UNIVERSITY LANDS & REAL ESTATE SERVICES
University Lands is part of the division of Finance and Operations and is the record keeping department for the land records (on and off campus) of the University. The records include rights of way, easements, leases and deeds. The mission of Land Management is to provide long-range planning, management and entrepreneurial development of University real property to meet or exceed financial goals set annually and strive to manage the land and real estate assets to provide income to the University’s endowment fund, which enhances the University’s mission of teaching, research and service.
HISTORY OF UNIVERSITY LANDS
EARLY HISTORY OF UNIVERSITY LAND MANAGEMENT
In April, 1884, the U.S. Congress voted to grant the University 46,080 acres of public lands to increase the endowment of the University. These public lands were repayment for the destruction of the University campus during the Civil War. The act stated that revenue from these lands was to be used for new buildings and for the “restoration of the Library and Scientific apparatus.”
The second section of the act provided that the Governor could appoint one or more agents to select these lands from the public domain. The Governor of Alabama appointed Dr. Eugene Smith, State Geologist of Alabama, Mr. J. Burns Moore, and Mr. A.C. Hargrove, collectively, the Commissioners, to select the lands. Smith, Hargrove, and Moore first assessed what public lands would be most valuable to the University. They soon discovered that the coal fields were more valuable to the University than farm and timberland.
The Commissioners hired experts to test for coal, trace for coal developments, and drill. They studied private investments and evaluated the prices paid by corporations and individuals for coal lands. They made their initial selection of about 30,000 acres of land by November, 1884. The Commissioners continued to make other selections, which were finalized by January of 1885.
In January of 1885, the Secretary of Interior approved the acreage proposed by the Commissioners. The lands, which the University acquired, were in the Warrior and Cahaba coal fields in the counties of Walker, Jefferson, Shelby, Bibb and Tuscaloosa. The Commissioners highlighted that these lands contained some of the richest coal deposits in the state.
REGULATING THE ADMINISTRATION OF LAND GRANTS
In February of 1885, the General Assembly of Alabama passed an act to regulate the administration of the land grant. Title to these lands was vested in the Board of Trustees, who would dispose of the University’s holdings in accordance with the purposes stated in the act of Congress.
In June of 1885, the Trustees, after consultation with experts on Alabama mineral lands, resolved to sell the lands only as money was needed for buildings and improvements. They estimated that $50,000 would meet such needs for the current year. Also the Board decided to employ a Land Commissioner whose responsibility was to negotiate for the sale of lands, prevent trespass, bring suits for the possession of lands unlawfully occupied, and rent or lease any lands. The Land Commissioner was also required to keep a complete register of lands contracted or leased and all other information necessary to give a complete and accurate picture of the condition of University holdings. In addition, the Land Commissioner must not “sell any land for less than $4.00 an acre.” When enough land had been sold to realize $50,000, the minimum price would rise to $10.00 per acre.
At the June 15, 1885 meeting, the Board of Trustees elected Mr. A.C. Hargrove of Tuscaloosa as the first Land Commissioner.
The economic boom of the 1880s had almost run its course by 1890. The Trustees recognized that leasing the University lands would be better than selling them. They formally recorded their policy against selling more than one-third of the total mineral land grant and instructed Commissioner Hargrove to see whether he could increase the University income by making royalty arrangements on coal mined from leased lands. He was authorized to proceed with such leases and royalty agreements.
From 1886 until 1900, the receipts for sale of land and timber and for rents and royalties had amounted to more than $200,000. This amount was an annual supplement to the State appropriation of more than $14,000 a year. These additional funds enabled the Trustees to erect Garland, Toumey, and Barnard Halls and make other needed improvements.
TURN OF THE CENTURY
At the turn of the last century, about 1900, the Board of Trustees rules that income from the lands was to be set aside “as a permanent endowment…and placed to the credit of the investment fund.”
Judge Henry B. Foster made the motion that established this policy of placing not only proceeds from land sales, but also income from rents or royalty into the investment fund. President Abercrombie (1902-1911) thought this motion was one of the most important achievements of his administration.
History clearly indicates that the purpose of the University’s land endowment is to strengthen the institution’s total academic program. This endowment can be expected to yield maximum benefits when dedicated to specific program areas, which have a distinctive history in the institution and represent sole and unique academic resources for the public served by the institution. The University of Alabama has several areas which constitute both historical strengths and special program opportunities. These areas could, with timely financial assistance, rise to national prominence. For these reasons, the coal royalties generated through leases have been established as endowed funds to support University endowments.