Monday: Map Day!

1854 Panoramic Map of Milwaukee

The first white settlers to old Washington County, Wisconsin—later divided into Washington and Ozaukee counties—arrived in the late-1830s and early-1840s. Many of these settlers were so-called “Yankees,” namely New England and New York state residents. Other early immigrants to old Washington county came from places such as Lower Canada (i.e., Quebec), Nova Scotia, and the many German-speaking lands.

Why did they come?

For many families, the chance to buy inexpensive land, clear the forest, build a house, and work their own farm was a dream come true. Many of the Yankee immigrants had realized that the farms of New England were too small to continue dividing generation after generation and still make a profit. (Sometimes—as the old joke goes—it seemed like the only guaranteed “crop” each year was the annual spring “harvest” of rocks in the field.) For European immigrants, land ownership was often unaffordable or simply not allowed for the average family back in “the old country.” Other European immigrants fled mid-century famine, as in Ireland, or mandatory military service or political unrest in various places, including the German lands. It’s no surprise that many Wisconsin immigrants of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s made their homes in Washington/Ozaukee county and then farmed there for decades, often passing the house and farm to the next generation and beyond.

For other early arrivals, the opening of government land in Wisconsin Territory represented a chance to make money. More than a few of the Yankee settlers came to the territory early, bought land at $1.25 per acre, farmed for a decade or so, and then sold out to the next wave of immigrants, often making a considerable profit. Some of these men—such as Solomon Juneau, Byron Kilbourn, and William A. Prentiss—were land speculators that made (and sometimes lost) fortunes in the process, and became important figures in nineteenth-century Milwaukee and Wisconsin business and government. Other, smaller, investors were simply savvy farmer-capitalists that bought government land cheaply, held it for a while, and then sold at a profit. Some of these repeated the process several times throughout their lives, buying and selling, moving westward as the government opened new tracts of cheap—or even free—land in the new territories of the frontier.

Stay or go?

By the mid-1850s, a number of early Washington/Ozaukee county settlers decided that rural life was no longer for them. Mary Clark’s father, Peter Turck, was one of the first Mequon settlers to relocate. A self-made polymath, from his earliest days in the territory Turck had been—often simultaneously—a farmer, Baptist preacher, sawmill owner, justice of the peace, coroner, territorial and state legislator, and lawyer. In the 1840s he survived the death of his first wife Rachael Gay, remarried, and had another child. By the early 1850s—like a number of his early Mequon neighbors—he decided to leave his farm and relocate to nearby Milwaukee. There he could focus on his work as a lawyer and real estate dealer and, perhaps, seek better educational opportunities for his youngest children.


In 1836,—a year before the Turck family arrived there from New York—Milwaukee had been a small, random collection of roughly made homes and businesses along the east and west banks of the Milwaukee River where it flowed into Lake Michigan. By the time Peter Turck moved to Milwaukee from Mequon, the city looked like this:

Moody, David William, Lithographer. Milwaukee, Wisconsin / Geo. J. Robertson del. ; D.W. Moody lith. Milwaukee United States Wisconsin, 1854. New York: Published by Smith Brothers & Co. Photograph.Click image to open high-resolution JPG image in new window. To visit the Library of Congress site and open very high-resolution JPEG2 or TIFF images, click this link:

Today’s map is from the Panoramic Map Collection at the Library of Congress. Panoramic maps were

[…] a popular cartographic form used to depict U.S. and Canadian cities and towns during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Known also as bird’s-eye views, perspective maps, and aero views, panoramic maps are nonphotographic representations of cities portrayed as if viewed from above at an oblique angle. Although not generally drawn to scale, they show street patterns, individual buildings, and major landscape features in perspective.

—Introduction to the LoC Panoramic Map Collection. (Link)

As with all our Monday: Map Day! posts, be sure to click the image to open a higher-resolution version of the map in a new window. Zoom in, scroll around, and look at the details. The schooners and steamboats on the lake and in the river; the churches and municipal buildings; the buggies, carts, and wagons on the streets, the warehouses, factories and shops; even the boatyard by the mouth of the river are all drawn in careful detail.

A bustling Midwestern city

Today’s map is a bird’s-eye view from the western part of the city, looking east to Lake Michigan. The Milwaukee River runs from left to right, north to south, dividing the city into east and west sides as it empties into Lake Michigan. Mequon is sixteen miles upriver (well off the map, to the left).

By 1854, when this map was published, the Milwaukee Bridge War of 1845 was long past, and the east and west sides of the city were joined together by many sturdy bridges. And unlike 1837, when the Turck family arrived and had to be rowed to the muddy lakeshore, the Milwaukee river and lakefront of 1854 were now served by a large number of substantial piers and docks.

Peter Turck, Jonathan M. Clark, and their Mequon neighbors knew the city well. Remember that in the early years of settlement Washington/Ozaukee county was originally attached to Milwaukee county for legal purposes; it did not gain its own civil powers until 1840, or judicial powers until 1845. In the early days, if Turck, Clark, or their neighbors needed to buy land, get supplies, make a court appearance, or obtain a marriage license, they had to go to Milwaukee. And the following decades, even as Mequon and Cedarburg and the other towns of Ozaukee county grew, the rural farmers and their families still traveled to the city for supplies, business, shopping, worship, and other amenities of city life.

Mid-century Milwaukee had many attractions for rural families such as the Turcks, the Clarks, and other Mequon neighbors. In future posts we’ll discover how Mary Clark and the children adapted to their new life in the city.


By the way, can we give a tip of the hat to the cartographers that made this map, and others like it? Although I don’t know Milwaukee as well as I’d like, this map—like so many other panoramic maps that I’ve studied—appears to be very accurate in its depiction of the land, buildings, and details of Milwaukee city life at that time. So many buildings, large and small, are drawn in such detail. And the cartographers did this by making a series of street-level observations and sketches. No helicopters, planes, balloons, drones or Google Maps involved. Amazing.

4 thoughts on “Monday: Map Day!

  1. I’d not heard of panoramic maps before. They are fantastic- they really give you a sense of being there.


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