The original series consists of five land books, numbered 1,2,3,4 and 6. The books detail the University's real estate holdings and transactions from 1856 to 1942. Books 1,3,4, and 6 contain maps of blocks of real estate owned by the University. The blocks are divided into numbered lots. The history of each block's use is recorded on the page facing the appropriate map. The history of sales includes to whom the lot was sold, the date sold, and occasionally the sale price and terms. The history of leases includes the name of the leasee and frequently the terms of the lease. Each book has several unique characteristics in addition to these general similarities.
Book 1 consists of maps of subdivided blocks with attendant disposition information for individual lots. In addition, a second set of maps places the blocks in relation to surrounding streets and adjacent blocks. Few of the entries in Book 1 give purchase price or lease information. The entries in Book 1 span the years 1856 through 1881, with the bulk of the transactions coming in the 1860's and 1870's. Book 1 indicates that Northwestern University owned land in Chicago, Wilmette, and Wisconsin in addition to its holdings in Evanston.
Book 3 is similar in composition to Book 1. Information in Book 3 covers the University's real estate transactions through the 1890's. Information, such as sales and leases in force, are recapitulated from Book 1. Leases that had been canceled or had expired during the span of Book 1 are not listed in Book 3. Book 3 has an index with lots in Evanston listed by Block number. Holdings elsewhere are indexed geographically. There are also plat maps of Evanston, Wilmette, Highland Park, and Glencoe mounted in Book 3. In a pocket in the front cover of Book 3 are maps of Evanston and Hinsdale, sketches of a house plan, and maps of the Evanston campus, and an index not associated with Book 3.
Book 4 is in a post binder format. The maps of University-owned property are color coded to the use or disposition of the individual lots. Land held in Evanston is classified as either educational or special investment according to the use to which the income from the property was put. The remainder of the University's holdings are divided geographically. The sheets facing the maps contain information for the Block. The information in Book 4 dates from 1900 to the 1920's.
Book 6 is dated 1942 and contains maps of University owned Blocks, color coded by lot as to use or disposition. Book 6 contains no specifics about individual lots nor does it contain abstract information for University-owned property. Book 6 contains an index that cross references a given lot to the number of the University lease on that lot.
Addition: Book 5, in post binder format, records the use and disposition of University owned property in Evanston, Chicago and metropolitan suburbs including Oak Park, Cicero, Harvey, Lombard, and Glencoe. Information concerning property owned by the University in Texas, Washington State, Colorado, and Kansas is recorded as well. Entries, which date from 1930 through 1939, are recorded on printed sheets facing color-coded plat maps. A key to the color coding is found on the inside top board (white: owned not leased; yellow: leased; orange: sold or never owned). The entries contain, at the minimum, the deed file number for reference to county records, and location of the property. Most entries are more detailed and may include the date of the deed, a legal description of the property, the method and source of acquisition of the property, status of the property (vacant, unimproved, leased, sold, etc.), and names of lessees and terms of leases. Most entries concern leases and re-subdivision of property; fewer concern sale and purchase of property. Information from earlier land books, including reference to the earliest acquired property of the University, is reiterated in entries concerning property acquired before 1930. Not every description has a map associated with it; the descriptions of out-of-state property are completely lacking in such maps. No index is present in the volume. Entries are arranged by block number within sections; however, not every block is identified by section. An exhaustive search would require scanning the entire volume. The first two-thirds of the volume, which is not paginated, concerns properties in Evanston and Chicago. The remainder concerns other suburban and out-of-state property.