Just the sound of it has an appeal — visions of acquiring property at no cost and building a new home. Maybe adopting the homesteading lifestyle of living off the land and off the grid, preserving your food and more. At one time there were lots of opportunities to acquire a parcel of land, usually in return for specific activities. Things have changed significantly but land grants have not entirely disappeared.
In the early days of the United States land grants were common and even necessary. Land had been “acquired” from Native American tribes from the Appalachian area to the west coast (excluding the original thirteen states plus several others) — to the tune of around1.25. billion acres.
The area which was now classified as “public domain” held tremendous resources including rich farmland, gold and silver out in California and Nevada, oil, gas and coal and great forests. These were considered a public trust of the federal government. It had the responsibility to use these resources for revenue and for future generations. They could sell property, develop it, or hang on to it for future generations — and they did all three.
The government’s trusteeship of these properties in the late 18th and early 19th centuries is reflected in our daily life today:
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After initially raising cash by selling off properties, the government turned to awarding land grants. They focused first on the importance of public education and providing resources to develop public primary education in these new territories. That goal soon broadened to include public education at the college and university level in all states. In fact you could consider these the first “Block Grants” — monies provided by the federal government to individual states for specific purposes. The states then carried out the aim of creating colleges and universities, initially just for those which would emphasize agriculture and farming. Each state could choose a plot of undeveloped land to support the creation of a new school. Schools like Cornell, the University of South Carolina, the University of Michigan and many more are the result of these grants.
Importantly, land grants also went to businesses and individual entrepreneurs to make possible the establishment of nationwide railroads, turnpikes and canals to pormote the settlement of the western part of the country. This settlement did not take place fast enough so further encouragement was next provided by land grants to individuals. The first recipients were elderly veterans, particularly those who were injured and/or disabled in the War of 1812 and numerous American wars. The veterans typically sold their land warrants for cash and these were then sold to those who wanted to move west and farm the land. We still provide special benefits for veterans, as we discuss in Grants for Veterans.
Today we can still see the federal emphasis on supporting farming and agriculture in the many grants, loans and other programs provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. You can find out more about these and their benefits for today’s farmers, would-be farmers, and even for those people who simply wish to live in rural areas in several of our articles including Grants for Farms, Grants for Housing, Home Improvement Grants, Grants for Seniors, Grants for Kids and Down Payment Assistance (yes, the government still wants to help you settle in the west and other rural areas!).
What about actual land grants today, not just assistance buying or maintaining a home or farm in rural areas? There are actually still a few states which provide land in return for specific use of the property. To take advantage of them you will almost certainly have to live in a pretty remote and undeveloped area. If that appeals to you it’s definitely worth looking into — especially with home prices skyrocketing in so many places.
There are currently four states where you can still get land in exchange for living on and working the property. These include Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, and Michigan:
Land Grants Alaska:
Since 1862 Alaska as provided land grants to more than 3000 “homesteaders.” Alaska is a beautiful place but has not grown rapidly because of the difficult weather and not very rich soil. It’s tough to make it there, especially as someone trying to live off the land. But that’s the price you pay when the land doesn’t cost you anything — at least in terms of money. Alaska has been offering its land under the direction of its Department of Natural Resources in Alaska. Two approaches have been used: (1) via sealed-bid auctions in which lots are given to the highest bidder (so, not exactly free — but probably way above property value); and (2) through a program called Remote Recreational Cabin Sites. This program provides property to those who apply to be used for recreational activities in a specific area. News: Alaska does not offer its federal properties to applicants any more. The state is managing all properties itself and only offers land to current Alaska residents. So … if you’re willing to take a chance and move, you might get lucky. Note that every state is different so you should always check websites and do some research to see what the current status is of any Land Grants.
Land Grants Iowa
The town of Marne, Iowa, does offer free lots to people who will build a house and live there. And this is in fact free! According to their website they currently have lots of lots available, with an average size of 80×120 feet. The city is located just three miles south of I-80 and has high speed internet and cable TV as well as modern phone service. They are also only 45 minutes east of Omaha and about an hour to the west of Des Moines. They describe themselves as a well-kept, clean community with low taxes and little crime. That should appeal to many but it also may sound a bit too well developed for those who really want to get away from it all. If you’re interested — and it sounds like a pretty good deal — you just have to fill out an application which you can find along with more helpful information, on their website marneiowa.com.
Land Grants Kansas
There are several cities in Kansas that are offering special incentives to get people to come to live and work in their communities. Their goal is to keep populations that are declining from going away altogether. So if you opt in here you may not have a whole lot of neighbors — which for many may be a plus. Each city has a different set of criteria which ti uses to choose applicants for property. Typically they choose those who can build their new house and come and live in it quite soon. There are size requirements and you can expect to have to have an interview with the city council. One example is Marquette, which describes itself as “a progressive community and and a great place to live and raise your family.” Many local facilities like schools, churches, community gardens, a fetidness center, day care and preschool facilities, library, a nursing home and senior apartments, a lake and more. To apply you fill out an application and be sure your proposed home meets design requirements which you can find on freelandks.com. You can even click and see the most recent list of lots available. Be aware that you will be required to begin the construction of you new home within 120 days.
Land Grants Michigan
Michigan has some offerings of free property “in exchange for services.” Specifically, their aim is to attract businesses to the area which will create jobs for its residents. Your business will be considered whether it is new or existing. The industrial property will be free and there will be very small costs for housing and building fees. Find out more at MichiganEconomicDevelopment.
So if you’re ready to start a new life somewhere else — take a look at some of these states. If you have a current job that allows you to telecommute, or work from home and you’d like to live in a more rural area and get financial assistance with a new home, check out Grants for Housing and specifically the section about a new program in Vermont which might be of interest to you.