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Highlights Archives

Rare Territorial Map Discovered

A section of a recently discovered rare map of "Sinsinawa City"
WHI 93398

Staff at the Sinsinawa Dominican Archives in Grant County recently came across a great treasure. They found a hand-colored lithograph map of "Sinsinawa City" rolled up in a tube and crumbling into fragments. Carefully unrolling it, they discovered that it showed a hypothetical capital for Wisconsin located on the very site of their own institution.

Paper Cities

"Paper cities" were communities proposed by land owners and developers who hoped to lure settlers to a specific site. They were laid out on paper to entice investors before they were actually constructed on the ground. Most were never built.

While visiting Mineral Point in 1837, British geologist George Featherstonhaugh was shown seven maps of paper cities. This 1836 map by J. Judson shows one approximately where Stoughton would be founded a decade later, and this 1839 Map of the Four Lakes by T.J. Cram shows several more.

Competition for a Capital

When it became clear in the mid-1830s that Wisconsin Territory would be broken off from Michigan, developers vied with one another for location of the territorial capital. Maps showing proposed capitals were passed around to influential politicians, including this well-known hand-drawn map of Madison dated 1836.

One developer, George Wallace Jones (1804-1896), had settled near Sinsinawa Mound in 1827 to engage in lead mining. He also served as a delegate to Congress from Michigan Territory in 1835-1836 and was instrumental in creating Wisconsin Territory. The Sinsinawa map is probably Jones' contribution to the debate about where a capital should be built. At the time, Wisconsin Territory would have included modern Iowa and Minnesota, making Sinsinawa a central location.

The Rare Sinsinawa Map

No other copy of the Sinsinawa map is known to exist. Beneath its small vignette of a capitol at the upper left is the signature, "B. Chambers, W. City." Benjamin Chambers (1791-1871) was an engraver in Washington, D.C., during the first half of the 19th century who printed documents for the U.S. government. His signature and the drawing of a capitol building suggest that this map was created by Jones in Washington during 1835 or 1836.

After discovering it, the sisters at Sinsinawa engaged conservator James Twomey of Kenosha to deacidify the maps, reassemble its fragments, and mount it on an archival quality matt. Hoping to learn more about the piece, Twomey contacted the Wisconsin Historical Society. The Dominican Sisters graciously permitted the Society to scan the map and include it in our online map collection. The original is now safely back home at Sinsinawa, a high-quality reproduction is on file in Madison, and the whole world can view the map in great detail online.

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:: Posted May 24, 2012

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