GIS Specialist Helps Iowa State Show Land Grant Legacy through Online Maps

September 14, 2017, 10:39 am | Sandra Oberbroeckling

AMES, Iowa -- There are many ways to tell a story — oral histories, written accounts, plays and movies, to name a few. With help from GIS (Geographic Information System) specialist Bailey Hanson, Iowa State University has decided to tell its land-grant story through story mapping.

The ISU Land Grant Legacy Project tells the history of Iowans’ connections to each other, the land and Iowa State University by sharing stories about how Iowa’s land grant came to be and the accomplishments of those with ties to the university.

The Iowa State Legislature officially established the Iowa Agricultural College and Model Farm (what is now Iowa State) in 1858. In July 1862, Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act, or the Land-Grant Colleges Act, which specified that each state receive 30,000 acres of federal land for every member of Congress to lease and eventually sell, with the proceeds funding the creation of the college, curriculum development and general campus maintenance.

Land Grant Legacy Map

In September 1862, Iowa was the first state to accept the provisions of the act and began funding its land-grant college with the lease and sale of federal land in 27 Iowa counties. It is the story of this land that the Land Grant Legacy Project aims to tell.

And what better way to tell a story about land than through maps?

The Land Grant Legacy team approached the ISU Extension and Outreach Geospatial Technology program in the Community and Economic Development unit to create a digital map based on records collected from the Iowa State Historical Building, including reports, certificates of purchase and abstracts of title. All of these documents were painstakingly digitized by hand into an Excel spreadsheet.

Once these records were digitized, Hanson created online, interactive parcel maps from land sales archive data. The maps allow people to identify whether or not their land has a connection to Iowa State and give the land-grant team the ability to validate parcels through attribute editing. The resulting website features maps, animation and text.

“It was particularly interesting to learn about the land-grant story and to hear about the process of finding the original land parcels,” said Hanson.

The resulting Iowa Land Grant Legacy website allows the public to locate land parcels, change map background or add layers of historical data, share via social media and print the map. Site visitors can also learn about the role Iowans have taken in agricultural progress and education, as well as how settlers connected to and built a life on the land.

“This technique works well for telling stories of history and places,” Hanson said.

Persons who own land that contains an original parcel are able to complete an abstract information form to validate the data (until they are validated, the parcels are red on the map; validated parcels are gold). Parcel owners are invited to share the history of their land.

This project is ongoing and more stories are yet to be told and shared about the original land parcels. To explore the map and learn more about ISU’s land-grant legacy, visit the project website at

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