The Homestead Act: Travel Through History

By Courtney Hageman

The Homestead Act was signed into law by Abraham Lincoln on May 20, 1862.  Its aim was for poor and middle class people to have a chance at land ownership for the first time.

covered_wagonPrior to the Homestead Act being passed, in order to buy government land you had to buy a minimum of 320 acres and pay a fixed rate of $1.25 per acre.  This $400 investment was insurmountable for many people.  In 1854, a law was passed that adjusted land prices to reflect their desirability, so the prices of poor quality lots might be reduced to as low as 12 cents per acre.  Incentives were also given to veterans and those willing to settle in the Oregon Territory.

According to the terms of the Homestead Act, interested persons were to file an application at the land office closest to the 160 acres they wanted, pay a filing fee of about $12 ($279 in today’s money) and then move out to the property.  They then had to live on the land continuously for 5 years, as well as improve the land by building a house and growing crops on a certain percentage of the property.  At the end of five years, they would get two neighbors or friends to sign a document proving that they had lived on and improved the land, and, after paying a $6 fee, they would receive the deed to the property.

The only restrictions were that a homesteader had to be the head of a household or at least 21 years of age to claim a 160-acre parcel of land.  This meant that new immigrants, freed slaves, single women, and widows with children could own land in their own name, something that would have been very difficult or impossible prior to this act.

Homesteaders still had difficulty living on their land since 160 acres on the Western plain were often not enough to make a successful farm, but things became easier when the railroads crossed the country and new farming technologies improved efficiency.  In addition to being able to afford these large chunks of property initially, being able to get the property for a significant savings up front gave people more money to invest in the land itself.

By 1934 about 10% of all US lands – more than 270 million acres – had been claimed through the Homestead Act.  The Homestead Act was not repealed until 1976 in the 48 contiguous states, and it was extended in Alaska until 1986.

Today, one of our main goals at LandCentral is to provide average, middle-class individuals with the opportunity to own land.  Just like the Homestead Act, we offer land to anyone at very reasonable prices.

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