The Homestead Act 1862-2012
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Use of Homesteaded Lands Today: What happened to some of the lands originally homesteaded?

In some cases, entire towns have grown up on or around former homesteads. This includes some of the largest cities in many Western states. For example, portions of both the business district and residential areas of Spokane, Washington were areas once homesteaded. This is true within numerous other cities like Omaha, Nebraska or Billings, Montana or Anchorage, Alaska. Someone buying a piece of property in such a place will discover that the land was originally a homestead.

A more specific example is Pullman, Washington. It is the home of Washington State University. The town began in 1881 when two homesteaders sold portions of their adjoining farms to a businessman. That man built the town’s first store. As the town grew, the two adjoining homesteaded were subdivided into town lots. With further growth, portions of over a dozen more adjoining homesteads were used. Later, the university also purchased adjacent land for new buildings and facilities.

Some originally homesteaded lands remain rural but were reused for a special purpose. In the mid-1930s, the federal government purchased homesteaded lands near Palmer, Alaska, in the Matanuska Valley. The government bought the lands in order to launch the Matanuska Colony Project. It was a New Deal era program that resettled farm families from the Midwest to Alaska. The purchased homesteads were subdivided into mostly 40-acre farms. The government built a house on each tract. It then sold the farms to the settlers. It offered other incentives, including loans, designed to create a thriving agricultural colony. Today, some portions of the Matanuska Valley farms have been sold for other purposes. These include newer residential areas for the town of Palmer, Alaska.
Several of the large military bases in Alaska are other examples of the changing use of originally homesteaded land. Fort Wainwright at Fairbanks was built on portions of homesteads. The same is true for Fort Richardson and Elmendorf Air Force Base at Anchorage.

Last updated: 03-07-2012