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Setting the Stage

As the country expanded west from the Atlantic seaboard, the ideal of an educated citizenry followed the frontier. Shortly after the conclusion of the War for Independence, Congress passed the Land Ordinance of 1785. It provided for the uniform and orderly survey of the western lands into six square mile townships composed of 36 sections a square­mile each. The ordinance recognized the high value Americans placed on education by reserving income from Section 16 in each township for public schools. Throughout the early 19th century, the U.S. Congress continued to attract settlers to the frontier by providing land grants to subsidize public schools. For example, upon the territorial organization of Oregon in 1848, the federal government required all newly established states and territories to provide public schools by allotting the money raised from the sales of lands in Sections 16 and 36 in every township for the support of education.

In 1862, Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act, a law that gave individuals 160 acres of land at the end of a five year period provided they lived on the land, built a house, and improved and farmed it. Although individuals did not have to be citizens to claim the land, they did have to be citizens in order to prove up on their claim. On January 1, 1863, Daniel Freeman, who claimed to be a Union soldier on leave from his regiment, filed a claim with the land agent at Brownville, Nebraska. He is recorded in the Brownsville record books as receiving patent No.1 on the first page of the first volume. Freeman may have been the earliest of 30 homestead applicants in land offices across the country to file his claim; however, many other homesteaders followed him.

In 1872, Daniel Freeman and his neighbors in Blakely Township built a red brick school in Section 22 to serve School District Number 21. At that time it closed in 1967, it was the oldest operating school in the state. The Freeman School remains the best example of a one-room school in Nebraska.



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