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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.


3 A Perfect Philanthropic Storm

1862. 1863. 1865. Opportunities in perfect alignment.

One. Abraham Lincoln signs the Morrill Land Grant Act into law, nine years after it was first proposed by Illinois College professor Jonathan Baldwin Turner. The law deeds federal land in each state to be used by that state for the creation of schools or departments of agriculture and mechanical arts (engineering).

Two. Ezra Cornell wishes to employ his surplus wealth for the greater/est good. On the capitol steps in Albany he meets fellow NY State legislator and soon to be Cornell University’s first president, Andrew Dickson White, who advises him to either give the $300,000 to an institution of higher learning or to start a new one.

Done. Ezra ups the ante to $500,000 and bets the farm (actually donates the scenic family land on the East Hill in Ithaca New York) when NY State agrees to allocate the land grant proceeds to the new institution.

Three. New York State’s quirkiness comes into play. There are no federal lands available in New York. And, as New York is the largest state it gets the most acres (or scrip in lieu of land). Nearly 1,000,000. Think Rhode Island and a half.

Four. The kicker: states are prohibited from owning land in another state. The university doesn’t want to buy, assess, manage, market and sell the land. Ezra is willing to. He agrees to purchase the scrip for about 60 cents an acre (its fair market value). Half down and the balance paid from future proceeds from the sale of the land. All expenses (legal, taxes, accounting, management) also will be deducted from the proceeds.

Five. Ezra gets New York State to agree that any profits from the sale of the land up and above the management expenses and the original value of the scrip will be designated to Cornell Endowment Fund – and not solely for agricultural and engineering – Land Grant Fund. Ag and Engr will benefit from the original value of the scrip, just not the excess value.

Ezra does not, and never will, personally benefit from any of this. His motives are passionately altruistic. The stress of the Wisconsin pines management and his doomed railroad ventures hasten his death in 1874.

Founded in 1848 with an abundance of prime woodland in its northern half, the Badger State now plays a lead role in the university's financial future.


2 The Other Cornell & Other Cornellians

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

It’s Day 2 in Cornell, WI.

Last night, Dave Hoel called Paul Sounderegger to ask if he’d give me a boat ride on the Chippewa River in the morning so I could get some aquatic video. I meet Paul at Turk’s (bar, diner, town square). Another stranger comes through.

At 9:00 am the temperature is already warm but in the speedy boat my fleece keeps me comfortable in the boat-made breeze. The water is like a mirror and both banks of the Chippewa are edifice-free leaving tranquil vistas in all directions.

We round the bend at Brunet Island State Park and Doug slows down enough to point out an eagle’s nest just below the crown of a tall pine. A precocious eaglet stretches its neck wanting to be seen. A few moments later momma appears over the tree tops, riding the thermals; she circles and returns to the nest.

Cornell, Wisconsin and my hosts are pulling out all the stops.

Later I wander to the front of the Cornell Theater – a modest, boarded up cinema that has roots probably going back to the 1920s. Middle of Main Street – of course. Several locals tell me that it’s changed hands several times but no one in recent times has made a go of it. Later in the day I spot a 2008 ad in the Cornell Courier for “WALL-E”: maybe the last film shown since the theater was shuttered.

The film takes place in the distant future, when a small waste collecting robot inadvertently embarks on a (space) journey that will ultimately decide the fate of mankind. Is this a variation of my story?

I’m thinking Cinema Paradiso meets Badger State. The first “project” I can get excited about is the restoration of this place (see article). What’s so appealing about reviving a movie theater (Jim Carrey in The Majestic 2001)?

City Hall is a small wooden building with an 600 square foot first floor. Missy greets me from behind the high counter; I ask if the city administrator is available. Dave DeJongh makes time and answers all my questions. He reveals that 2013 is the 100th anniversary of the City of Cornell (prior to which it was known as Brunet Falls).

My mind is crunching dates: (A) 100th anniversary of the City of Cornell (2013), (B) 150th anniversary of New York State’s acceptance of the Morrill Land Grant Act conditions (2013), (C) nearly 150th of the establishment of Cornell U (2015). Sounds like a party.

Dave takes down a picture from the lobby wall. It’s a portrait of Ezra Cornell, the city’s namesake. On the back is an undated newspaper article about the Ezra/Cornell WI connection. The author is Monica Rejzer Novakovic a former resident of Cornell who, according to the byline, lives and works in Ithaca, New York. OK – a new lead to explore. Am I crazy or do I recognize the typeface from the Ithaca Journal?

An hour later I’m at the Visitors Center (10:00 AM – 4:00 PM seven days a week) when I come across a copy of “The Builders of Cornell” which pays tribute to major donors to the University. Why is this volume here? Inside the front cover is a photocopy of a business card (Andrew M. Novakovic, professor of Agricultural Economics at Cornell). Also are the words, “donated by Mr. & Mrs. Stan Rejzer 6/2000.” Google tells me that Monica, Andrew’s late wife, was a chimesmaster. (Update: Prof. Novakovic and I exchange emails the next day)

While I’m perusing articles and artifacts, Lyle Adrian shows up. He is a city councilman and he tells me he was speaking with DeJongh and he drove down (takes about ninety seconds to drive across town) – wants to know if he can answer any questions. We spoke of the mineral rights, the Ladysmith copper mine, the anticipated restoration of the world’s only remaining wood stacker out our window, and Betsy White.

“For local history, you need to speak with Betsy,” Lyle advises. “She now is in a care facility in nearby Bloomer, WI, but even at 95 she is sharp as a tack though you might have to remind her to turn on or up her hearing aid.” Lyle calls me four hours later with her number. She’s anticipating my call.

Lyle proudly tells me that the town’s Camaraderie Club – meets every Monday – sent over 1,000 care packages to the troops in Iraq. For a town of 1,466 this is an impressive effort.

My twenty-four hours in Cornell ends with a visit with the mayor, Judith Talbot. A few years ago Talbot was appointed mayor filling an unexpired term, but then lost to Mark Nodolf by four votes in 2008. She ran for city council in 2009; lost by four votes. Judy won her seat this April by defeating former mayor, Nodolf, 124-120. And, appropriately, there were four write-in votes. Will the excitement never end?

Judy immediately starts in about the Save Our Stacker initiative. The 97-year-old pulpwood stacker needs to be painted to abate the rusting of this 175 foot structure (I suggested some dramatic night lighting). They’ve raised about $30,000 toward the $300,000+ goal. The mayor hopes the restoration will be completed in time for the stacker’s centennial in (wait for it) 2013.

Judy is excited about the notion of a Cornell (City)–Cornell (University) partnership. These have got to be the first town-gown bedfellows separated by 1,029 miles. The City seems eager to welcome a friendship with the University. We’ll explore the reciprocal feelings next. Mayor Judy wants the town (especially the youth) to know its history and finds exciting the notion of a link or at least some programs with Cornell University.

I’m overwhelmed by the generosity of these “Cornellians” – I never did ask what the natives are called! I want alumni to know the story of Cornell’s land grant in Wisconsin. I want the University and its alumni to nurture this unusual bond. Like relatives who know of each other's existence but haven't connected – yet.

1 Everyone Comes to Turk's

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

It's official name is "Turk's Brunet Bicycle Club Tap & Grill." It's located at 116 Main Street, Cornell, Wisconsin. Zip: 54732. Area Code: 715. It's where this story begins.

By the way, it's "Brunét" as in Jean Brunet, pioneer and founder of Brunet Falls, WI, which was later renamed Cornell. Story Number 1.

I ordered my Budweiser (in the new cool, cold aluminum bottle) and less than five minutes later, Dave Hoel comes over from 10 feet down the bar to introduce himself to this obvious stranger.

"Dan Mansoor" I tell him when asked.

"You related to Mansur from Jim Falls?" which, despite its familial name is a town about 15 miles south of Cornell.

Sensitive (overly) to being an outsider, I tell him I'm visiting from Madison, since Cleveland, Ohio seems, for this joint, too foreign being a whole time zone away. "I'm doing some research on the history of Cornell University and Ezra Cornell's Wisconsin pinelands," I tell him, wondering where this might lead.

"Really?" he says. "My grandfather worked in lumber in the late 1800s. My dad was born in 1904. He was a cookee for the lumbermen. I work in the mill down the street."

I'm hooked. Before I'm halfway through my first bottle of beer, I'm chatting with a guy whose grandfather might have met Ezra Cornell.

Within 30 minutes I learned about Aaron Phelps (Wisconsin State wrestling champ 1995) from Cornell (WI) High School who went to Cornell – the university. On my left is a forty year old, Randy Carter, who told me that he offered to fell some trees on Aaron's parents' land to help pay for this native son's Cornell tuition bills.

Oh God. Was this the same land and second-growth trees that originally were sold to build Cornell University's endowment over a century earlier? (Fact check!)

He throws two more zingers at me.

"Did you know that local lumber helped rebuild Chicago after the 1871 fire?"

I did know that the 1871 Chicago fire was the same night as the more devastating Peshtigo Fire 200 miles due east of this bar (burning 1,200,000 acres and killing between 1,250 and 2,500). A change in weather patterns and Cornell University's pineland investment would have been worth squat. (Update: In 1865 Ezra contacted friend, Ira Millard of New London, WI, about the possibility of locating some of the scrip on the Green Bay watershed. Would have been a really bad idea!)

"There is something Cornell could do for this community," Randy offers long before I'm ready to introduce altruism into the conversation. "Cornell still owns the mineral rights to my eighty acres."

The library and city hall are closed but I'm looking around the bar for an attorney to explain to me whether Cornell University still owns the mineral rights to all 500,000 acres in the State of Wisconsin.

Day One wasn't done yet, but I know there's a new story to tell. And I'm not going to sleep well tonight.