Maps. Their general purpose is to tell you where you are and where you are going. Ocean maps, world maps, road maps, geological maps. There are many types of maps. Each is a representation of a geographic area, but each type gives different information about an area. At the historical society, we are primarily concerned with plat maps. In addition to showing the geographic area of Morrison County, the plat maps we have collected show the names of the people who have owned land in the county. This is what distinguishes a plat map from any other type of map.
Contained within the archival collections of the museum are several Morrison County plat books from years ranging between 1892 to 1994. Plat books are only printed intermittently, so there is not a book for every year between those dates. Each township within the county has its own plat map and the collection of these township plat maps makes up a plat book.
Looking through just one plat book or map will tell you everyone who owns land in the county at that point in time. It may also show the locations of churches, schools or cemeteries. By seeing how many property owners there are and how divided the land is, you can guess how populated an area is.
A very useful exercise is to compare plat maps published in different years. By doing so, you can figure out approximately when someone moved into the area, or when they moved out. This can help genealogical researchers to discover when their relatives lived in Morrison County. Population changes can also be seen when the maps are compared to one another. In the early years of the county, large tracts of land were generally owned by only a few people. This shows who could afford to purchase land. In some cases, it also shows who the land dealers were.
As mentioned before, cemeteries, churches and schools are shown on plat maps. By comparing plat maps, it is possible to get an approximate date for the formation of these various entities. On the older maps, when one-room school houses were in existence, the location of these schools was show, sometimes with district numbers. Following through to later plat maps, these schools disappear, further evidence of the changes that society has created over time.
Earlier plat books and maps were generally printed with black ink on white paper. I was surprised to discover that our earliest plat book from 1892 used black ink on pastel colored backgrounds. A later development on maps was the use of colors to delineate the various roads and geographic areas. For example, wildlife areas show up in green. Rivers and lakes are blue and the geographic area of a city is either muddy yellow or tan. Camp Ripley, which is a special feature of Morrison County, is done in apricot.
In the beginning of each plat book, there is a map of the entire county with the townships outlined. The changes in township politics can be seen over time when comparing plat books. For instance, in 1892 Morrison County had twenty-one townships. By 1951, Morrison County had thirty-two townships. Changes in townships are not a thing of the past. In the 1994 plat book, what was left of the township of Clough, which had steadily been bought by Camp Ripley, disappeared and became the township of Cushing East. That leaves Morrison County with thirty-one townships, which are as follows: Motley, Rosing, Scandia Valley, Rail Prairie, Cushing (with Cushing East), Parker, Darling, Green Prairie, Culdrum, Pike Creek, Swanville, Swan River, Elmdale, Two Rivers, Ripley, Platte, Pulaski, Richardson, Belle Prairie, Buh, Granite, Leigh, Little Falls, Agram, Pierz, Hillman, Mount Morris, Bellevue, Buckman, Morrill, and Lakin. Are there any in this list that you don’t recognize? Even after studying the plat books for the Documenting Morrison County Deaths project, there are some that I don’t remember after I put the books down.
Another feature of the plat books are legends, or an explanation of the symbols used on the maps. The legend appears at the beginning of the book. Sometimes plat books also have an explanation of how to read legal land descriptions, also called the Rectangular Survey System. This system is a bit complicated to describe here, but an example of a legal land description looks like this: T42-R29-S22. The “T” stands for township, the “R” stands for range, and the “S” stands for section.
Interspersed throughout the plat books are advertisements for businesses in existence at the time of the printing of each particular book. Advertisements helped to pay for the production of the books. This was true even in the plat book of 1892. Instead of individual advertisements for each business, however, there is a “Patron’s Directory of Morrison County, Minn.” In this directory, our own C. A. Weyerhaeuser is listed as the vice-president of the German-American National Bank. Speaking of banks . . . First National Bank has advertisements in each of the plat books from 1892 to the present book of 1994. Now that’s longevity! The advertisements in plat books provide a history all their own.
Now that I’ve discussed plat books and maps, why don’t you pick up a compass, head south on Lindbergh Drive, and steer your way into the museum? Once here you can search through a plat map and maybe you’ll even find yourself!
by Mary Warner
Copyright 1997, Morrison County Historical Society
This 1916 map of Morrison County is one of many from our collections. It is not a plat map, as described above, because it does not show property owners. There are things on the map that no longer exist, such as Curtis Siding and Topeka. Clough Township is now part of Cushing Township and is called Cushing East. Ledoux on the 1916 map has long since been known as Sobieski.