Complementary Collections: A Survey Begins

On March 1, 1872 the legislature of the state of Minnesota approved a bill that ordered the commencement of a geological and natural history survey of the state, to be implemented and overseen by the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota. The law came with an appropriation of $1,000 to be used in the execution of the work. Collections that are not part of the Exploring grant, but that provide insight into the development of the Survey, as ordered by the legislature, add to our understanding of how the Survey began. The minutes and supplements of the Board of Regents, and the collection of papers of University President William Watts Folwell, provide added insight into the initiation and original implementation of the Survey. Though the law was enacted in March, preparations didn’t begin in earnest until the summer of 1872, and resulted in a “retrospective” survey that did not commence until October.

According to the Minutes of the Board of Regents from March 26, 1872, “The question of prosecuting the Geological Survey was referred to the Executive Committee.” Three months later, at the June 27, 1872 meeting of the governing body, the question was brought into action:

“The following resolution was adopted. Resolved – that the President of the University be – he has hereby requested to invite N.H. Winchell to call upon the Board of Regents at their next meeting to be held at the Executive Room in the Capitol in St. Paul July 15 – and to notify him that the necessary expense of his trip will be defrayed by the board.”

Winchell.jpgFollowing his graduation from the University of Michigan in the 1860’s, Newton Horace Winchell (at left) worked alongside his older brother Alexander Winchell, professor of geology at the University of Michigan, on the survey of Michigan, assisted the state geologist of Ohio, and performed geological studies in New Mexico as well.

The July 15 Board of Regents meeting minutes document Winchell’s appearance before the board, “Professor N.H. Winchell of Michigan having been previously invited appeared before the Board and made some remarks upon his proposed connection of the University.” At the meeting, a committee was appointed to consult with Winchell on matters related to initiating the state survey. The following day, July 16, the consulting committee filed a report with the Board, which was summarized in the minutes as follows:

“The Committee on Mr. Winchell reported verbally that he was willing to take charge of the Geological Survey of the state.”

Winchell’s correspondence with University President William Watts Folwell (who had been ordered by the Regents to summon Winchell to appear before them) are contained in the William Watts Folwell papers, and document Winchell’s approach to the survey work.


Newton Horace Winchell to William Watts Folwell, August 15, 1872:

“Friend Folwell,

…. I gathered from conversation with members of the Board (particularly Pillsbury) that there would be enough assistance in the way of men and means to make a reconnaissance of the state this fall, although it would have to be a hasty and incomplete one. This preliminary survey of Ohio when started 4 years ago under Dr. Newberry occupied the full coop. of geologists the whole of the first season that too in a state which affords ample traveling facilities. You can see that very little can be done in that way in Minnesota, when the greater share of the only fund ($1,000) to be devoted to the survey is absorbed in paying salary of the one man employed.

Still I think I can see the fix the Board is in and will do the best I can with the means at disposal. It would be folly however to attempt a preliminary survey with no means, especially in such a state as Minnesota.

I can get up a statement of the [sic] of the survey in due form. A condensation of the geology of the state, so far as at present known, bringing out their features which make a survey desirable and necessary, and sketch in general what it must be the aim of the survey to accomplish. There, with what running about I can do myself, and a little geological map, seem to be the only attainable ends this year. But it better not be called a preliminary survey. It are more correctly a retrospective survey with a view to attaining a sure base for operation in a careful and complete survey in the future.

In my report I would bring out the qualities of the various building stones of the state, so far as they are known or can be ascertained…”

Winchell kept notes of his retrospective survey of the state of Minnesota in the back of an old notebook that he kept while working for the state survey of Ohio. The mere separation of half of a blank page provides a distinction between the notations of the geological features of these separate states. The first entry for Minnesota reads, “October 4, 1872, Section of the left bank of the Mississippi at the University…” This field notebook, located in Folder 2, Box 3 of the Newton Horace Winchell papers, was scanned by Digital Library Services as a part of the Exploring grant project, and within a few months can be viewed (at a larger size and at a better quality than the reference images included below) in UMedia. Those interested can read Winchell’s initial observations of the geology of the University campus in Minneapolis, and follow, page by page, as he traveled down the Mississippi River from Minneapolis to St. Paul and on to Red Wing and Winona in the fall of 1872.

Winchell-Notebook2.jpg Winchell-Notebook3.jpg Winchell-Notebook4.jpg

A report of Winchell’s work of the inaugural year of the Survey can be found on the University’s Digital Conservancy. In the report, Winchell outlined the work he performed from September 1 – November 12, 1872 (ending on the first fall of snow), which included a “general reconnaissance” of the state by visiting parts easily accessible by railroad. In addition to his report of some initial observations of the types of stones present, he also provided a concise overview of previous explorations of the state, and offered a chapter which commented upon the field of geology and its importance to scientific understanding.