Three forested properties owned by the University of Michigan and near to Ann Arbor were the sites of some of the earliest forestry field education in the USA. No longer managed solely for this purpose after the mid-1960s, and at the same time nested within a rapidly developing area of Michigan, current planning for the properties focuses on melding their historic legacy with renewed ecologically and sustainably sound uses. We developed new maps and knowledge of forest and land change within and surrounding the properties between 1949 and 2015. We acquired aerial photography at 5-10 year intervals, created land-cover/land-use and change data, and identified key trajectories of change. Results within Saginaw Forest (established 1904) showed a consistent amount of forest area, but transitions in some observed overstory composition from coniferous to mixed forest between 1949 and 2015. Within the present-day extent of Stinchfield Woods and the Newcomb Tract (established 1925-1955), forest area increased from 68% to 98% and 51% to 93% respectively between 1949 and 2015, as forest plantations and other regrowth replaced former cleared lands. In 0.5 km-wide buffer areas surrounding the properties, agriculture decreased, and urban uses increased dramatically between 1949 and 2015 for all three sites. Forested land cover has also increased on the surrounding landscapes, again replacing agriculture and grassland. The properties today still display the legacies of their historic forestry education and research, and are living laboratories of natural succession in planted forests. The properties now also represent some of the most protected local lands while the landscapes surrounding them continue to change.