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Office of the University Attorney, Real Estate Records, Land Books

Identifier: 53/5

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Scope and Contents

The original series consists of five land books, numbered 1,2,3,4 and 6. The books detail Northwestern 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.


  • 1856-1942


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is stored off-site and requires two business days advance notice for retrieval. Please contact the McCormick Library at or 847-491-3635 for more information or to schedule an appointment to view the collection.


6.00 Volumes

Language of Materials



This series consists of six land books, detailing Northwestern University's real estate holdings and transactions from 1856 to 1942.


The land books are in chronological order.

Method of Acquisition

Volumes 1,2,3,4 and 6 were transferred to the Archives prior to June 1, 1974 and were accessioned as #74-154.

Volume 5 was transferred to the University Archives as Accession #87-32 on February 26, 1987, by Harold Egan, of the Office of the Associate Vice President for Investments.

Related Materials

The Northwestern University Archives holds three additional series which may be profitably used in conjunction with the Land Books 1,3,4, and 6 of series 53/5. Series 53/1 contains abstracts of Northwestern properties verifying title through the University's ownership. Series 53/1 also contains a list of all Northwestern property for sale or lease with the size of the lot and the sale price or rent asked. Series 53/3 is a record of the University's real estate dealings from 1887 to 1942. It includes deeds, waivers of reversion, and sales contracts. Series 53/4 contains the canceled leases of the University.

Book 2 of Series 53/5 lists real estate dealings between individuals and the University. It is arranged in individual accounts by name, though not in alphabetical order. Transactions are entered in each account chronologically. The first section of Book 2 lists sales and the second section lists leases. Book 2 covers primarily the years 1871-1874. The ostensible purpose of this book is to access the condition of the University's real estate holdings in light of the national economic depression of that period. Many of the leases and sales agreements made prior to the 1870's were forfeited or had to be rewritten. Book 2 brings all land dealings up to date as of summer 1874. Book 2 is not indexed.

Two other series may be consulted for information on the University's real estate dealings. Series 7/1/3 consists of a real estate sales payment ledger and series 7/1/4 consists of rental payment ledgers.

Other Descriptive Information

The trustees of Northwestern University undertook to purchase a 379 acre parcel of land from John H. Foster in 1853. The parcel, twelve miles north of Chicago running two miles along the Lake Michigan shore, formed the nucleus of the new University's financial holdings. The trustees paid $25,000 with a $1000 down payment and 6% interest on the balance. In 1854 the University purchased an additional twenty-eight acres known as the Billings Farm for $3000.

Later in 1854 Philo Judson, a University Trustee and its financial agent, platted and recorded Northwestern's holdings and those of some private individuals into a village. The village was named Evanston, after Northwestern trustee Dr. John Evans. The village was organized in 1857 and incorporated in 1863, with Harvey Hurd, another Trustee and owner of private real estate in the new village, as its first President.

Northwestern continued to acquire real estate in and around Evanston. In 1855 Philo Judson purchased the Andrew Robinson Farm for $7000 and resold it to the University for the same price. In 1861 trustee Orrington Lunt donated a parcel of land to the University. In 1865 the University purchased the Snyder farm. In addition, the University acquired real estate in Chicago, several North Shore communities and Wisconsin.

The University's Evanston holdings comprised the majority of the growing town, with the exception of its southwest section. The University manipulated its real estate in its early years under pressure from competing forces. The University wished to foster the growth of Evanston, while, at the same time, securing its own financial base. At the urging of Dr. John Evans the Trustees placed restrictions on the sale of the University's holdings. The trustees foresaw the growth of Evanston and the University and the inevitable increase in land values that would accompany that growth. They stipulated that a proportion of the University's holdings had to be withheld from sale. This property was leased at 6% of its valuation to provide the University with income while the holdings appreciated and added to the University's assets.

Northwestern sold Evanston real estate as well as acquired it. Through the auspices of its early financial agents, Philo Judson, Samuel Jewett and Thomas Hoag, along with various trustee committees, the University generated much of its early income from real estate sales. Also when economic times were hard sales of University holdings tided the University over. In the years after 1873 when the nation suffered its worst depression and the University ran deficits, the trustees authorized the sale or lease of $50,000 worth of real estate to make up shortfalls.

In the long run real estate proved unable to generate sufficient revenues to remain the basis of Northwestern's investments. The holdings made the University rich in assets for a young institution. However, sales and leases were not dependable enough as a source of revenue. In 1863 the value of Northwestern land was $225,000 but it generated only $5,600 in revenue. Northwestern remained an important force in Evanston real estate well into the twentieth century, although the University turned increasingly to more remunerative investments.

Processing Information

Thomas Dorst, March, 1981. Volume 5 processed by Patricia Cloud, February 27, 1987.

Guide to the Office of the University Attorney, Real Estate Records, Land Books
Thomas Dorst; Patricia Cloud
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Library Details

Part of the Northwestern University Archives Repository

Deering Library, Level 3
1970 Campus Dr.
Evanston IL 60208-2300 US