1823 Hand-drawn Map Reveals New Information About Historic Fort Snelling
History isn't set in stone, a fact proven by the Minnesota Historical Society's recent acquisition of an important 1823 map of Historic Fort Snelling, then called Fort St. Anthony. Evidence from the map fills in gaps that frustrated archaeologists and scholars involved in reconstructing the fort in the 1970s, and, among other things, shows that the limestone chimneys they chose for several buildings actually had been brick.
While the Society considers plans to replace the chimneys in authentic material, the public will have a chance to view the map and learn more about how one piece of paper can add so much to the historical knowledge of the state.
Society director Nina Archabal calls the map one of the most significant acquisitions the Society has ever made.
The map will be on display at the Capitol on April 25 from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. From April 26 until it is placed in environment-controlled storage on June 2, the map will be exhibited at the Minnesota History Center, located at 345 Kellogg Blvd. W. in St. Paul. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays; and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.
"In reviewing the map and marginal notes for only 20 minutes," enthused Society archaeologist Bob Clouse, "our level of understanding about the construction phasing and details of the original (Fort Snelling) building design has increased by 30 percent."
"While we knew that two of the original fort buildings were wooden, this is the only document that I know of that tells us that two of the original fort buildings were of hewn timbers. We also now know that only the Long Barracks had stone chimneys while the rest of the fort had brick ones! These are only two extremely valuable pieces of information that we know today that were unknown before the map came to light," Clouse said.
The map also reveals that archaeological evidence at the site was correctly interpreted during the Society's 1970s quest to rebuild the site. At that time, the only known maps of the site were two versions of construction plans drawn in 1821 or 1822. The originals are housed in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
The Society received a donation from John and Elizabeth Driscoll of St. Paul to purchase the map for $11,500 from a Connecticut military documents dealer. The map and the commission papers of Josiah Howe Vose surfaced in Vose family papers. The map is signed by its maker, Joseph E. Heckle, and extensive margin notes are thought to be in Vose's hand. Vose may have sent Heckle's map to his family, with the margin notes indicating the living conditions he was encountering - a type of 1820s postcard to the folks at home. His notes talk about the building materials for the fort, the surrounding environment, and even the types of boats that plied the Mississippi and how they sailed against the river's currents.
Vose was part of the 1819 expedition to establish the fort. He served at the fort both during and after the command of Josiah Snelling, for whom the fort was named in 1825.
The documents dealer first approached John Driscoll with the opportunity to purchase the map for his own collection, but Driscoll felt it was so important to the history of the state that it should become part of the treasury of documents cared for and made available to the public through the Minnesota Historical Society.
"On behalf of the people of Minnesota, we are grateful for the Driscolls' generosity and look forward to becoming the stewards of this document as well as the opportunity to let Minnesotans see and experience this map. I don't know of any acquisition we have made that is more exciting than this," Archabal said.
The Society's map curator Jon Walstrom said the importance of the map "cannot be overstated."
"It is rare to have an opportunity to add such a remarkable map to the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society. Both the informational and artifactual value of the map are immeasurable," he said.
The Society's map collection includes some 38,000 maps and 1,800 atlases. Thousands of other maps are kept in archives and manuscript collections, for example from railroads and municipalities. "A majority of our maps are printed. What makes this map so exceedingly rare is that is hand-drawn, one-of-a-kind and of such an important location in the state's history. I would be extremely lucky to ever see another thing like this in my lifetime," Walstrom said.
From an archaeologist's perspective, Clouse said the map is one of the most valuable cartographic items he has seen about Fort Snelling. Not only does the map provide information on the sequence and process of building what was to become Fort Snelling, Clouse said, but the extensive hand-written notes around the map's perimeter offer insight into the thought that went into the design and how changes were made during the construction.
"They started to build a military fort, but soon realized they were building a frontier community," Clouse said. The map shows the environment around the fort, including the area where Colonel Snelling planned gardens that would help create a self-sustaining community. Both the Mississippi and the Minnesota, then called the St. Peters River, are indicated on the map.
Today, nearly 100,000 visitors annually visit Historic Fort Snelling to see the restored buildings and meet costumed historic interpreters who portray the officers, soldiers and civilians who lived within the fort in 1827. The fort is open daily from May 3 through October.
Minnesota Historical Society Press plans to issue a reproduction of the map and publish a book that contains the margin notes, an explanation of the process used to create the map and the conservation practices that will preserve it in the Society's collections.
The Minnesota Historical Society is a non-profit educational and cultural institution established in 1849 to preserve and share Minnesota history. The Society collects, preserves and tells the story of Minnesota's past through museum exhibits, extensive libraries and collections, historic sites, educational programs and book publishing.
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