Ever go on vacation and bring back a research project? This just happened to me.
My brother and his wife invited me and my husband to their place in Maryland for a vacation in January 2019. During the trip, which occurred during the partial government shutdown, we had an opportunity to visit the Library of Congress (LOC). Even though so many other sites were closed, the library was open because its funding had already been approved under the Legislative Branch of the government. We had a wonderful time looking at the amazing architecture and decoration in the building, along with taking in the exhibits. Did you know the LOC has exhibits? I didn’t until this trip.
One of the exhibits featured several maps of the Midwest, including a map of Minnesota by James S. Sewall. Of course, I took a picture (photos allowed without flash at LOC) and zoomed in on Morrison County to snap another shot. I noted that the exhibit label did not have an exact date for the map, merely 186-, with no final number. That was interesting.
I didn’t think much about the missing date until I took a closer look at the Morrison County photo later. Only the townships east of the Mississippi River in the county were labeled. Strangely, none of the counties directly surrounding Morrison County had any townships labeled whatsoever, but Morrison County did. And, surprise! Most of the township names did not match our current township names.
After seeing the townships that aren’t our townships and noting that the western portion of the county was attached but not labeled, I wondered if I could figure out a closer date for the map. That was the research project my vacation wrought.
When I got home, I did some searching through the book “A Big Hearted Paleface Man: Nathan Richardson and the History of Morrison County, Minnesota” because it contains Nathan’s two early histories of the county. (I like to say I wrote this book with Nate.) If anyone knew about these early townships, it would be Nate because he was around for the formation of the county. I found a few clues. I was reminded of the fact that Nate worked to get the western half of Morrison County carved out of Todd County between 1864 and 1867. This happened in stages, so the fact that the LOC map showed the western portion of the county attached but not named suggested the map dated to close to this period.
While Nate’s histories got me up to speed on the western part of the county, I wanted to know more about these township names that no longer exist. For that, I contacted Morrison County Administrator Deb Gruber. When I was working on the Richardson book, I visited the courthouse in order to look through the early minutes of the Morrison County Commissioners. I needed to see that book again to solve the mystery of the townships.
The first ledger of minutes from the Morrison County board starts May 1, 1856, with the first meeting of the Morrison County Commissioners and contains several decades of minutes. I started in 1864, moving through the 1860s, looking for changes to township names. I found quite a bit of information on the addition of the west side to Morrison County, including the renaming of Grant Township to Two Rivers Township because the Commissioners got word from the State that there already was a Grant Township.
While info about west side townships was interesting, it wasn’t helpful in dating the map any further because none of the west side township names appear on the map. Because the west side is colored on the map to match the east side, it obviously belongs to Morrison County by the time of the map. As mentioned above, this process of adding land from Todd County was completed by 1867.
I kept going through the 1860s minutes until I found a name change on the east side. This didn’t occur until March 9, 1869, when Townships 40 and 41 North and Range 30 West became Pierz Township.
Based on these key bits of information, I would date the Sewall Minnesota map at the Library of Congress to around 1867-1869.
But I wasn’t quite done with my research. I wanted to see when all those unfamiliar names got assigned to Morrison County’s eastern townships. I kept thinking as I paged through the ledger that there had to be a list of townships somewhere, so I went backwards in time to the 1850s and I found it. My memory of having been through the ledger before served me well. There, on page 44 of the ledger, in Nathan’s neatly scrolled handwriting, was the list of townships as first assigned on the east side of the county. The date was April 6, 1858.
Township # North | Range # West | Name
42 28 Jefferson
42 29 Adams
42 30 Madison
42 31 & 32 Pugh
41 32 & 31 Belle Prairie
41 30 Delhi
41 29 Granite
41 28 Quincy
40 28 Kent
40 29 Napolion (sic)
40 30 Buckfield
40 31 Martin
40 32 Little Falls
39 32 Belle View
39 31 Jackson
39 30 Johnson
39 29 Monroe
39 28 Buchanan
Within months, several of these names had to be changed by order of the State Auditor. Jefferson Township was changed to Richardson; Quincy was changed to Thompson; and Martin was changed to Elwell. And who were the County Supervisors (a.k.a. Commissioners) during the September 17, 1858, meeting that brought these name changes? Persia B. Thompson and John Elwell, with Nathan Richardson serving as clerk.
Surely, you are curious about how those township names align with today’s township names? No need to hunt for a current Morrison County map to check township and range numbers. Here’s a list of the east side township names from the Library of Congress map versus today. (Note that the sizes of these townships today might be somewhat different from those on the LOC map, so the Range number may not align perfectly.)
LOC Map 2015 MC Map
(named for Sheriff
Belle Prairie Belle Prairie
(name not on map)
Kent Mount Morris
on LOC map)
Little Falls Little Falls
(name not on map)
It is possible that further information from the LOC Sewall map would help to date it even more closely, say, by looking at the names of other counties and townships. Perhaps, in digging up the history needed to date it, more surprises will be uncovered.
~ Mary Warner
This article originally appeared in the Morrison County Historical Society newsletter, Vol. 32, No. 1, 2019.