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Land Ownership Maps and Atlases

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Land ownership map for Polk Township in Washington County from 1915.

Blooming Grove, Dane County, 1911
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What can I find here?

Wisconsin land ownership maps and atlases identify local landowners of a county and provide information about its topographic and cultural features. They were compiled from local land records and supplemented with the mapmakers' own surveys.

The maps and atlases were commercially produced based on supply and demand within the geographical area. Publishers often referred to these as plat maps or plat books. The earliest plat map for Wisconsin was published in 1857.

The Society has examples of almost every early plat map or atlas published for Wisconsin.

Pre Civil War

  • Pre Civil War land ownership maps were usually wall maps.
  • They noted a county's landowners and were embellished with illustrations of buildings such as courthouses, businesses or homes of the wealthy, directories, and city maps.
  • Wall maps were usually quite large, measuring as much as four feet square.

Post Civil War

  • County atlases became more popular after the Civil War.
  • Atlases were smaller, easier to handle, and allowed for the addition of many more features.
  • You can find lists of patrons, biographical sketches and portraits of local landowners, illustrations of farms and businesses, and city maps.
  • Post Civil War atlases complement township maps. Township maps show the boundaries and acreage of farms, locations of churches, cemeteries, schools, quarries, cheese factories and other businesses. The township maps also show roads and railways, and topographical features such as rivers, lakes, marshlands, and hills.

Land Ownership Maps and Atlases are exceptional research tools for local historians, genealogists, and urban and environmental historians. The Society continues to collect current atlases.

How is it organized?

Physical

  • Land ownership maps and atlases are arranged geographically by county, then chronologically by date.
  • A card catalog and guides describing the land ownership maps and atlases of Wisconsin communities are available in the Archives Research Room.
  • It is good to know the approximate date and location you are looking for prior to searching the Archives.

Online

  • Wisconsin land ownership maps and atlases are not available online at this time.
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