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Land Survey Records

Monday, June 30th, 2008

There are certain core documents you would expect to be preserved in the Minnesota State Archives, such as the state constitution, the papers of the state’s governors, Supreme Court case files, and the proceedings of the state legislature. Indeed, these records are preserved in the Minnesota State Archives, but there are a set of very important records concerning Minnesota’s land itself. These are the original land survey field notes and land survey plats created during the first United States government land survey of the state. The records date from 1848 to 1907 and are of great value to the State of Minnesota, researchers, surveyors, and ordinary citizens. The handwritten survey notes, in small leather covered notebooks, were compiled by U.S. Surveyor General surveyors as they laid out the exterior and subdivision lines of each township, recording survey reference points and marker posts and including plat drawings and comments on the natural features of each township. Besides the survey notes for the approximately 3,800 townships in Minnesota, there are separate survey field notes for the state’s Native American reservations, islands, and military roads. The field notes of survey lines are supplemented by field notes of other surveyors commissioned to examine the accuracy and completeness of the surveys. They serve as fundamental legal records for real estate, as an essential resource for surveyors, and as an analytical tool for the state’s physical geography prior to European settlement.

The original public land survey plats are the official legal land records for Minnesota, and all property titles and descriptions stem from them. The plats have been scanned (or ditigitized), and are available online free of charge. This digital collection is a compilation of the state’s original plat maps drawn by the U.S. Surveyor General’s Office over the years 1848 – 1907. The collection includes later plat maps, up to the year 2001, drawn from surveys conducted by the General Land Office and the Bureau of Land Management. The collection of plats can be viewed any time at either the MHS web site or the Original Public Land Survey Plat Maps of Minnesota site. You are able to view and download high quality, full color images of the over 3,500 plat maps and associated textual data (tables of meanders appear on the back of some maps). Each plat map is available as a high resolution PDF and a lower resolution resampled PDF. The images have not been georeferenced. At this web site there is information about the history and organization of the Public Land Survey System as well.

The original land survey notes are available for use in the Library of the Minnesota Historical Society, but because of their fragile and unique value must be handled with care. Since the land survey plats are available online, and because of the fragile nature of the orginal land survey plats, they may only be used with special permission.

Charles Rodgers, Government Records Specialist

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‘Thank God and FDR’ on WCCO!

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

Art curator Brian Szott was interviewed on WCCO television on Sunday, June 29, as part of their Finding Minnesota segment. He gave a wonderful overview of the current Hill House exhibit, ‘Thank God and FDR’, which is on view until November.

Watch the interview, and come see the show!

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Summer in Minnesota – Books 19, 20, 21

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

Welcome to the first week of summer. I’m among those who believe there is absolutely no reason to live in Minnesota unless you enjoy and take advantage of our impressive parcels of wilderness. Last week, playing the role of Bourgeois [as in the wise old respected leader, not as in a member of a fussy upper class] to a small group of middle-aged voyageurs, I hosted a meeting to plan our summer trip into the Quetico-Superior wilderness. This is simply what Minnesotans do unless they’ve inherited the family cabin up north. To enhance the experience of wilderness, and to remind us of it when we are not there, we are lucky to have books. The three best…

Florence Page Jaques. Canoe Country. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1938.

Sigurd F. Olson. Listening Point. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1958.

Calvin Rutstrum. Way of the Wilderness: A Complete Camping Manual… Minneapolis: Burgess Publishing Company, 1952.

Sigurd F. Olson is the Dean of outdoor writing. He began selling his stories to hunting and fishing magazines in the 1920s. By the mid-1950s he was writing books that would spark a cult-like following of people who believe that the wilderness experience is a spiritual one, of which I’m a card-carrying member. As is the case with many of the authors on this list, it is hard to choose just one of Olson’s books. I would love to hear your opinion. I chose his second book, Listening Point, because it is the name of Olson’s getaway, which became a Mecca for environmentalists. Curiously, this is the signed first edition of the “Minnesota Statehood Centennial Edition” as it was “prepared in tribute to the State.” Here is a sample from Sig’s first book, The Singing Wilderness:

There have been countless campfires, each one different, but some so blended into their backgrounds that it is hard for them to emerge. But I have found that when I catch even a glimmer of their almost forgotten light in the eyes of some friend who has shared them with me, they begin to flame once more. Those old fires have strange and wonderful powers. Even their memories make life the adventure it was meant to be.

Olson’s books were illustrated by Frances Lee Jaques, which greatly added to their charm. Jaques was at his best, however, when illustrating the writings of his wife Florence Page Jaques. The two collaborated on several books including Canoe Country, and the U of M Press has kept this title along with Snowshoe Country and Geese Fly High in print. Going into the woods is one thing; knowing how to get in and out safely is quite another. Calvin Rutstrum, from Marine on St. Croix, was the go-to guy for this information and once again [thanks Todd] the U of M Press is keeping his books in print for us. I choose this edition of Way… because it is so uniquely bound in a Duluth Pack-like cover. It is impressive how much harder camping was a half a century ago. I’m proposing a new movement – retro camping. Let’s go into the wilderness without equipment or technology invented after WWII. – wood not kevlar. Wool not polypropylene. Canvas not Gortex. Rutstrum can be our guide.

Patrick Coleman, Acquisitions Librarian

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Nokomis vessels

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

The July 2006 – April 2007 History Center exhibit “Red Wing Retro: Extraordinary Pottery, Everyday Life” provided an opportunity to feature a significant portion of the Society’s holdings documenting a Minnesota firm and products. Exhibits also enable museums to inform potential donors about strengths and gaps in a collection. As a result of this exhibition, nearly 50 pieces of Red Wing pottery were acquired for the collections between 2006 and 2008.

A recent and most generous gift from a long-time donor has greatly increased our holdings of early and rare Red Wing art pottery with 9 examples of the vessels in the Nokomis line.

The company best known today as the Red Wing Potteries, Inc., had its beginnings in Red Wing, Minnesota about 1878. While focused on utilitarian wares with a conscious eye toward affordable yet fashionable offerings, Red Wing Potteries were at the same time traditional and modern. In 1929 glazed art pottery became part of the Red Wing Potteries, Inc. product family, and examples from many lines continued to be available until 1967. The Potteries’ artware featured exhaustive quantities of abstract, stylized and iconic objects created either for contemplation or to function in various capacities throughout the home. The vases, planters, ashtrays, bowls, sculptures, commemoratives, promotionals, and other items in the artware line generally amounted to about 15% of the Potteries’ sales.

Produced circa 1926 -1929 and likely sold into the 1930s, Nokomis vessels were slip-cast in plaster molds. The glaze was described by the company as “a metallic finish in gray and tan with a tint of copper;” and collectors today agree that the 18 classic shapes decorated in this impressionistic hand-applied glaze were marketed ahead of their time. Nokomis vessels are found in matte, semi-matte, and glossy surface finishes. All the shapes in this donation (#195, 196, 198, 200, 201, 205, 207 & 212) appear in the “Price List-August, 1931 Red Wing Pottery Glazed Ware.”

Marcia Anderson, Senior Curator

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Suburban Richfield

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

In recognition of the “Suburban World” exhibit now showing at the History Center, we take a look at Richfield, a classic Minnesota postwar suburb. Excerpts from oral histories with long-time Richfield residents are featured, along with historic photos and documents from the community. (5 min. 8 sec. / 3.91 MB)

See additional photos of suburban Richfield in the Visual Resources Database. Read about the postwar boom at the Minnesota’s Greatest Generation “In Their Words” website. Order the book Richfield: Minnesota’s Oldest Suburb from the online store. Learn more at the Richfield Historical Society.

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Happy Father’s Day, and books 17 and 18

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008


I am fairly certain that the only father/son combo making the list of Minnesota’s 150 best books will be the Lindberghs. As evidence of their relationship (and so I can sneak in another great book) I offer their joint biography by CAL Sr.’s political right hand man, Lynn Haines. His wife Dora Haines finished the book upon his death.

Years ago my own father, knowing that I revered the elder Lindbergh for his political leadership and courage, invited me to a breakfast meeting with Charles Lindbergh Jr. Unfortunately for Lindbergh, it was 1974 and he suddenly became ill and never made it back to Minnesota from his home in Hawaii. Fortunately for me, the meeting never happened. I was an arrogant young pup and wanted to grill him on unsavory aspects of his biography and accuse him of abandoning his father’s principals. I’m much better now, thanks.

Charles A. Lindbergh, Sr. Why is Your Country at War and What Happens to You After the War and Related Subjects. Washington, D. C.: National Capital Press, 1917.

Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr. The Spirit of St. Louis. New York: Scribner’s, 1953.

Lindbergh had already written a book, We, about his solo flight across the Atlantic, but he was unsatisfied with that first effort. He spent years working on a fuller and more readable account and earned a well-deserved Pulitzer for Spirit. Less known to readers of this blog, I suppose, will be the work of his father, a United States Congressman from the Sixth District. He was a progressive and an initial opponent of U.S. entry into World War I. Among other arguments in this work CAL believed that the war was a struggle for commercial hegemony and wrote that if we conscript young men to fight and die in a war then the profits made from that war by the “Money Trust” should also be conscripted. Naïve, perhaps, as Roosevelt showed us in WWII, but the idea of shared responsibility and sacrifice is one we could use a little more of today. So, Jenna and Barbara, if you are looking for a Father’s Day gift, don’t overlook this volume. This book, often referred to as the “poison book of Lindbergh,” was so controversial that a mob broke into the print shop in Washington and destroyed the plates (making this a very rare title). It also made some Minnesotans so angry that the author was burned in effigy and even shot at during his Nonpartisan League-backed campaign for Governor in 1918. In 1934 the text of the book was brought back under the revised title of Your Country at War and What Happens to You After A War, with a dust jacket blurb by Father Coughlin calling CAL a “prophet before his time.” The best book on the elder Lindbergh is the 1973 Lindbergh of Minnesota: A Political Biography by Bruce Larson.



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The Richard Ferrell Flour Milling Industry History Collection

Friday, June 6th, 2008

Few industries are as closely associated with Minnesota as flour milling. From 1880 on, Minneapolis enjoyed a reputation as the “Flour Milling Capital of the World.” Countless mills crowded both banks of the city’s Mississippi River waterfront, drawing power from St. Anthony Falls. General Mills still maintains its corporate headquarters near the city.

Pillsbury Doughboy dollIn 2007 the Minnesota Historical Society acquired a significant portion of the Richard Ferrell Flour Milling Industry History Collection. For 40 years Mr. Ferrell, who once managed Pillsbury’s historic ‘A’ Mill on Minneapolis’s east bank, collected flour milling objects, photos, advertisements, and memorabilia. Today his collection represents the premier record of the industry’s development from the mid-1800s to the present.

Items produced by Minnesota-based millers form the core of the collection, but it also includes material from companies in neighboring states, the Pacific Northwest, and Canada. Among the collection highlights are flour bags, barrels, advertising broadsides, company premiums, trade journals, photos, and postcards showing mills throughout the region. Given Mr. Ferrell’s association with Pillsbury, the collection also includes many items featuring that most celebrated advertising icon, the Pillsbury Doughboy.

Work to process the Ferrell Collection, which includes thousands of items, will continue into 2009. Ultimately, many of the objects will be on public display on a rotating basis at the Mill City Museum. Other photo and manuscript materials will be made available to researchers through the Society’s library. They will be of great value to anyone interested in industrial history, foodways, or 20th Century advertising.

Matt Anderson, Objects Curator

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“Value Added” Books

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

No two books are alike. Not even within the same printing of the same title. There may even be an ultimate copy of every book. Outrageous statements? Perhaps, but hidden in the stacks of the MHS library are unique copies of books and perhaps some of those ultimate copies. Many collectors will attempt to get an author to sign their book to which I say “knock yourself out,” but that doesn’t add any information about the book or its author other than what the author’s penmanship looks like after signing 500 copies in a row. What I look for in collecting books for the MHS library, and thus for posterity, is when an author or owner adds value to the historical record. These copies are known in the rare book trade as association and presentation copies. Association copies are books owned by someone with an important connection to the work, while presentation copies are works the author or publisher gave to someone.manfred.jpg

Take, for example, the MHS library’s copies of Lord Grizzly, Frederic Manfred’s novel about the ordeal of American fur trapper Hugh Glass. One copy was a gift from the author, signed by him on the half title with a full-page inscription on the front free endpaper. The comments ooze the confidence and bluster of this giant of Minnesota letters. About the book he writes: “I felt a gap or dimension lacking in my characters – I wanted to ‘feel them’ as having come from somewhere.”  This is an especially interesting statement from someone whose books have such an association with place that a geographic name grew out of his works, “Siouxland.” Our second copy of Lord Grizzly is also extraordinary. Literary critic and historian of Minnesota literature John T. Flanagan owned this copy. Flanagan signed it, pasted a newspaper photo of Manfred in it, and corrected grammar. He asked questions (“word?,” “verb?,” “onomatopoetic?” ) and took issue with the author (“inexact” and “unlikely!”) in the margins throughout this copy of  the book. This makes this copy more interesting, more informative, and more fun to read than an unmarked copy, and makes me grateful that Flanagan isn’t critiquing this post.



Another example: imagine coming into the MHS library and requesting a book of Robert Bly poems. Now imaging your surprise when you discover that Bly signed the book in the middle of his drawing of a mythical creature designed to play on the book’s artwork by Gendron Jensen. This is our copy of This Body is Made of Camphor and Gopherwood.  Like many writers Robert Bly often uses his presentation inscriptions to show off his visually creative side, enhancing the overall effect of his beautifully crafted words.

Five of the best examples of these superb books are currently on exhibit in the Minnesota 150 exhibit, and I urge you to come in and see them. They are: Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s North to the Orient inscribed to former Governor Elmer Andersen saying, “… for all he has done for all the Lindberghs;” Ignatius Donnelly’s own copy of The Great Cryptogram: Francis Bacon’s Cypher in the So-Called Shakespeare Plays, in which he has made so many corrections to the printed text that one has to wonder if he didn’t ultimately prove his theory that Bacon wrote the plays; a presentation copy of Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street… with a lovely self-portrait; Margaret Culkin Banning’s The First Woman with an inscription written 30 years after the book was published stating, “This was written in my second feminist period…”; and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned (mislabeled The Beautiful and the Damned in the exhibit)  presented to an old friend of his “… herein called Anthony Patch.” This is an English major’s dream, to find the as yet undiscovered model for such an important fictional character.

- Patrick Coleman, Acquisitions Librarian

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Minnesota’s Women Historians – 14, 15, 16

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008


As this primary campaign season ends, I no longer know quite what to call myself. Am I a “first wave” or a “second wave” feminist or simply, as a colleague told me, “an old feminist”? Probably the latter. I do the best I can. Bedtime reading for my daughters was frequently a book called Girls Can Be Anything in which a snotty pre-school boy keeps telling a female classmate that she can’t play with him because girls can’t be X, Y or Z. His trump card (sorry Hillary) was that girls certainly couldn’t be president. My girls grew up to be “third wave” feminists and are now both Obama supporters (sorry again Hill). C’est la vie.

When I was raising those daughters I was becoming aware that one very important field that didn’t need to parse feminism, that didn’t seem to discriminate against woman in the least, was history. The giants of Minnesota history were all women. Lucille Kane and Sue Holbert ran the archives and manuscripts division here at the MHS. June Holmquist and Jean Brookings ran MHS Press. Nina Archabal, Rhoda Gilman, Helen White, Lila Goff, and Pat Harpole ran the rest of the institution. I was proud to work with and for those legends while studying these “Best” Minnesota books.scn0001-res.jpgscn0001-res.jpgscn0001-res.jpgscn0001-res.jpg

Agnes Larson. History of the White Pine Industry in Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1949. 

Henrietta M. Larson. The Wheat Market and the Farmer in Minnesota, 1858 –1900. New York: Columbia University, 1926 

Grace Lee Nute. The Voyageur. New York: Appleton, 1931.

The Doctors Larson were business historians. However, Henrietta’s book is also an absolute necessity if you want to understand Minnesota political history! In her Columbia University M.A. Thesis on the Nonpartisan League, written six years earlier, she states that the League was “a barometer registering general conditions in the ‘wheat’ West”. Since the Nonpartisan League (about which we will have more to say later) morphed into the Farmer Labor Party, which morphed into the DFL, this book is still relevant.

Agnes’s book holds a special place in my heart. My first job at the MHS was cataloging a pile of lumbering artifacts the size of the Cathedral. I learned more about the timber industry in three hours with her book than in 9 months of handling the material culture lumbering left behind. It broke my heart to read, in her beautiful prose, that Pinus Strobus often reached over 200 feet high. In our life time one would be lucky to see a 120 foot high White Pine - what a marvelous forest that must have been.

Dr. Nute’s The Voyageur is still in print and still the best book on this important Minnesota icon, and the industry that preceded the lumbering and the milling. Much like Doris Kearns Goodwin today, she could do unparallel research and make it exquisitely accessible to a popular audience. Don’t leave home in a canoe without it.


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An Ounce of Preservation: A Guide to the Care of Papers and Photographs