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General Map of the Native Vegetation of Wisconsin

Wisconsin Geological Survey

Prairies, Wetlands, and Trees
This is one of the earliest maps to show Wisconsin’s native vegetation —including the extensive forests that made northern Wisconsin a major lumber-producing area from the 1840s through the early 1900s.

The map shows extensive forests of oak, maple, hardwoods and evergreens, as well as native prairies and wetlands. Lumberjacks floated logs down Great Lakes tributaries to sawmills located in many port cities, where lumber schooners filled their holds for delivery points downlake.

Peshtigo’s history dramatically illustrates the destructive effect of lumbering at its worst. In 1871, the town burned to the ground the night of October 8 in a great conflagration that killed at least 800 people and consumed 2,400 square miles of timberland along the western and eastern shores of Green Bay.

In terms of lives lost, the Peshtigo Fire was much worse than the famed Chicago Fire on the same date. The carelessness of hunters, lumberjacks, farmers and railroad workers, combined with extremely dry weather and strong northeasterly winds, caused many small fires to develop into a firestorm fed by the debris of lumbering.

This map was published as a plate in the Atlas of the Geological Survey of Wisconsin. Thomas C. Chamberlin, chief geologist of the survey (and president of the University of Wisconsin from 1887 to 1892), used the extensive notes on vegetation gathered by his team of topographers, who later also surveyed the state’s glacial deposits.