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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.”