Marschner's Map: How a 100 year old document influences change in our park today

"In late January 1966, a man was found dead on Washington Mall in a mid-season blizzard. He had no family, left no will, and despite being 83, was on his way to work when he died. This man was Francis J. Marschner, one of Minnesota’s greatest known map makers. Never heard of him? Well, don’t feel too bad. F.J. Marschner had never even been to Minnesota."

Lesley Kadish with the Minnesota Historical Society, wrote about the creation of a famous map that described the plant life found throughout the state at the time of settlement.

"…[Minnesota Historical Society’s] Government Records Specialist blogged about the original land survey notes we have in our collection. These are the notes that the original surveyors wrote as they trudged across Minnesota 150 years ago. The information in these notes is priceless; it paints a picture of what the land looked like on the fringes of European settlement, describing prairies, pine forests, and great bogs. If you want to study land change at a local level, these notes are invaluable. But to get a picture of the whole state, one would need to stitch together thousands of maps and hundreds of thousands of descriptions – a feat for even a computer today. Well, between 1929 and 1931, Francis Marschner took on such a task. From a desk in Washington, he went through the surveyors' notes, word by word, and constructed a map of pre-settlement vegetation for the whole state of Minnesota…

In recent years, The MN Department of Justice, Department of Transportation and Department of Agriculture have made digital copies of the map. With new mapping technologies, Marschner’s original map can now be overlaid atop satellite images. Check out an overlay of the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport (below). You’ll see that the land was once predominately prairie and deciduous hardwood forests. Imagine. Though F.J. Marschner died without ever seeing the beauty of Minnesota he described, his work lives on in this fabulous map, the Marschner Map of Original Vegetation."

Read Lesley's full blog post to learn more about the Marschner Map and see what the vegetation used to be at MSP.

When you overlay Marschner’s map on a satellite image of the airport you also see the historic vegetation at Coldwater Spring and the surrounding area that is part of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. The map shows Coldwater Spring and Fort Snelling were close to the boundary between prairie and forest. This dynamic gradient of prairie to savanna, woodland, and forest can be seen at Coldwater Spring today.

Past vegetation guides our restoration by suggesting what a more pristine MSP/Coldwater Spring area might have looked like, and illustrates what we can strive for. Documentation, such as the Marschner map, might seem too old to be useful, but it is actually an important tool that provides context to our newer maps and influences how we manage the park today.

For more information about the Marschner map and the cartographer that created it, visit these articles from the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer (search for Marschner or author Tim Brady to locate the article) and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.