Monday: Map Day!

If you look at the timeline and other recent posts about early Mequon settlers Cyrus Clark and Sarah A. Strickland, you realize that these two did a lot of moving about in mid-1800s Wisconsin.

How did they do all that traveling? Back and forth between Mequon and Cedarburg in Washington/Ozaukee county and Potosi in Grant county, Waldwick and Moscow in Iowa county, the city of Oshkosh—back east, so to speak, in Winnebago county—and then “moving to” Madison, Lake Co., South Dakota—and still traveling back to (and living part-time at?) Oshkosh. By foot? Canoe? Horse? Buggy? Stagecoach?

The answer is…

Railroads!

Click map to open larger image in new window.

Vliet, Jasper, and Milwaukee And Horicon Railroad. Township map of Wisconsin showing The Milwaukee & Horicon Rail Road and its connections. [New York, 1857] Map. https://www.loc.gov/item/98688714/.

There’s a lot to say about the development of railroads in 19th-century America. For now, I’ll leave that for the experts and aficionados. But click on this 1857 map, zoom and scroll around and compare to our earlier Monday: Map Day map from 1851:

Colton, J. H. , Cartographer, and Millard Fillmore. Colton’s township map of the State of Wisconsin. New York: published by J.H. Colton, 1851.  https://www.loc.gov/item/2018588058/
Click image to open larger map in new window

Even though this map covers only a part of the 1850s railroad construction boom in Wisconsin, it gives us an idea of how travel—and Americans’ perceptions of “near” and “far”—would begin to change during the rail era.

In Wisconsin’s earliest years, river and lake access was usually the major factor in transportation of people and goods. By the mid-1800s, railroads began to open up the interior to settlement and development. As you compare the two maps, notice how much easier it has become to travel from, say, Ozaukee county to Milwaukee, and then westward to Iowa or Grant counties, or northwest to Oshkosh, or southward to Chicago. All of these locations will figure prominently in the lives of the Cyrus and Sarah (Strickland) Clark family—and their Mequon neighbors—in the second half of the century.

The explosive growth of railroads—and the towns and cities they served—in just these six years from 1851 to 1857 is amazing. And keep in mind, this is only the map of one rail line, the Milwaukee and Horicon Railroad, and it’s affiliated routes. There were many other lines, some of them small and connecting just a few towns or cities. Others, such as the great Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, eventually encompassed much larger networks of lines.

More fun with maps

P. S. There are a lot of interesting 19th-century railroad maps online. Once again, I’ve borrowed one from the amazing online map collection at the Library of Congress. If you need to spend some time losing yourself in beautifully archived old maps, cick this link to the online map search and have fun.

Coming up

Next time, a first here at Clark House Historian: photo analysis! In which we make an attempt at dating the Cyrus and Sarah Clark family photographs. We’ll discuss photographic processes, evolving costume and hair styles, and biographical and other clues. Plus, more historical photos!