Thanks to a Vermonter who had to leave school at the age of 15, millions of Americans have had the door to higher education opened for them. It was Justin Smith Morrill, US Congressman and later Senator, who was responsible for the acts establishing the Land Grant Colleges, the forerunners of many state universities (states were given Federal lands which were sold to raise funds for the creation of agricultural and engineering colleges).
Born in Strafford, the son of a blacksmith, he ran a general store in Strafford (1831-48), turned to farming, then went to the US House of Representatives (Whig, Republican 1855-67). A member of the Ways and Means Committee, he sponsored the Land-Grant College Act of 1862, providing public lands for agricultural colleges. In the Senate (Republican, 1867-98) he provided funds for their survival in the Second Morrill Act of 1880.
During his 43 years in the legislature, he was instrumental in the creation of the Library of Congress and the Washington Monument.
In the 1840’s, Morrill retired to study architecture and landscape gardening. On a hillside in his home town of Strafford, he built a 17 room mansion in the popular Gothic Revival style. The charming home remains as it was when its builder designed it, surrounded by gardens, well-planned grounds, barns and outbuildings reflecting Morrill’s far-reaching interests. The house is furnished with original family possessions.