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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.