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As It Was: Latter Day Homesteader Pays $2.50 for Medford Acre

The U. S. Congress encouraged settlement of the West by passing the Homestead Act in 1862.  People could file on unclaimed land, live on it, and then buy it for $2.50 per acre.  Within 50 years, virtually all land in Oregon had been claimed.

However, in 1912 a ranch hand and lineman for the Pacific Telephone Co., John McNeill, discovered an unclaimed acre on the very edge of Medford, Ore.  He contacted the land office for confirmation and had veteran Southern Oregon surveyor J. S. Howard check the property.  McNeill then filed on the acre at the Government Land Office in Roseburg. 

It was hard to believe, but by living on the land for 14 months and paying $2.50, he would own it.  His find was so close to town, it already had city water, telephone and electric lights, and there was a paved street in sight.  Even without a house, the property was valued at $600.

Because the original land claims in the Rogue Valley were a hodge-podge of boundaries, this acre had been overlooked.

McNeill advised others to search for hidden treasures in public land records.

Sources: "Homestead Located at Medford's City Limits." Oregonian [Portland, Ore.] , 17 Mar. 1912 [Portland, Oregon] , p. 55;.  "Man Files on Lost Acre." Ibid. 12 Mar. 1912 p. 1.

Alice Mullaly is a graduate of Oregon State and Stanford University, and taught mathematics for 42 years in high schools in Nyack, New York; Mill Valley, California; and Hedrick Junior High School in Medford. Alice has been an Southern Oregon Historical Society volunteer for nearly 30 years, the source of many of her “As It Was” stories.