There is no such thing as a free lunch. And the same could be said about free land. But some American towns and small cities actually offer free lots of land to those willing to move there to build a house or start a business.
In an attempt to revitalize local economies or simply to ensure that their communities keep thriving for years to come, many cities in Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, or Iowa have revived the old tradition of land give-aways started in 1862 with the original Homestead Act.
The Homestead Act of 1862, which granted 160 acres of public land to anyone willing to move west, work and improve that plot of land, and build a home there, was one of the most important political measures in the history of the country, one of the measures that helped actually build the nation. It took effect January 1st, 1863 and remained in effect for more than a century, until 1988.
- A total of 270 million acres or 10% of the area of the United States was claimed under this act.
- Nearly 4 million homesteaders settled the country over 123 years, across 30 states.
- Estimates put the number of descendants of homesteaders alive today at 93 million people.
- Daniel Freeman was the first person to file his claim to 160 acres of free land in Beatrice Nevada.
- The last person to receive free land was Ken Deardorff. He filed a homestead claim on 80 acres of land on the Stony River in southwestern Alaska in 1974.
Loopholes and Downsides:
- The Act had a few loopholes, and no systematic method to evaluate claims, so it was oftentimes abused, and not a lot of homesteaders managed to keep their promises.
- Many plots of land actually went to speculators and people with more established agricultural businesses, like cattlemen, and also to railroads.
- The act did not specify the exact measurements for a homesteader’s home. Due to this loophole, some people built 12-by-14-inch dwellings, instead of homes that were 12-by-14 feet.
Since the U.S. remains one of the most populous, but lower-density countries in the world, giving away free land again means bringing an old, deeply rooted American tradition into the present and making it relevant again. Here are the 13 towns and small cities across the country where free lots are available for those who wish to move there.
- New Richland, MN
Home to around 1,200 people, New Richland offers 86′ x 133′ lots, with an estimated cost per lot for development at around $25,000. However, this cost can be reduced to about $14,000 through the Tax Increment Financing (TIF), amount payable over a 15-year period.
Located in Southern Minnesota, New Richland is 13 miles south of Waseca, 20 miles north of Albert Lea, 26 miles southwest of Owatonna, 40 miles southeast of Mankato, 60 miles west of Rochester and 75 miles to the southern edge of the Twin Cities.
- Marne, IA
If you decide to build your home in Marne, the city will give you the lot you build it on for free. Whether you’re thinking about a conventional or a modular construction, there are currently many 80 x 120-foot lots available.
According to the city’s official page, “Marne has high-speed internet, cable T.V. and phone services available from a state-of-the-art local phone company” and there are also “a very nice park with playground equipment, a picnic shelter, restrooms, basketball court and a baseball field.”
- Muskegon, MI
As advertised on the city website, Muskegon “owns many buildable and un-buildable vacant lots,” which sell for 75% of the ‘True Cash Value’ as assessed by the County Equalization Office. The city’s ‘$1-lot policy’ is still in effect, so if you or your friends or family are interested in moving there, don’t hesitate to delve deeper into the terms and conditions!
- Lincoln, KS
With “traditions dating back to the 1870’s, but a focus on the future”, the City of Lincoln, Kansas invested around $600,000 in the development of a subdivision within city limits. Also, the city council agreed to give away the lots to the first 21 applicants who qualify and who agree to build homes that comply with official requirements.
With many restaurants, museums, and great schools, Lincoln has much to offer the people and families who are thinking about choosing this Kansas city for a new chapter in their lives.
- Mankato, KS
Located in Jewell County in North-Central Kansas, the City of Mankato offers 26 free lots to people who would like to embrace the small-town life. With a community of around 900 people, Mankato focuses on agriculture and outdoor hunting and fishing, but it also offers jobs in health care.
All the lots are in close proximity to the hospital, a high school, the steak house, and only half a mile from the community’s shopping center. If this sounds like the right move for you, check out the conditions on the city’s official page and give this city a try!
- Osborne, KS
Aside from free land for new homes, the City of Osborne also offers industrial or commercial lots for business developments, as part of the city’s revitalization program. Twenty-eight businesses have already benefitted from the Osborne Revolving Loan Fund since 1989, when the program was launched.
- Plainville, KS
Plainville also promises the best of both worlds thanks to “the North Town Addition project [that] will give people a chance to build a home and live in a small-town atmosphere, and at the same time, have big city conveniences not far away.”
- Flagler, CO
For those who have big business dreams, Flagler is the next stop. The town owns approximately 480 acres of land, which the town hall offers for free to anyone willing to start a business there. And the amount of land that businesspeople can access depends on the number of jobs they will create in the area.
For those who need convincing, Flagler boasts an excellent school system, high speed and wireless internet, a medical clinic, diner, restaurant, grocery store, a meat processing plant, two convenience stores with fuel, a library, a local newspaper, motel, a very nice 9 hole golf course, and two nice parks. The town [also] has several clubs and organizations and several churches.
- Loup City, NE
If you’d like to own a home in Loup City, six lots are available in the John Subdivision. There is a condition, though, that people who want to move there should bear in mind: homes must be built within a certain time frame.
- Curtis, NE
Aside from the free lots available to newcomers who wish to build a home in Curtis, NE, the city also offers free commercial and industrial lots, business start-up funds, and tax increment financing options.
What’s more, families with children willing to move to Curtis could receive up to $1,000 cash incentive, provided they build a home within the specified time frame and enroll the children at Medicine Valley Public Schools.
- Manilla, IA
As the official website mentions, “Manilla, Iowa is a vibrant rural community located in the beautiful rolling hills of southern Crawford County.” With an active business community, Manilla offers 5-year 100% tax abatement to “qualified individuals or entities that build a new single-family residence.”
- Claremont, MN
The House Lot program in Claremont, MN was started in an attempt to attract new people and families to the city and to encourage the construction of single-family residences.
For more information on conditions, eligibility, and income limitations, head over to the city’s official site!
- Buffalo, NY
Although sales take precedence over homesteads, applicants who wish to move to Buffalo, NY can acquire property for one dollar. The properties available are located within the Urban Renewal Areas, but one main condition is that applicants must make sure the property is not needed for public purposes.
Life in a close-knit community far away from the tumultuous city life might be a welcome change for many. With a focus on local living, these areas are the answer for those looking to simplify their lives, or simply to have the best of both worlds: working remotely while at the same time enjoying the benefits of a community where time seems to slow down a bit.