Mapping Michigan

Maps today are commonplace. It was not, however, always so. Three hundred years ago the most sophisticated map makers of Europe had only the vaguest notions about North America's interior. Slowly, the knowledge of early European visitors to the Great Lakes region found its way onto published maps.

As European maps of the Great Lakes shoreline became more accurate, maps took on additional uses. Maps evolved from descriptions of natural geography to documents recording human concepts and impact upon the land. For example, in the nineteenth century maps were printed with imaginary grids drawn over the natural topography. These survey maps were created at the behest of the federal government and served as the basis for private land ownership. Large tracts of land sold by the federal government were usually subdivided, and new maps appeared outlining city lots and buildings found in Michigan's cities and villages.

Evolving alongside maps of property ownership were transportation maps. These maps gave little or no information about the land itself or land ownership but rather showed how to get from here to there. Maps showing railroad lines were among the first transportation maps. In the Twentieth century "road maps" showing automobile highways became ubiquitous. Closely related to railroad and automobile maps were tourist maps. These maps told the prospective visitor not only how to get there but what alleged delights awaited the traveler should he or she make the trip.

This exhibit is divided into three sections:

  • Maps of Exploration
  • Maps of Ownership
  • Maps of Transportation