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Michigan land offices hold some rich state history

Throughout the United States, there are thousands of acres of land that has been owned by individual families for many years. Those who settled the country acquired property to build their homes, families and the nation. But how did they get that land?

In White Pigeon, MI between 1831 to 1834, there was a land office that served the area. This was one of many that were set up within Michigan and throughout the United States. Currently, the St. Joseph County (MI) Historical Society is restoring the historical building with displays that explain the history of the office and land ownership in Michigan.

In the early 1800s, the first step to purchasing land was to file an application for a specific piece of land that had been surveyed and was recorded in the surveyor’s land office tract book. The final approval for the selling of the land came from the highest power in the United States, the President. He “deemed” the property available for purchase.

The buyer was issued a receipt by the register certifying that the property was clear to sell and recorded in the tract book. The receiver took in the cash at a rate of $1.25 per acre and it was sent to the Bank of the United States in Buffalo, NY by stage coach once a month.

The money was then sent on to Washington along with the receipt, where upon arrival a deed was sent back to the respective land office for the prospective owner to pick up. These transactions were quite arduous and required patience as they could take upwards of a year to complete. The new owners were notified by the publication of their names in the newspaper, letting them know their deed was at the land office ready to be picked up.

In 1831, it was decided to build the land office in White Pigeon because it was one of the largest towns in the western Michigan Territory and it was located on Salk Trail now Highway US12. During the few years it was opened, the White Pigeon Prairie office sold over 260,000 acres. It is currently the oldest land office in Michigan and one of the few in what was formerly known as the Northwest Territory.

The Society is working to preserve the building and open it to the public. Within the few rooms are numerous antiques, relics and family heirlooms from the Pioneer Society of St. Joseph County which was formed in 1873 by residents who had been there since 1840. Displayed are many items that were appreciated on a daily basis on a pioneering homestead.

Milk bottles from local dairies are exhibited along with handmade baskets by some of the earlier settlers. A myriad of dolls, quilt patterns and a butter churn are a few of the items from the 1800s home place. One room has been dedicated to the recreating of the actual land office with maps and documents posted on the wall along with a counter.

The Historical Society will continue their restoration of the building while presenting it to the public on a regular basis. The importance of this building and its history to the agricultural legacy of the area will now be available for people to learn from, experience and support.

More information can be acquired by calling Holly Stephenson, who serves as the curator of the building and the numerous collections contained within, at 269-718- 7013. Otherwise, a message may be left at the Society’s Three River’s (MI) office at 269-273-6003 to set up an appointment to visit the land office or do research on the many documents the group shares with the public.