Inconsistencies in old maps

Brainerd Map Cover-croppedIf you’re interested in resort history, maps can be a valuable resource for finding information. Early tourists relied on them not only to show how to reach a resort, but to know what amenities were offered. The maps were usually the large folding kind, not easily collected in a book, even one as big as The Early Resorts of Minnesota. That’s why readers are referred to this website, which contains over forty resort maps (and over 1,400 resort and tourism photos).

In researching old maps, I have found that the dates and information printed on them can sometimes be misleading. Below are some of the problems that might be encountered when reading early resort maps:

Missing Dates
It is common to find dates missing on early resort maps, both in the art work, and in the directories. When adding information to the same map year after year, eventually someone would erase the copyright date because it looked too old. (This can be one of the reasons that you find “ca” written before dates; it is to tell the reader that the date is not exact; it is only an approximate date.)

Date and Name Inconsistencies
The copyright date on the map may be inconsistent with the information and photos printed with the map. The printed background may show older roads and highways, while a directory may have newer photos. Or, a resort may be starred on a map, but not described in the directory. The inconsistencies are again due to year after year changes in information, with no changes to the basic map. (Early postcard photos have a similar dating problem when old overstocked cards were postmarked and mailed years later.)

Changes by unskilled artists
An original map may have information added or removed by someone unskilled in drawing maps or lettering, possibly because the original cartographer was unavailable.

Inconsistent Boundaries
Various factors affected the boundaries of resort maps, including competition from other civic organizations. As resort numbers increased, the larger map areas were broken into smaller ones as other groups claimed new boundaries and customers. Some resorts advertised in two regions, or in a distant one with a larger number of resorts. In my book, I used the boundaries of the five resort regions defined by Explore Minnesota. This kept resort numbers accurate by not listing resorts or lakes in more than one area.

An Early Map
I have included links below to a large early Brainerd Chamber of Commerce map and resort directory for Crow Wing County and parts of Cass County. Over 260 resorts are advertised on it. It was created by Benn A. Wagner and G. H. Berkholder, and is labeled “Vacationland–Minnesota’s Land of Hiawatha.” The copyright date was probably removed in a reprinting. The map may have been originally drawn around 1925, since U.S.highway numbers are labeled for Iowa, but not for Minnesota. (U. S. highway numbers started in 1926.) However, the “Summer Resort Directory,” printed with the map, suggests a more recent date. For example, we know that Arthur Roberts, whose name is in the directory, assumed full ownership of the Pine Beach Hotel on Gull Lake in 1929; and that Heath’s Resort on Whitefish Lake, also in the directory, was established in 1938, according to the resort’s website. We might therefore conclude that resorts were added to the original 1925 map for over 12 years without it being updated.

(NOTE: When the Brainerd maps are downloaded, you can use your “rotate” and “zoom” features to read the fine print.)

Click on these links to view the front and back of the Brainerd Lakes map.

Brainerd Lakes Area Map and Directory-front, ca 1930s

Brainerd Lakes Area Information-back, ca 1930s

More resort maps can be found on this website’s tab “Photos and Maps” (or click here). The maps are invaluable snapshots of history. Despite occasional inconsistencies because of yearly tweaks, most are quite accurate. If you can’t find the resort you are looking for, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t operating when the map was printed, or that it didn’t exist. In some cases owners chose not to join a lake association or closed temporarily, such as my parents’ resort did during World War II.

I hope this blog post helps you better enjoy the hand-drawn cartography skills that are becoming a lost craft in the technological age of MapQuest, GPS, and Google Maps.

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