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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Doing a Land Office Business in St. Cloud

My previous post on the Saint Cloud, Minnesota General Land Office records was all about my grandfather's particular claim filed there.

But, as long as I had the records open, I had to satisfy my curiosity. I have heard the phrase "doing a land-office business" many times. This is an American idiom meaning "doing a high volume of business" of any type. So, how much business did a land-office do?

I was a little disappointed. Looking at the serial number for the initial claims at the start of each month during 1895 and over a several year period, we find this level of activity at Saint Cloud:

So about 700 homestead claims a year. Not exactly a land-office business when the local papers are writing about hundreds of new settlers coming into Pine County alone each spring. But remember, each homestead claim probably represents four to six settlers.

And homestead claims weren't the only way to obtain government land. You could also purchase it for $1.25 per acre. Now that is not "dirt cheap" to use another idiom. School teachers were making making about $20 per month and work in the logging camps was paying $26-$30 per month.

Nevertheless, as this January 23rd 1887 article from the New York Times article reports:
For the eight days ending tonight the sales of land (at the Montgomery, Alabama land office) amount to $5,350,365, at Government price of $1.25 per acre, and the homestead entries footed up $615.35.
Figuring about $18 for the average homestead claim and a 160 acre parcel for each purchase, that makes direct purchases to homesteads around 700 to 1 - at least during that 8 day stretch in Montgomery. So maybe there was a land-office business going on, just not in homesteads.

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