I’m going to be brutally honest. I am tired of friends and family asking me for stories about the world of title insurance. I know their intentions are good and I appreciate the curiosity. But enough is enough. The straw that broke the camel’s back was this past Thanksgiving. It’s become a tradition in my family that the youngsters sit me down after dinner to share tales of the title year that was. But this year, when the dinner discussion turned to the history of the industry, I was done. Folks, I am a title professional – not a tourist attraction. And so I put my frustration into action and came up with an idea that is long overdue, “The Museum of Title Insurance”.
I’ve narrowed down location to two possibilities, Chicago, Illinois or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Each location is based on a real estate transaction that led to the establishment of the title insurance industry.
Chicago: Runner Up
In 1847, a law clerk named Edward A. Rucker devised a system to track recorded documents relating to Cook County real estate. By the time the Great Chicago Fire devastated the city in 1871, there were three abstract companies that were able to save their records. These records resulted in the passing of the Burnt Records Act by the Illinois Legislature and the records of the three companies were made admissible in all courts and were the cornerstone of the rebuilding of Chicago. The end result was the Title Guarantee and Trust Company issuing their first policy in 1888.
While the history of title insurance in Chicago is nothing short of thrilling, it was a Philadelphia law suit that the industry regards as the foundation of title insurance. The 1868 case of Watson v. Muirhead (57 Pa. 161) involved a conveyancer, Muirhead, who had searched and abstracted a title for Watson, the purchaser of a parcel of real property. In good faith and after consulting an attorney, Muirhead chose to ignore certain recorded judgments and to report the title as good and unencumbered. On the basis of Muirhead’s abstract, Watson went ahead with the purchase, but was subsequently presented with, and required to satisfy, the liens that Muirhead had concluded were not impairments to title. Watson sued Muirhead to recover his losses, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that there was no negligence on the conveyancer’s part and dismissed the case. Watson, an innocent purchaser who had suffered financial damages because of the encumbrances on his title, had no recourse.
As a result of that decision, the Pennsylvania legislature shortly thereafter passed an act “to provide for the incorporation and regulation of title insurance companies.” The first title company was founded in Philadelphia in 1876. And an industry was born!
Given the above, I envision the museum having two adorable mascots named Muirhead and Watson. These characters will guide the visitors through exhibits of historical facts about the title industry. For the young ones, there will be interactive displays challenging their skills on coverage, endorsements, forms, and industry heroes. And what family attraction is complete without rides, like the Haunted House with contractors smashing ugly liens on the property, and borrowers unable to secure financing. Or, the Zoning 3.1 Maze where you can’t find Parking! And of course, The Closing…. a rollercoaster of ups and downs, where the tension is palpable, and the screaming never ends.
So now, I have my work cut out for me. Site location, fundraising, and construction. And most important of all, which underwriter to choose for title? To be continued.