5 Replies Latest reply on Aug 21, 2019 11:12 AM by Marene Baker

    Did dwellings on homesteads have to be a certain size?

    Joseph Pentheroudakis Wayfarer

      This article states that dwellings on homesteads acquired via the Homestead Act of 1862 had to be at least 12x14 ft. Several homestead land entry files I've seen do in fact indicate the size of the dwelling, and it's always at least 12x14. But where in the law was that specified? I have not found that anywhere.

       

      Does anyone know?

        • Re: Did dwellings on homesteads have to be a certain size?
          Marene Baker Adventurer

          In looking at the language of the 1862 Homestead Act  https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=false&doc=31 and the 1916 Stock Raising Act https://www.loc.gov/law/help/statutes-at-large/64th-congress/session-2/c64s2ch9.pdf neither of these two documents makes any mention of dwelling requirements.    Because of this the GLO issued sets of Instructions for the Homesteaders at varying times during the 19th and 20th Century.  These would be the set of instructions that the GLO and the Homesteader would use to make sure a parcel of land reached whatever the current threshold was to receive a patent.  As with most thing the law changed over time. The instructions were issue by both the GLO and published in the Federal Register.  An example of one of these instructions can be found on the Hathi Trust website  https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000237462?type%5B%5D=title&lookfor%5B%5D=Homestead%20Laws&ft= .  You can perform a search on the Hathi Trust website for a broader search topic.  Typically they have a digitized version of the document.   Unfortunately, due to sever staff limitations, we cannot undertake the research to find the exact instructions that would have the 12 x 14 requirement but hopefully you can find that from the Hathi Trust documents.

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            • Re: Did dwellings on homesteads have to be a certain size?
              Joseph Pentheroudakis Wayfarer

              Thanks Marene! That was a very helpful link. I looked at several circulars describing the manner of obtaining title for a homestead (among others), and none of them mentioned a specific dwelling size. However, one of the questions on the claimant testimony on a homestead proof was: "When was your house built on the land and when did you establish actual residence therein? (Describe said house and other improvements which you have placed on the land, giving total value thereof)" (1878 and 1884 circulars). (Emphasis mine).

              Giving the size of the house must have been part of that description. It's possible that there was a shared understanding of what constituted an acceptable size for a basic homestead house.






            • Re: Did dwellings on homesteads have to be a certain size?
              Marene Baker Adventurer

              I think you are on the right track about a shared understanding of what is acceptable, at least locally.  I did some more digging and could not find any specific requirements for the size of the dwelling within the instructions or other GLO publications.  Some historical work that I looked at pointed to the the Preemptive Act of 1841 as containing the dwelling size instructions.  Upon review of the record I did not see it.

               

              I also checked with several colleagues outside of NARA who are also land experts.  None of us have found any indication within the GLO's records a uniform size requirement for the dwellings.  The purpose of the dwelling seems to be more that the GLO wanted to see homesteaders put forth a good faith effort to build a dwelling that would be sufficient for the homesteader and their family.

               

              Perhaps size requirement were something informally suggested by staff in the various land offices.  This would be why you might see a similar size throughout a specific portion of the country, but I have not found anything written in the textual record supporting size requirements.

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