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Cali Owings, Published June 04 2013

Map collection goes back to 1683

MOORHEAD – Early maps of Minnesota show more than the state’s geography.

A collection of state maps from as early as 1683 now on display at the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County traces Minnesota’s history, landscape, economy and even the attitudes and beliefs of the mapmakers themselves.

The exhibit, “Minnesota on the Map,” is part of a traveling collection from the Minnesota Historical Society.

Area residents might find the HCSCC’s own local maps and supplemental material documenting Clay County’s history even more interesting.

Mark Peihl, the HCSCC’s archivist, handpicked a varied group of local maps to display at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead alongside the Minnesota Historical Society’s material.

Maps weren’t made strictly for navigational purposes. They were drawn for legal contracts, to improve safety and to advertise for the area, he said.

Many maps, like the extensive A.T. Andreas Illustrated Historical Atlas of Minnesota, were made to “put the state in a good light and make it appear to be a good place to move to,” Peihl said.

Some artists “jumped the gun” with their promotional maps, Peihl said. Take, for example, the 1882 bird’s-eye view of Moorhead he picked for the exhibit. This rendition of the town shows a bridge over the Red River at Main Avenue, but the bridge wasn’t actually completed until 1884.

Maps made in the past can serve a totally different purpose today from the mapmaker’s original intent.

Insurance companies called for detailed maps that plotted an area’s businesses and residences in relation to fire hydrants so they could set insurance rates. Looking at them now, viewers get a picture of the type of businesses in a city and how neighborhoods evolved over the years. A 1933 fire insurance map of Hawley is on display at the HCSCC.

Analyzing these maps isn’t just for “map geeks” like Peihl. He said all of the HCSCC’s materials are open to residents who want to do their own research.

“People can learn about their own backyards and their own families,” he said.

If “Minnesota on the Map” inspires some digging into your own neighborhood or family history, the HCSCC’s archive hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and until 9 p.m. on Tuesdays.

If you go

• What: “Minnesota on the Map” exhibit

• When: Now through July 28. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays

• Where: Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County, Hjemkomst Center, 202 1st Ave. N., Moorhead

• Info: Admission for nonmembers is $6-$8, children (4 and younger) are free

Readers can reach Forum reporter Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599