In our first post about Section 16 lands, we provided background on such public lands here in Ohio. We summarized that in 1785, a Federal land ordinance granted one square mile — usually Section 16 — out of every six square mile township to be held in trust by the state and to be dedicated to support public education pursuant to federal law. The Ohio Legislature then began leasing the land, and in 1827 it authorized sale of the land with proceeds going to the “Common School Fund.” Interest from the fund was to be paid to the schools within the townships. See, Dr. George W. Knepper, The Auditor of State, The Official Ohio Lands Book, 2002. (“Knepper”).

In regard to the funds collected from the sale of all school lands, the Ohio Constitution provided:

“The principal of all funds, arising from the sale, or other disposition of lands, or other property, granted or entrusted to this state for educational and religious purposes, shall forever be preserved inviolate, and undiminished; and, the income arising therefrom, shall be faithfully applied to the specific objects of the original grants, or appropriations.” Ohio Constitution, Article VI, Section 1 1

After 1827, deeds for school lands were approved, in each case, by special legislation. These “School Deeds” became common enough that printed forms were made, and much of the school lands was transferred to private owners. Absent any reservation of minerals, the deeds, approved at the township level but executed by the state, conveyed fee simple (absolute ownership) including the minerals. It remained so until 1917.

Administration of school lands; first the township, then the state

Since Ohio’s statehood in 1803, titles to school lands were owned by the state in trust while administration of the properties was managed by township trustees. After authorization from Congress in 1827, the trustees began to sell, as opposed to leasing, the school lands.

Before 1914, a typical, specially printed deed for school lands would have read something like this:

“Joseph Vance, governor of the State of Ohio, in consideration of the sum of $635 and 9.5 cents, paid by Robert Spraule for the purchase of a tract of land in Miami County appropriated by an act of Congress for the use of Schools, according to “An act to provide for the sale of Section Sixteen, granted by Congress for the use of Schools,” passed Jan. 29, 1827; therefore, in pursuance of said act, there is granted by the State of Ohio, unto said Robert Spraule, the east half of the south east quarter of Section Sixteen … containing 80 acres.” Signed by Joseph Vance on Jan. 20, 1837.

Given the volume of special legislation and deeds effecting associated conveyances around this time, much of Ohio’s school lands appears to have been placed into private hands in this manner. Assuredly, with such a grant of fee simple title, all oil, gas, coal and other minerals below such surface lands also would have passed to the new owners.

Dissatisfaction with the trustees

According to Knepper, the Ohio legislature became dissatisfied with how the township trustees were managing school lands. He says, “Their administration dissipated an asset that Congress had intended as a continuing endowment for education.” Consequently, new legislation was passed to preserve public assets and put them to better use.

In 1914, the Ohio Legislature authorized the Auditor of State to lease for oil, gas, coal and other minerals any unsold portions of Section 16. §1 of S.B. 3, G.C. 3209-1.2 The statute also makes provisions for drilling and mining rights that had been granted (in some fashion) without a prior lease. The statute also required the sale of school lands to be subject to a reservation of the minerals, stating, “In making such valuation the appraiser shall exclude from their considerations the existence or possible existence of oil, gas, coal or other minerals upon such lands.” G.C. 3214.

To remove any ambiguity, Section 4 of the act provides that, “All sales or leases of canal, public or other state lands shall exclude oil, gas, coal or other minerals…” and Section 5 reads, “All sections of the General Code … in conflict with provisions of this act shall be and hereby are repealed…”

Garver Act; back to the state

In 1917, the Ohio Legislature went even further when it passed H.B. 192, the Garver Act,3 107 Ohio Laws 357, which wrested school land authority from the townships and vested it in the state. According to its preamble, the law’s purpose was:

“To provide for the better administration of the school and ministerial land held in trust by the state of Ohio, to codify the laws relating thereto, to safeguard both the trust and the rights of the citizens of Ohio holding leasehold or fee simple titles in or to said lands, and make more certain the rights and obligations of the state and the lessees of such lands.”

The townships were to:

“… transfer and deliver to the state supervisor of school and ministerial lands, all field notes, maps, surveys, books, records, deeds or leases and copies thereof, school land sales records, documents and papers of every description, in their possession, relating to any school or ministerial lands in the state, whether such lands shall have been sold or still remain unsold. The state supervisor shall be the custodian thereof.” Section 1 of the Act, G.C. 3181 (1920).

And with that, the State Auditor became the “Supervisor of School and Ministerial Lands.”

Hinting at the possibility of self-dealing or mismanagement at the township level, Section 13 of the Act, G.C. 3193, provided that a township officer who resides on, or has a lease of or interest in a leasehold, either direct or indirect, shall not be eligible to act as an officer having local charge and management of school lands. The Act also charged the eligible trustees with ensuring that there was no waste on the school lands of any kind. Specifically:

“… that no coal, iron, oil, gas or other minerals are removed or extracted therefrom unless by express authority of the state, that no timber is cut or removed therefrom other than such as may be reasonably necessary for use on the premises for firewood, or fences, or other improvements thereon, and then only upon the written consent of the trustees. And they shall report forthwith, to the state supervisor, all cases of such waste or attempted waste as may come to their knowledge.” Section 14 of the Act, G.C. 3194 (1920).

Yet, being closer to the land, the trustees remained the eyes and ears of the government. They were required, from time to time, to:

“…examine all such lands and require that they be kept in good repair and that the improvements thereon, if any, whether made by the tenant or by the state, be kept in good repair. They shall require that such lands shall be so used as not to destroy or unnecessarily impair their fertility.” Section 14 of the Act, G.C. 3194 (1920).

This new scheme for local/state administration and management of school lands would last for more than 70 years, but there were twists along the way.

In the next segment of our Section 16 school land series, we will conclude with a discussion of modern developments of administration and management of these public lands … and how they are managed today.