His name was “Marie-Joseph Paul Roch Ives Gilbert Du Mottier, Marquis de Lafayette.” He was a wealthy French nobleman and was responsible for giving Tallahassee a special historical tie to the American Revolution, therefore to the cause of liberty around the world.
In 1777 at the tender age of 20, Lafayette sailed to America with a ship and a small band of adventurers that he had financed personally. He came to fight with the colonists for American independence from Britain.
A popular young man, Lafayette was “adopted” by George Washington and became a major general on Washington’s staff. Lafayette led the army that defeated Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781.
On July 4, 1825, Congress expressed its gratitude to General Lafayette by presenting him with $200,000 and a township of property in the “land district of West Florida.” A township is a block of land six miles by six miles square containing 36 square miles – a little more than 23,000 acres. Having been given his choice, Lafayette had selected the cream of what is now our own Leon County. Let me briefly describe the boundaries of the Lafayette Township Grant.
Next to the bridge in the new Cascades Park there is a marker in the middle of a sidewalk. That marker represents not only the southwest corner of the Lafayette Grant, but also the principal reference point from which the entire state of Florida is surveyed. A small lot in Key West is legally described by its position relative to that marker in Cascades Park.
From this marker, run north along the prime meridian which corresponds to Meridian Road, for six miles out to Maclay School. Turn right and head east through Maclay Gardens and Killearn Estates for another six miles. This will put you on Roberts Road, a mile east of Centerville Road. Turn south for another six miles and you are in the vicinity of Apalachee Parkway and April Road just south of Lake Lafayette. Head west back to Cascades Park and you have traveled the 24 mile perimeter of Lafayette’s Florida retreat.
This gorgeous piece of real estate, once owned by a solitary little Frenchman, was not to stay that way for long. Lafayette’s first sale was in 1833 to William Nuttall, J.W. Braden and William P. Craig. They bought 17,120 acres for $48,520. That comes to $2.72 per acre – a good buy today at thrice the price.
For the next 180 years, thousands of individuals pursued happiness by buying, selling, sub-dividing, leasing, exchanging, bequeathing, donating, mortgaging, clear cutting, farming and otherwise enjoying the General’s land.
As of today, the Lafayette land grant has been subdivided into 24,400 separate parcels, most privately owned. Within the grant now live residents of Los Robles, Mid Town, Betton Hills, Waverly Hills, Woodgate, Killearn Estates, Eastgate, Lafayette Park, Lafayette Oaks, Brandt Hills, Melody Hills, Meadow Hills and Piney Z – just to mention a few.
According to Chris Lewis in Bert Hartsfield’s office, the current market value of the general’s land is 5.4 Billion Dollars and it generated 32.5% of Ad Valorem Tax revenues collected in Tallahassee and Leon County last year.
Everything that has happened to Lafayette’s land is a testament to a political and economic system that recognizes private ownership as an essential component of individual liberty. History teaches that whoever controls the land controls the means of production. Whoever controls the means of production controls the economy. And, whoever controls the economy controls the people who live on the land. The Preamble to the Realtor Code of Ethics says it all:
“Under all is the land. Upon its wise utilization and widely allocated ownership depend the survival and growth of free institutions and of our civilization.”
The general would be proud.