By Emily Bialkowski
It’s the stuff you find in history books, but it’s also the stuff that influences land acquisitions and land disputes today.
The Minnesota-Iowa state line was established in 1852 by Captain Andrew Talcott and hasn’t been resurveyed since. A joint effort between Allamakee County, Iowa and Houston County, Minn. to reestablish the boundary is poised to get underway.
Houston County Surveyor Dick Walter is leading the charge from the Gopher State on this cooperative project.
“It is a pretty significant line,” Walter said. “By using a joint effort both states are being represented and, with each doing research, it will save both counties time and money.”
More than 160 years has elapsed since anyone has thought to take on such a project, and it begs the question: Why?
Walter said he, too, doesn’t really know why it’s taken so long for someone to step up but offered the following story.
“Several years back I was at a seminar in Waukon, Iowa and there was a land surveyor from Iowa there who was on their state board. I told him I was the Houston County
County surveyor on the state line. He said any work on the state line needs to be represented by the Iowa land surveyors, too.
“As I did some research on surveys that were being done on the line, I noticed some surveyors totally ignored a lot of evidence that came from Iowa. That got me thinking.
“Some of the monuments on that state line go to the north and some go to the south. It becomes confusing when you find a monument on the ground – is that going into Minnesota or going into Iowa,” Walter questioned.
“Once I ran into this a few times I thought maybe what we need to do – in best interest of the public – is maybe we need to have a cooperative effort and jointly do this and have both states sign off on it so the representation is there and the research is there based on best evidence.”
Walter is in the business accuracy – accurately plotting out land divisions, borders, boundaries and, in surveyor language, Sections and Quarter Sections. He said he wonders how history has influenced such boundaries.
“Everything we do is based on history. When you’re talking 150 years, you ask yourself did things get moved around? Were they all up front protecting the original evidence?”
“So many times people buy land and discussions take place between the realtor and the bank. The last thing they think about is where are my boundaries, and really that’s one of the most important parts of the property – the boundaries. Through the course of history this has gotten watered down, but all land ownership in Minnesota is tied to corners.”
It is with this passion Walter will move forward with his Iowa counterparts and begin re-establishing the state line.
This project will undoubtedly take the surveyors down a path of historic documentation, but you may be interested to know that anecdotal evidence does have a place in the record books.
In 2009 when Walter was surveying on the state line for a bridge replacement project on Jessie James Road, an older gentleman by the name of Roald Selness came upon his work and questioned what was going on.
After Walter explained what he and his crew were doing, Selness said, “The state line is not there; it’s right down here.”
“I go down in the weeds with a machete and start cutting my way through, and here I find this brass monument sticking up stamped right on it the section corner it was marking and calling it the Iowa line,” Walter said.
Selness’ remarks are permanently filed on the Certificate of Location of Government Corner.
You just never know when a bit of history may turn up, and it’ll be a walk through time as Allamakee County and Houston County undertake this momentous project.
For more information on the Iowa-Minnesota state line the public can visit a monument at the north end of New Albin, Iowa. Also, the Initial Point Post is approximately four miles west of New Albin on the south side of County Road 2 and is also open to the public.