Our agency's history

square 36 mile division of land created by Thomas Jefferson

The Colorado State Land Board has an illustrious history. We were created at statehood in 1876, and our history dates to America's founding in the 1700s.

In the 1780s America's founders were preparing for westward expansion at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War. Thomas Jefferson developed a system -- today often referred to as the Jeffersonian Grid -- to orderly track and divide land into 36-square-mile townships/ranges/sections.

Each state that joined the union after the war received a certain number of one-mile sections to be held in a trust and used for public beneficiaries, usually public schools. Colorado received two sections per township totalling four million acres at statehood in 1876. These are Colorado's trust lands.

Today we still own 2.8 million acres of trust land and the Colorado State Land Board is the state agency that manages the trust and uses the land to help fund Colorado public schools. We've earned $2 billion for Colorado public schools in the past 15 years.

The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy provides resources about the history of trust land in America. Excerpted from the Lincoln Institute:

"State trust lands are a phenomenon that dates back to the Northwest Ordinance of 1785. With this ordinance, the U.S. Congress established a policy of granting land to states when they entered the Union as an asset to generate funding to support the public education system, a fundamental state responsibility. Starting with Ohio in 1785 and ending with Arizona and New Mexico in 1910, each new state received a set of federal lands that, under federal enabling legislation and the corresponding state constitution, were to be held in trust for the benefit of the public schools. The trust mandates established by the U.S. Congress and the states are clear: to generate revenue to support the public schools and other institutions. In some cases there are other minor institutional beneficiaries as well, but the public schools (K–12) are by far the largest beneficiary throughout the state trust land system. That singularity of purpose continues today and distinguishes state trust lands and the state programs that administer them from other types of public lands."  

Interactive timeline

Check out this interactive timeline that illuminates our history. Click the arrow on the right to scroll through the full timeline. Or click on any date at the bottom to skip to a particular event.

Do you have something to share? Did your great-great grandparent take part in a historic event on trust land as a lessee? Tell us about it so that we can include you on our timeline!

NOTE: ​The State of Colorado is committed to providing equitable access to our services to all Coloradans. Please contact Rachel Majich (rachel.majich@state.co.us or 303-866-3454) for personalized accessibility assistance using this page, which includes an interactive visual timeline of images, dates, and text. We will contact you directly within three business days. Visit our accessibility webpage for more information and services, including AIRA, our free service for blind and low-vision users.