What if technology improves for locating and identifying minerals. What if technology advances for extracting these minerals?

The mind spins.
The mine awaits.

21 Correction Dr Skorton: "Two Cornells"

In his 2010 Reunion State of the University address President David Skorton refers to "One Cornell."

"Celebrating our shared past on this beautiful hill, in our own special time and place, and affirming our collective identity as Cornellians; sharing our pride in the past of this special university, celebrating its present excellence, and looking forward with resolve and optimism toward its future and toward our sesquicentennial. We are "One Cornell." Then. Now. Always. Cornell."

I found another Cornell.
Not really found, but dusted off.

Sam Johnson '50
I remember a story from the late Sam Johnson '50, Chairman of SC Johnson, about the 70th anniversary of the Wisconsin company's first international subsidiary in England. His remarks to the foreign employees fell upon a quiet but polite audience. The foreign employees felt more like neglected children than part of the Johnson family. Racine. Headquarters. The heart of the company. A million miles away.

Sam tells of how much this troubled him. He truly cared.

The British company had had a couple of tough years. There was going to be no profit sharing in the UK that year. Employee morale was down. Sam wanted to provide a lift – to let the British employees know that they wouldn’t be abandoned – that they were part of the worldwide Johnson family. What better way to do that than to invite the entire British team (from “general manager to the tea lady,” as one British newspaper put it) to visit Racine, a place they heard about every day but few had ever visited.

All the British employees flew to the US for a few days in Racine and then a holiday in New York City. On Broadway. At the company's expense.

I think of this tale as I reflect on our remote Cornell family in Cornell, Wisconsin. They do not feel abandoned. On the contrary, they are curious – and excited about the chance to share a bit of the university's offerings, resources, and spirit. Their focus seems to be on their children – teaching present and future generations about the legacy – their legacy – with a great man and a great university.

They're excited that there really is a guy named Ezra Cornell '70 (great great great grandson) who is interested in visiting from Ithaca.

It's been 100 days since embarking on this research, conversations and contemplation. I am certain that Cornell's land grant mission can be aptly served by extending the university's reach and impact into the northern Wisconsin woods. The source of our land grant endowment.

And I know the faculty, students, alumni and university would benefit as much as our sister community in the Midwest. Think remote "town-gown."

Their modest but proud public library.
Their beloved, but rundown local movie house.
The visitors center and an Ezra Cornell exhibit.
The last standing pulp woodstacker.
Lectures, workshops, mentoring, guidance, friendship,...

Road trip anyone?


27 Road Trip IIb – The Class of 2024

When I was 17 I gave a speech to 1,000 high school juniors.
When I was 31 I gave a presentation to 300 Rotarians in Madison.
When I was 38 I asked a stunning women to marry me.

I was fine in front of each of these audiences (the ring helped at 38).

But the thought of teaching a class to 32 fourth graders is the definition of apoplexy.

This was Day Two of last October's visit to Cornell, Wisconsin.

Julie Kosher (service learning coordinator for Cornell and Holcomb school districts) helped plan a full day: the Camaraderie Club – a seniors social and service organization; Mayor Judy Talbot; Phil Harvatine (former owner of the Cornell Theatre); Rusty Sammon (current owner of the theatre for a tour); Virginia and Baldy Hakes (long time residents - seeing President Buchanan's followed by Ezra and Mary Cornell's names on their title abstract was a thrill), and Pat Kosher (Julie's husband) and the science teacher for the Cornell School District (for local delicacies overlooking a picture postcard Lake Holcomb).

But anticipating the fourth graders of Cornell Elementary was nerve-racking. Now I have a nine year old, so I strode into the second floor classroom of this contemporary school with confidence. My bravado lasted about 2 seconds after a perfectly polite young man asked, "Who are you?"

I needn't have worried. The 45 minutes with the class was a breeze. I spoke about why I was in Cornell, Wisconsin, Cornell University, a 4th grade version of the land grant act, the abridged version of the Ezra Cornell Story. I showed a 5 minute DVD of the Cornell campus and campus life.

The students asked a ton of questions: "Is the University still there?", "Is it hard to get in?", "Are any of the original buildings still standing?", and "Does it cost a lot to go there?"

They had as most enthusiastic response when I asked, "If you made a lot of money like Ezra and your family was taken care of, what would you do the the rest?" Altruists to the last one, they suggested building house for homeless, giving to the poor, feeding the hungry.

That day (and in a few more years) I think a few more students will be considering Cornell, Class of 2024. I think I just made my youngest's admission chances in 9 years a bit tougher.


19 Road Trip IIa – Meet the Parents

I'm back in the woods for a busy few day in the city.

Arrived in Cornell yesterday on a stunning, sunny fall morning.
The drive from Stillwater, MN where I overnighted with friends of my wife (and now mine) was leisurely and memorable.

The St. Croix River majestically separates Lake Wobegon (MN) from the Cheeseheads (WI), but on this day all was clearly not right. Lampposts, park benches, and trashcans were submerged. The bridge span across the river into Wisconsin was only a few feet above the water line. An inquisitive paddler could not pass underneath the span.

The rest of the two hour drive was pleasant; halfway there an eagle came from behind the trees and swept over the car at about 100 feet.

My thoughts turned to Cornell and my goals for the three days along the Chippewa.

My first task was calling the Phelps. Aaron BS '99 MS '99 was up for the weekend with his son and I finally had a chance to sit down with him and his parents (Jerry and Michelle). I called Aaron's cell and he told me to come on over.

As expected they are delightful people, friendly, and generous. They expanded on some of the tales we shared by phone in July and August. They began accumulating some of Ezra and Mary Cornell's  acreage own south of town in the early 1980s . From time to time they fell some trees for expenses like tuition. The family leases the land to folks who raise livestock. But their passion is hunting. The three boys return to town often to join Eric (a Cornell High School senior) and Jerry in the woods.

Once again we discuss the possibilities of closer ties between the town and the university. Jerry and Michelle believe that higher educational aspirations for students and parents might result. Aaron has offered to return to campus with me to make the case for a connection between our alma mater and the community and region that was so instrumental to the university's financial, and thus, academic success.

I left the Phelps's satisfied that the stories, histories and legacies of Ezra's ventures in these woods are reasons enough to justify and pursue the Cornell-Cornell partnership. I think that the Ithaca Cornellians would reap the rewards of this initiative as much as the Cheeseheads (term of affection conveyed from one Wisconsinite to another).

Packer Fans know – Dec. 31, 1967
I finished the afternoon at Turk's sharing some local Leinenkugel's  with the friendly locals. Once again, it took less than five minutes for someone to introduce themselves and welcome me. When I explained the reasons for my visit, one patron simply stated, "I do not believe you." I went out to my car to retrieve the just-published Ezra Magazine article. A few minutes later her two friends asked for their copies.

I would give anything to have a photo of these Green Bay Packer-attired fans sitting at the bar, Lions-Packers playing (3rd quarter) on the screen above their heads, but with the three of them, heads buried in the latest edition of Ezra.

The Pack won 28-26. Another reason to be happy.


18 The Woods Burn

If you've been following these postings you are aware of the serendipitous nature of Cornell's land grant success: the choice of investments, the ability to retain the land realizing significant appreciation, the financial structure of the scrip sale to Ezra and its eventual designation to a new flexible endowment for the university.

But the risks were great. The pine woods of northern Wisconsin were susceptible to theft, financial swindles, and poor surveying. And fire.

Fires in most northern Midwest forests were common – a combination of weather conditions, poor logging practices and carelessness. I didn't realize how close Cornell was to losing its woodland investment (initiated in 1866) until I thought about the Peshtigo Fire of 1871.

In early October, after Ezra returned from a visit to the Wisconsin pines and Chicago a week earlier, he was unable to contact the Midwest. His telegraph lines were down throughout the region.

As every school student knows the Great Chicago Fire of October 8-10 destroyed this Midwest metropolis. Mrs. O'Leary's cow aside, the fire consumed the wooden city and provided a blank canvas upon which the leading architects and inspired planners designed the modern city. Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Daniel Burnham introduced the world to a new view of urban life and landscape.

5:35 PM CST, October 8, 1871
But as destructive as the Chicago fire was, the same day, hundreds of miles north, a five-mile wide conflagration, with sustained winds over 100 miles per hour consumed 1,500 square miles, one billion feet of lumber, and as many as 2,400 lives – the most devastating fire in US history.

The description documented in "Firestorm in Peshtigo," by Gess and Lutz is powerful and terrifying. The description of the tragic loss of human life is horrific.

Peshtigo Fire Destruction
The isotope weather map shows that storms essentially encircled the Cornell pine lands in western Wisconsin. Though the destruction reached across Lake Michigan to the east and Minnesota to the west, the Chippewa Rivier Valley miraculously was spared.

Initially Ezra considered purchasing acreage near Green Bay. Correspondence with a former Ithaca resident and friend, Ira Millard of New London, WI, discussed the possibility of locating some of the scrip on the Green Bay watershed. If he had, Cornell might be a much different institution.


17 Channeling Ezra

The drive to Ithaca is always therapeutic. Interstate 86 (I still call it Route 17) meanders through New York's Southern Tier pleasantly devoid of traffic for all the years I have traversed this highway. The first crossing was in 1976, a winter break return trip from Madison, with a new acquaintance, Jim Rutherford '76, a fellow Madisonian (though from the east side of town) who was returning to Cornell in time for fraternity formal rush week.

Jim (and, briefly, I) drove the world's oldest "working" Saab for about 20 hours through blizzards and darkness at a rate that might seem as frustratingly slow as Ezra Cornell's round trips to Wisconsin 110 years earlier.

The best part of the trip was – and remains – coming over the hill on Route 13 leading into Ithaca when, for the first time and for only a brief moment, you're tempted with a distant view of the city and the Cornell campus still several miles away. If Cornell is alma mater then it is also alma domus.

I am returning to campus for some more research on the land grant, a meeting or two, and the alumni board meeting of Sigma Phi (Jim's and now my fraternity), a society I was introduced to for the first time at the end of that January drive in '76.

The Kroch Library elevator descends a few floors (somewhat less colorfully than the phone booth in Get Smart) where I meet Elaine Engst, the University's affable archivist, to discuss the land grant and the Ezra Cornell collections. My goal: bring highlights of the bicentennial (of Ezra's birth) exhibit to Cornell, Wisconsin's public schools and to the city's visitors center.

Also Ezra Magazine wants a photo for a print and web article it's publishing in a few weeks about my Wisconsin explorations: a shot in front of Ezra Cornell's statue on the Arts Quad. I arrive early for the Monday 9 AM shoot (jealous of the coffee-ed, iPod-ed and backpack-ed future alumni crossing the Quad on their way to enlightenment) and spend a few private moments with Ezra, in silent communication with the tall green sculpture; he listens politely.

"In case you were wondering," I offer, "your great great great grandson says hello."

Ezra Cornell '70
The day before I stopped by the home of the living Ezra Cornell '70 to discuss my research and exchange ideas. This Ezra is a lineal descendant of our founding Ezra (and then Alonzo) and he provides an enthusiastic and informative link for my history lesson.

He has a handful of humorous stories that come with being named after a famous man. As an undergraduate, the university was easier to navigate using his "EC" moniker. His hilarious tale about his admission's application to the university is a classic (it involves a grandmother, a long drive from New Jersey, the dean of admissions, a Saturday phone call to the university's president, and retrieving an application from the wastebasket).

Most importantly, Ezra expressed his interest in joining me for a trip next spring to Cornell, WI for a rendezvous with teachers, students, and history.


16 Intermission: Trivia

As the college football season gets into full swing, I want remind rabid fans that Cornell maintains an undefeated record against Ohio State University. As recently as the 1940 season, the Big Red demolished the Other Red. I believe the bear mascot had a role in these victories. And the only connection to the Wisconsin land grant is a brief reference of Ezra Cornell coming across a bear cub on his first excursion to Wisconsin in 1866. No reason to believe that this encounter inspired the selection of the CU mascot.

Lifetime Football Record
Cornell 2 – Ohio State 0
10/28/1939 AWAY in Columbus W 23-14
10/26/1940 HOME in Ithaca W 21-7

Oh, and by the way: Cornell – Michigan Record: 13-6!

Go BIg Red!

Surrounded by Buckeye fanatics and living under the radar in Ohio, D


15 The Map

1877 Cornell Ownership of Wisconsin Lands (courtesy of WI Historical Society)
Harry Miller, reference archivist at the Wisconsin Historical Society, sent me this digitized map of the Cornell lands in Wisconsin (1877).
It's an enlightening perspective on the land grant. The shaded portions (maybe 160 acre plats) reveal the dispersion of the land investments in the northwest quadrant of the state. I'm reminded that travel in the late 1800s was cumbersome and every acre had to be surveyed to determine timber quality and quantity, and thus market value. 

The ledgers, which I viewed in the Cornell University Archives last April, list each plat (I'm going back to Cornell to determine the acres/plat), the type of tree and quantity. Overlays in colored pencil denoted each sale over the course of forty-plus years.

While Eau Claire, Wisconsin's Henry Putnam, the respected head of the region's land office where all filings were processed, was a valued mentor to Ezra Cornell in his land dealings, Cornell made an ill-fated decision in hiring William A Woodward, a land broker, to manage the purchase, assessment, management and sales of the land for what amounted to an unreasonably high fee (the law suit came later).

In a letter to his wife, Mary on August 4, 1866, Ezra Cornell confidently proclaimed [spelling errors and all], "The struggle is over at last and I have just mailed 200 pieces of land scrip to Mr. Woodward and have written him that we will start for the west by Tuesday the 14th.... I now feel for the first time that the destiny of the Cornell University was fixed, and that its ultimate endowment would be ample.... and if properly organised for the developement of truth, industry and frugality, it will become a power in the land which will controll and mold the future of this great state, and carry it onward and upward in its industrial developement, and support of civil and religious liberty, and its guarenty of equal rights and equal laws to all men.

[Glad this wasn't chosen as the university's motto!]

Once again, I wondered what type of institution Cornell would be today if not for the success of these speculative land deals in this remote Midwest state. Could Cornell have lost its land grant status to another state university if it was unable to fulfill the land grant mission due to insufficient funds as was the case in other states (see Brown University)?

Cornell Provost Kent Fuchs emailed me, "I continue to be grateful that we have had leaders throughout Cornell’s history who made strategic decisions from which to benefit. The land grant funds and mission are a major part of our present success as well as our future.  I would not want to consider a Cornell that was not a land-grant university or had not wisely used the original land-grant resources. The historical perspective makes me truly appreciative of those that have come before us."

Me too.


14 Doing the Math: Cornell vs The Rest

How unusual was Cornell's land grant success? Because of the choice of the investment (valuable land with a marketable resource on the land) and the ability to hold on to the land long enough to realize significant appreciation, Cornell netted 1/3 of the nation's land grant proceeds while receiving 1/10 of the original land grant acreage.While some of the math is tough to confirm, before expenses it appears Cornell received $7.07 per granted (about half was invested in Wisconsin timberlands) acre while the rest of the (50+) institutions earned only $1.57 per acre. Cornell's top price is a documented $82 an acre).

Most of the other schools sold early or made less than ideal land acquisitions.
As Julia Roberts' character said in Pretty Woman: "Big mistake. Big. Huge. I have to go shopping now."

University of Kentucky ($0.50/acre)
In January 1863, over significant local opposition from Confederate partisans and religious and other private educational interests, the Kentucky Legislature accepted the terms of the Morrill Land Grant Act for the State. The General Assembly promptly entrusted the management and sale of the 330,000-acre land "scrip" which it received, to a private financial firm-the Sinking Fund agency-with the intention of assuring the best possible price for the land. Madison Johnson, agent for the commissioners of the Sinking Fund, by inopportunely marketing the land scrip in 1866, realized only about $164,000-less than half the return which might have been anticipated a few years earlier, when federal land in Kentucky was selling at $1.25 per acre. The $9,900 return on the investment of the principal proved insufficient to allow for the growth of the new Agricultural and Mechanical College and its fulfilling the stipulations of the Morrill Act.

Brown University ($0.42/acre)
In January 1863 the Rhode Island legislature accepted the grant of 120,000 acres and transferred the land scrip to Brown University. In the summer of 1863 President Sears and Horace T. Love 1836 inspected the land, which was located in Kansas. The Corporation allowed only a small amount of money for the expenses involved in locating the land, paying taxes on it, and selling it, and the committee in charge of the matter of the agricultural lands found it easier to sell the land to Mr. Love for $50,000, payable without interest over five years. This expedient turned out to be a bad bargain when the value of the land increased.

University of Wisconsin ($0.58/acre)
This state's share was 240,000 acres. Several of the states used this fund to endow separate agricultural colleges, and there was some attempt made in Wisconsin to adopt this policy; but fortunately better counsels prevailed, and the College of Agriculture was by the reorganization act of 1866 made an integral part of the University, both being strengthened by the union.
By an act approved April 2, 1863, the legislature accepted from the federal government the Agricultural College grant of 240,000 acres, "upon the terms, conditions and restrictions" of the law, and the governor was directed to appoint two commissioners to select the lands. The entire amount was, in 1863-64, located in Chippewa, Clark, Dunn, Marathon, Oconto, Polk, and Shawano counties. We have seen that the first federal land-grant made to Wisconsin (in 1838) was for the benefit of the University, and consisted of two townships (46,080 acres). From their sale the State realized but $150,000; on the other hand Michigan obtained from a like grant over $500,000. We of this generation, who are being taxed to support our University, should clearly understand that it is a case where the penalty for the sins of the fathers is laid upon the sons.

Penn State University ($0.56/acre)
Penn State was founded in 1855 as a publicly supported agricultural college. It brought science to bear on age-old problems of food and fiber production.

In 1863, the Pennsylvania legislature designated Penn State the Commonwealth’s sole land-grant institution -- a distinction it still holds. Pennsylvania received 780,000 acres of land, which were sold for a total of $439,000. The state legislature then converted this amount to a $500,000 bond yielding 6 percent ($30,000) annually to Penn State. The bond functioned in effect as Penn State's "endowment" during those early years.

(These entries were often pulled verbatum from various Internet sources)


13 We’d Send Our Son to Cornell*

Proud parents.
Loyal Cornellians to the power of two.
Meet Michelle and Jerry Phelps.

Owners of Lot 11, Block, 6, Plat 6149 Cornell (Blocks 1-9, Commonly Called Original Plat of Cornell) in Chippewa County. Among other "Cornell" plats.

A few Thursdays ago I spoke with them long distance to get a few more details about their personal histories in Northern Wisconsin, the story of their “Ezra” pine land, and their reflections on a son of Cornell becoming a Cornell son: Aaron – the sole identified graduate of both Cornell High School (1995) and Cornell University (1999).

Jerry’s great grandfather (Aaron’s great-great g.f.) settled near Cornell after the turn of the previous century. The rest of the family connections to the Wisconsin woodlands go back almost as far. Michelle's ancestors are from Norway – then California.

Jerry and Michelle met at Cornell High School and were married soon after. Michelle is a mental health professional for Chippewa County and Jerry works with delinquent males.

In their youth their knowledge of Cornell University and Ezra Cornell was minimal. “It wasn’t until we bought the land that we became aware of the region’s connection to the other Cornell.”

The land.

The first acres were purchased in 1984 a few miles south. The title on their “Cornell Plat” is the physical record of the land grant. The first owner – United States Government. Then come Ezra and Mary Cornell’s signatures.

The Phelps ownership of this land brings the Wisconsin story full circle. For while the trees and land were sold first to build a nascent university, 100 years later the Phelps confirmed that trees on this same land were felled and sold to pay a portion of Aaron’s tuition, rent, food and books. A poetic if not romantic notion.

“It’s hard to describe what it felt like to visit Cornell the first time,” offered Jerry. "Walking on campus, seeing the statue of Ezra Cornell on the Arts Quad – I was grinning from ear to ear. Most of the people I met in Ithaca had no idea about the Wisconsin connection. I had to convince them that we owned land 1,000 miles away with Ezra’s signature on the title.”

Michelle shared that, “it was exciting to go to Cornell, knowing the connection and knowing we were linked so personally by so much history.”

We discussed a Cornell-Cornell connection. “The local schools and students would benefit greatly from a relationship with the university. The university might inspire our students to raise their expectations and shift their aspirations,” reflected Jerry.

"And there is some pressure to retire the high school's current "Chiefs" mascot." Cornell Bears anyone?

In late May this year, President David Skorton stood before the throngs at Schoelkopf and acknowledged the support and sacrifices of the parents that allowed Cornell students to become Cornell alumni. After my brief virtual kitchen klatch with the Phelps, I know that the archetype Cornell parents is this couple from Chippewa County.

I’m looking forward to meeting them up north soon and maybe bringing a bit more of Cornell to Cornell – and vice versa.

(* with admiration of E B White)


12 A Cornellian Like No Other

He may be the only one.
In the world.

Aaron Phelps has a bachelor's and a master's degree from Cornell University, though this is not what makes him special. Aaron has another degree from Cornell for which he paid no tuition, received no scholarships, and for which he logged no all-nighters.

Aaron’s third degree from Cornell is actually his first: a diploma from Cornell High School, home of the Chiefs.

Aaron Phelps BS ’99 and M Engr ’99 is the only graduate of Cornell High and Cornell U whom I've been able to identify.

In June, on my way out of Cornell, Wisconsin, I stopped by the corner of North 7th Street and Squire Drive. The guys at Turk’s Bar and the White Pages shared the address. In the driveway was a young man washing his black 1970 Chevy Nova. “No, Aaron’s my big brother,” offered Eric (17). He gave me Aaron’s cell (in Iowa) and I called him on my way back to Madison.

Aaron graduated in 1995 from Cornell High.
He was 4th in his class –– of 32.
Good in math and science – hence agricultural engineering.
He's with John Deere living in Denver, IA.

But the Ivy League was not the usual path for these graduating seniors. UW-River Falls, UW-Eau Claire, UW-Madison, technical colleges and work were more popular choices. Aaron’s parents encouraged him to aim high and a four-year degree was a goal. So was Division I athletics.

Aaron Phelps '99 circa 1995
Three times Aaron placed in the Wisconsin State Wrestling Tournament. His senior year (34-1) he won the state title in the 171 pound class.  It was his wrestling prowess that got the attention of Cornell Coach Robert Koll who invited Aaron to the two-week summer camp in Ithaca before his high school senior year. Aaron was hooked.

But Aaron's Cornell story starts a long time ago – almost a 100 years ago with his paternal grandparents who lived in the pineries in the early 1900s about the time Brunet Falls, Wisconsin became Cornell, Wisconsin.

Aaron’s parents, Jerry and Michelle Phelps, grew up in Cornell, Wisconsin and together attended Cornell High. Aaron (33) is the oldest of four boys (Brandon, 28, Catlon, 24, Eric).

Nearby acreage on which the Phelps hunt has been in the family for over a quarter century. A title search of this property begins with the United States Government. Then Ezra Cornell. Eventually Phelps.

And, yes, it is true. A few second growth trees from this land (Cornell's original land grant) were felled to pay for a portion Aaron's tuition (or books, rent, food...). First sold to build a university; a century later, sold again to send a student there.

So it’s time to talk with the parents.


11 Eleemosynary Ezra

"We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give." Sir Winston Churchill

My unscientific study concludes that the most common word in The New York Times obituaries is "philanthropist" as in "Brooke Astor, 105, First Lady of Philanthropy, Dies", "Evelyn Haas, Philanthropist, Dies at 92", "Fenmore Seton – Philanthropist, 85." More often than not the "P-word" follows another career as in "Computer Magnate and Philanthropist Max Palevsky", "Banker and Philanthropist", "Publisher and Philanthropist." Rarely (sadly), "Pro Athlete and Philanthropist."

For Ezra Cornell's obituary, the word "philanthropist" should come first. I believe it did in his mind. Yeah, he started a university for $500,000 – actually a total of $669,555 when you include two farms, $25,000 to NY State, the barn, library collections and equipment (see M Whalen Gifts and Giving 2003) – equivalent of about $40 million today). But he also gave Ithaca its first library in 1864. Andy Carnegie got the bug eighteen years later in 1883.

While Ezra's success in making money (often despite himself) is a huge chunk of his reputation, altruism is his greatest legacy. He woke up on October 10, 1871 unable to telegraph Chicago. The city had burned to the ground (a week after his overnight stay in the city during a return from inspecting the Wisconsin forests). Two hundred miles east of Cornell's pines, the same fire ravaged about 2,400 square miles or 1.5 million acres in Wisconsin and Upper Michigan.

His immediate response was a gift of $1,000 (about $60,000 today) to help Chicago.

And Ezra inspired others to give to the university: lumberman Henry Sage; lumberman John McGraw and daughter Jennie; Hiram Sibley and Junior; President AD White; Daniel B. Fayerweather; Frederick W. Guiteau; faculty members Goldwin Smith and Daniel Fiske; and of course, Rockefeller and Carnegie.

And in 1874 the first endowed chair at Cornell was the professorship of Hebrew and Oriental Literature and History (thinking of you, Dad), proposed and funded by the NYC financier Joseph Seligman – six years after Cornell opened its campus to students!

Menahem Mansoor 1911-2001
Happy Birthday Dad! Retiring as emeritus professor and chairman of the department of Hebrew and Semitic Studies at the University of Wisconsin, he died at 90 a month after 9/11 and a month after meeting his youngest granddaughter for the first time. He would have liked this blog and in particular this posting. He would have liked that Mr. Seligman gave Cornell's first professorship in his field,... and Dad liked quotations.

"You give but little when you give of your possessions.  It is when you give of yourself that you truly give." Gibran, Kahlil (1883-1931) Syrian-American poet.

Ezra did both.


10 Trees and Timber: Part II

You buy land with trees on it.
You sell land with trees on it for a higher price than you paid.
You send the surplus monies to an aspiring university.

What more do I need to know.

It turns out nothing - unless I want to understand the brilliance of Ezra Cornell's investment in Northwestern Wisconsin pineland.

First: Cornell could have bought prairie land in Kansas (he did – about 1% of the land grant). Instead he purchased land that increased in value because of the demand for the resources on the land - in this case trees. Call it the Morrill Tree Grant Act.

Second: Ezra focused not on any tree but the pine: "because of its desirable characteristics, could be brought a considerable distance and still compete successfully with more easily available hardwoods. Pine is a softwood, straight-grained, light but strong for its weight, easily worked with a handsaw, maintains its dimensions when properly seasoned, and resists rot."

Third: The pineland of northern Wisconsin, specifically the Chippewa River watershed contained one-sixth of all the pines west of the Adirondack Mountains. Imagine land covering an area from the middle of New York State, across the Midwest to Minnesota and into Canada. The river valley that Ezra focused on contained the most concentrated range of this valuable pine to be found.

Fourth: Location, location, location. The state's western rivers emptied into the Mississippi and served as the primary source supplying the high lumber demands of the late 1800s prairie expansion in Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, and Kansas. Imagine being the only Lowe's or Home Depot serving four states.

Fifth: Ezra (and later, Henry Sage) convinced the University to hold onto the land, to wait for the anticipated appreciation. While many states sold their allotment immediately – bringing up the rear was Brown University, the land grant designate for Rhode Island, selling their Kansas land in 1865 on credit, with no interest, for $50,000 or 42 cents an acre – Cornell held on to average close to $15 an acre (and a top price of $82/acre!).

Perfect wood. Perfect location. Perfect timing. A timber trifecta.

9 Go Big Reds

Growing up in Madison (a soccer kick from the University of Wisconsin campus) in the 1960s, my wardrobe included the obligatory Red and White. When it came time to pick a college my first rule was, "No fashion makeover."

Stanford University (PMS–Pantone Matching System 201), University of Wisconsin (200) and I could walk home to do laundry, Harvard (202), and Cornell University (187). Cornell won (they said yes).

As readers become familiar with Cornell's singular rewards of the speculative (and, in the 1800s, locally reviled) investment in the Wisconsin hinterlands, they may conclude that Big Red-East might owe Big Red–West big time. After all, 500,000 acres is a chunk of land with a billion in board feet of lumber, maybe enough to build a house for every Cornell alumnus in the world.

Upon closer analysis however, Cornell appears to have paid its timber debt in spades. For the State of Wisconsin and its University have benefited greatly from the human, academic and intellectual output of Cornell.

The Cornell connection goes back to the University of Wisconsin's earliest days. As we explore the Cornell-nurtured talent and industry that migrated to the Badger State in the subsequent 150 years, there is a chance that Wisconsin broken even on the land grant deal.

In recent (and current) times

From 1982 until 2004, Katherine Lyall BA '63, PhD '69 served UW with distinction and aplomb, compiling a record of accomplishment that will stand, like northern pines, the test of time. From 1994 until 2004 she served as president of the UW System.

Current dignitaries include:
Biddy Martin, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin
Edwin Lightfoot (BChE 47, PhD), UW emeritus professor and recipient of the National Medal of Science (wife Lila '48 interviewed me in 1974 for Cornell admissions!)
Molly John, (PhD ’88), dean of UW Agricultural & Life Sciences
Carlos E. Santiago (PhD’82), chancellor of UW-Milwaukee.

Let's not neglect the reciprocal connections (just a start):
Newly appointed Cornell Ag School Dean: Kathryn Boor, BS Cornell, MS Wisconsin
Marie Underhill Noll Professor of History, Walter LaFeber, PhD Wisconsin
Professor, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Michael Walter, PhD Wisconsin
Chair, Developmental Sociology, David Brown, MS and PhD Wisconsin
Government, Ronald Herring, PhD Wisconsin

Turn back the clock

Adams, Charles Kendall 1835 – 1902
“No one ever attains success by simply doing what is required of him.”
Born in Derby, Vermont, Adams had an elementary school education until he was 21. He worked his way through the University of Michigan, where he studied with Andrew Dickson White. He taught history at the University of Michigan until his appointment in 1885 as president of Cornell. Adams resigned as Cornell president in 1892. He subsequently became president of the University of Wisconsin until his death in 1902.

Babcock, Stephen M 1843 – 1931
Known for the milk test that bears his name, Stephen Babcock was an agricultural chemist whose work stimulated the growth of the dairy industry and paved the way for discoveries in nutrition and vitamins. Babcock graduated from Tufts University in 1866. From 1872 to 1875 he studied engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and then chemistry at Cornell. He received his doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Gottingen, Germany, in 1879.

While Babcock's main interest was in the chemical analysis of milk, the importance of the dairy industry in Wisconsin led him to begin testing the butterfat content of milk. The Babcock test, a device he perfected in 1890, measured the fat content of milk which not only determined milk quality but also made it possible to fix standards for milk inspection and to set fair milk prices according to quality. The test helped to discourage farmers from watering or skimming their milk.

Duggar, Benjamin Minge
PhD 1898 (1872 – 1956)
Professor, botanist, author, discoverer of aureomycin. He graduated from Cornell (Ph.D., 1898). In 1927 he came to the Wisconsin as professor of plant physiology and economic botany. He was the author of Fungus Diseases of Plants (1909), the first English text on plant pathology. Among the practical outgrowths of his pioneering studies were the commercial production of mushrooms, a means of combating root rot in cotton, and a method for deactivating the virus responsible for mosaic diseases in tobacco.

Fairchild, Thomas E. 1912–2007
Received A.B. in 1934 from Cornell University; in 1938, LL.B. from University of Wisconsin Law School. Elected state Attorney General in 1948. Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate 1950 and 1952. Chairman of the 1963, co-chairman of the 1960 Governor's Commissions on Constitutional Revision. Elected to Supreme Court April 3 1956, to succeed Chief Justice Edward T. Fairchild.

Henry, William Arnon 1850–1932
First dean of the Univ. of Wis, College of Agriculture. Cornell Univ. (B.Ag., 1880). In 1880 he came to the UW as professor of botany and agriculture, and as manager of the university farm. When the College of Agriculture was organized in 1891, Henry was made dean. Known as the "father of scientific agriculture," he worked effectively to secure the support of the state government, the university regents, and Wisconsin farmers in developing an agricultural college within the university.

Reuss, Henry S. 1912–2002
5th Congressional District. Born Milwaukee, February 22, 1912. B.A. Cornell Univ. 1933; LL.B. Harvard Univ. 1936. Former practicing attorney, college lecturer, magazine writer. Veteran of World War II; served in Army 1943-45, Counsel to Wis. Secy. of State in 1953 Supreme Court reapportionment case. Elected to U.S. House of Representatives since 1954.

And of course four generations of the S.C. Johnson (Wax) family of Racine, WI.


8 Message From Your Sponsor

It's been a month since I drove into Cornell, Wisconsin and into the woods. Some think I've driven off a cliff! There have been some flattering comments and a few followers/groupies, but people often ask, "Why?"

(1) Like most natives, I have an irrational affection for my home state. I like the UW team colors. I like brats (not a huge fan of cheese or rubber cheeseheads). I think the state has a cool shape (think super-insulated left mitten). So any story involving my alma mater and my native home has appeal. Show me a Cornell-Wisconsin connection and I'm hooked. My favorite unverified quotation is from Andrew Dickson White, Cornell's first president: "The two most beautiful college campuses in the US are the University of Wisconsin and Cornell – not necessarily in that order." I eat this stuff up. Isn't President Skorton from Milwaukee? CU's second president Charles Kendall Adams became the president of the University of Wisconsin. Former provost Biddy Martin is now chancellor at the UW-Madison?....[see future posting for a more complete list.]

(2) It's a story that should be told. When I first read about Cornell's land grant investment in Wisconsin, I eloquently asked, "Say what?" The more I learned, the more I was intrigued. Ezra's $500,000 founding gift and the gift of his Ithaca land are dwarfed by the $5,000,000 he helped generate for the Cornell Endowment Fund. Yet I expect that nearly all alumni, like myself, had no idea. And Cornell's Sesquicentennial is in 2015.

(3) So now I'm curious – and then first trip to Cornell, Wisconsin sealed the deal: "What is the legacy of Cornell's land deals of the 1800s on northern Wisconsin of today, if any?" Are the University's retained mineral rights worth anything? Do the locals know or care about the history (taught in 4th grade according to teacher Julie Kosher)? Maybe this is a story waiting for an ending – or a new chapter.

As I returned from my first tour of Cornell the City I couldn't help wonder where this might lead. Like relatives aware of each others existence but separated by 1,000 miles and 150 years I asked, "Is a meaningful reunion possible? Of interest? Will we have anything in common? Will there be beer tents?"

I know the locals in Cornell would get a kick out of meeting Ezra Cornell BS '70, the great-great-great grandson of city's namesake. And they could use a better photo of earlier Ez in city hall. We can install one of those wooden arrows pointing due east: "ITHACA 755 MILES". Maybe much more.

The city (population 1,466) and the university (260,000 alumni, staff, students, faculty). Meet the family.


7 Trees and Timber: Part I

In “Trees of Wisconsin,” the Eastern (or Northern) White Pine (pinus strobes) is described as the Monarch of the North. The largest of the conifers (reaching 70-100 feet or about halfway up – 80 steps – the McGraw Tower) was the backbone of the Wisconsin timber industry. While these lands also contained an abundance of ash, maple, beech and birch, it was pine that drove the economy, land speculation and abundant profits.

Mature pines can easily be 200 to 250 years old. "Some white pines live over 400 years. A tree growing near Syracuse, New York was dated to 458 years in the late 1980s and trees in both Wisconsin and Michigan have approached 500 years in age." So foresight and patience are required if the majestic forests are to return to the northern parts of the Midwestern states.

I feel that I should know this tree, not only recognizing it upon sight (or a group of pines from a reasonable distance) but understand the central role it played in the lumber era of the 1800s and the generous payout presented to Ezra and his university (I'm confounding's predictive shopping models with my recent purchases).

Here are the stats: single tall trunk, with horizontal branching evenly spaced along the trunk; irregular crown (and a favorite home to the American Bald Eagle). The clustered needles (5 per cluster) are 3-5 “ in length, each is soft, flexible and with a triangular cross section.

For a better understanding of this subject, I called Cornell’s College of Forestry, but I’m 107 years too late.

Not "In Any Study"

In 1898, the New York State College of Forestry opened at Cornell, which was the first forestry college in North America. The College undertook to establish a 30,000 acre demonstration forest in the Adirondacks, funded by New York State. However, the plans of the school's director Bernhard Fernow for the land drew criticism from neighbors, and Governor Benjamin B. Odell vetoed the 1903 appropriation for the school. In response, Cornell closed the school. Moved to Syracuse.

Cornell eventually established a research forest south of Ithaca, the Arnot Woods. When New York State later funded the construction of a forestry building for the Agriculture school, Cornell named it Fernow Hall (after the great-grandfather of my classmate Lisa '79).

I'm calling Dr. Cornelius B. Murphy, Jr., president of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF). I want to ask him if we can have the forestry college back!

6 Check in the Mail: 148 Years Late

The 1862 Morrill Land Grant Act entitled the most populous state of New York 30,000 acres for each member in Congress – or 990,000 in total. Because the acreage – actually scrip (paper) to buy land in other states – was dolled out in 160-acre increments, the 6,187 lots totaled a mere 989,920. We was robbed of 80 acres!

Back then New York (and other similarly deprived states) didn't make a big deal out of this rounding error (though the shortfall is 160 times larger than my Ohio homestead), but now I'm curious whether Cornell (New York State) has a chance of "recovering" these missing acres. As CU/NYS/USA approach the 150th of the Morrill Act (2012) and 150th of Cornell (2015), wouldn't be a nice gesture for the Congress to come clean?

New York State deserves its fair allocation including the 80 acres (scrip par value $1.25 per acre in 1862, or $1,885 per acre today, for a total due of, say, $150,000). I can think of a few noble causes (in NY or WI) that would benefit from such a gift (think public school, museum, community center, park, forest). So...
Step forward Cornellians with legal mojo,
Embrace the case; take it on pro bono.
We’re passionate takers
Of eighty acres.
To the Albany door of AG A. Cuomo.


5 What’s in a Name?

Cornell Theatre, Cornell Pharmacy, Cornell Hardware Company, Cornell CarQuest & Cornell BP Express.

These are a few of the businesses in the city of Cornell, Wisconsin. No people named Cornell in the wafer-thin White Pages however.

A quick Google search turns up a few more Cornells. There is Cornell, Michigan, Cornell, Illinois, and, of course, Cornell College.

Let’s start with the College.

Cornell College is a private liberal arts college in Mount Vernon, Iowa. Originally called the Iowa Conference Seminary, the school was founded in 1853 (12 years before The University) by Rev. Samuel M. Fellows. Four years later, in 1857, the name was changed to Cornell College, in honor of iron tycoon William Wesley Cornell, a distant relative of Ezra. For fun check out the College’s webpage: “We’re Not in Ithaca.”

Our University doesn't have a page: "We're Not in Mount Vernon," which people would more likely confuse with Virginia than Iowa.

Cornell College was recently ranked by Forbes as one of the top 25 Liberal Arts Colleges in the US. Cornell College also has the top 16th theater program in the country as well. A director of physical education was Glenn Cunningham, 1936 Olympian and one of my childhood heroes after I read a short biography that described how a gasoline explosion in his youth rendered his legs useless (doctors recommended amputation) but Glenn rehabilitated his body and set a world record in the mile.

Cornell, Illinois – no connection to Ezra – named for Rhode Island born Walter P Cornell in 1873.

And there is Cornell, Michigan, in the northern peninsula (near Escanaba).
You gotta enjoy this story.

Now I love my alma mater as much as the next alumnus (maybe a bit more), but George Mashek wins the loyalty award. Cornell, Michigan was first settled by Marcell Adhland and Edward Hollywood, both farmers, in 1886. The town was founded by George (Michigan town name book states initial "H" but it was probably "M") Mashek, an Escanaba lumberman (naturally), and Edward Arnold about 1887, and named for the University which Mashek (Class of 1891) had attended (for one year!); for Mr. Arnold, who didn’t get to name the town, the consolation prize was to become the town's first "Got another annual fund appeal from Cornell, George" postmaster.
By the way, it looks like George returned to Cornell: George Milik Mashek attended from 1887-89 and 1890-91. He is listed as Class of 1891, but in the 1891 register, he is shown as a sophomore. No confirmation that he received a degree though we know he studied, appropriately, mechanic arts. The Cornell Alumni News (Vol XXXIII No. 34, July 1931) shows George M. Mashek (1891) at 7x4 South Tenth Street, Escanaba, MI.

And there is the Cornell School District, Coraopolis, Pennsylvania. No idea why it is called Cornell. Maybe someone liked the alliteration: “Cornell in Coraopolis.”


4 Quick: What Does CU Stand For?

No secret to some in the Cornell administration (and quite a few folks in northern Wisconsin) – but a mystery to the rest of the Cornell community – when the University and Ezra sold the Wisconsin land and its trees (New York Times reported on May 21, 1902 that Jim Gates bought the last 56,000 acres), it retained the mineral rights to the property: probably not all 500,000 acres but possibly a sizable quantity. [According to a Cornell financial report of the mid-1930s, the administration of the Western Lands was closed in 1935, not 1902.]

What are mineral rights? “It is the right of the owner to exploit, mine, and/or produce any or all of the minerals lying below the surface of the property.”

So what? It’s been 100+ years. Any minerals of value under the surface of this Northern Wisconsin property would have been retrieved years ago, right?”

Ask the people of Ladysmith, Wisconsin and the Kennecott Minerals Company.

Decades after some excellent specimens were first collected (1915) by George Hotchkiss, the "rich" vein of copper, gold and silver was finally mined between 1993 and 1997.

The result: 35-acres of this surface mine yielded approximately 181,000 tons of marketable copper ($3,500/ton), 334,000 ounces of gold ($1,250/oz), and 3,300,000 ounces of silver ($18/oz). The mineral density of the ore was high enough to financially justify shipping the mined ore to other locations for processing.

Current market value of this find (though I acknowledge that these are current, historically high prices, not those from 13 years ago): $1,110,400,000 or $31,725,714 per acre.... if I calculated the prices correctly (help please) of Ag, Au, and (you guessed it) Cu.

And Ladysmith, WI is only 23 miles due north of Cornell, WI.

Ok – now I’m just being annoying – but if Cornell still holds the mineral rights to, say, 25% of the original 500,000 acres, and this land yields a mere one one-hundredth of the Flambeau Mine totals, these holdings would be worth $40 billion.

Game over.

Anyone want to take a few drill core samples in Chippewa, Rusk and Taylor and Dunn counties?

I’m heading back up to northern Wisconsin with a good shovel and the email address of a subsurface geologist from the UW or a researcher from the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey.

By the way, the Flambeau mine site set a new (sorry) gold standard for environmental reclamation of the land.