Skip to Main

Jack’s Journal: Mapping Michigan

When viewed from above, there is no mistaking Michigan’s two peninsulas. Its distinctive shape makes it popular for all sorts of inspiration.

One interesting view is from 100-plus years ago when surveyors were tasked to map the area. It was not easy.

“The surveyor would be doing the sketching. They would literally be dragging chains through the woods in the summer, marking trees using a compass,” explains Skip Natzmer, Courtyard Fine Arts.

The earlier maps were marking location and mileage, done from boats. Shorelines were far from accurate to contour. Even when they moved inland, surveyors charted railways and water ways, because there weren’t many roads. The Upper Peninsula also was more of a focus early on.

“The U.P. maps were much more detailed than the Lower Peninsula because that’s where the mines where,” says Skip.

It was post-Civil War that maps began getting more detailed. There was a time when some maps left huge blank areas, because a surveyor hadn’t been there.

The process was very technical, but hugely important. Today folks love these old maps; some just for the decoration factor, others for the history.

“It’s amazing. People just pour over these things. They grew up here, they identify with this area or their grandfather worked on this railroad or in mining,” explains Skip.

One thing Skip does warn about is to know your seller. With today’s printing abilities, fakes are all around.

Our state has such a unique look with its two peninsulas, and the old maps just add to its distinctive character.