Rare edition of Colton’s map of Minnesota, the first to show the new state.

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A high-resolution image is available for purchase. Email me for inquiries.

The impact of the railroad on the settlement of America’s interior during the mid-19th century cannot be overstated. Though waterways (canals and navigable rivers) would remain the primary thoroughfare for freight traffic through the 1850s, railroad mileage would triple from 8,900 to over 30,000 miles during the decade. These tracks were concentrated primarily in the Northeast, but numerous plans were in place for expansive connections to the West.

It was under those conditions that this map of Minnesota and the Dakota Territory was published by the firm of J.H. Colton & Co. in New York, probably in 1858. That same year, Minnesota would be admitted as the 32nd state in the Union. Though there were no actual tracks in operation at the time, several railroad lines can be seen stretching to the most remote corners of the state. Amusingly, these proposed routes run straight, in an ‘airline’ fashion, irrespective of local topography or geographic features.

Of particular interest is the ‘Northern Route of the Pacific Railroad as Proposed by Gov. Stevens’ – the foundation of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Text at the bottom of the sheet describes the proposed routes, approved by Congress in 1857 and ‘provided for by the Minnesota Land Grant.’ These federal grants were crucial to railway development, helping to defray the high costs of construction. According to the National Park Service;

“While state and local governments borrowed millions of dollars to help finance railroad construction, the largest subsidies came from the federal government, which granted railroad companies 25 million acres of land during the 1850s and a total of 175 million acres by 1871. Although 70 railroad companies received land grants, 70 percent of the acreage went to only four companies, which included the Northern Pacific in Minnesota. The land grants did not provide immediate capital for the railroads, but they did provide substantial collateral for loans and encouraged railroad construction into new territories in advance of settlement.”

In addition to showing the network of proposed rails, the image also depicts a fascinating contemporary overview of the Upper Midwest during a period of rapid development. Toponyms identify a mix of settlements, locations of interest, and geographic features in both English and indigenous pronunciations. Scattered annotations note the location of resource deposits, navigational hazards, Native American tribes, and other interesting details. The map was originally published by J.H. Colton & Co. in 1855, but this is a later example likely issued in 1858. Text at the bottom of the page references the federal grants of 1857, and there are several updates present within the image not visible on the dated 1857 edition (namely, the described railroad routes).

Sources: Minnesota Department of Transportation; Minnesota Historical Society; 1855 Example at the AGSL Library1857 Example at Barry Ruderman Rare Maps;

Map Details

Publication Date: c. 1858

Author: J.H. Colton & Co.

Sheet Width (in): 17.4

Sheet Height (in): 14.4

Condition: B

Condition Description: Moderate wear visible along the outer edges of the sheet, including some toning at the top, which has been trimmed. A chip in the lower center, confined to the margin. Discoloration and soft crease along the vertical centerfold and some minor tape repairs around the outer edges (using archival material). One dark stain, possibly a burn, about the size of a pencil eraser in the lower right. About good condition overall.


1 in stock