For most of the 21st century, visitors to the North Platte office building at 501 S. Jeffers St. could see a massive Civil War-era U.S. map in the conference room.
Only now, as Doug Peterson and wife Brenda Grant prepare to sell their building, are they learning how unusual their map is.
They’re preparing to donate the 6-foot-square map to the Lincoln County Historical Museum, Grant said Saturday.
“I live in a house of windows,” said the owner of BG Stables near Interstate 80. “I don’t have a space 6-foot by 6-foot to spare.”
She bought the weathered but durable map 15 to 18 years ago at an antique flea market in Shipshewana, Indiana, east of South Bend.
Dated 1861, it shows not merely the boundaries, counties and cities of the nation’s territories and then-34 states but also 15 charts, smaller maps and illustrations mostly reflecting 1860 census data.
“Looking at the Nebraska outline there (on it), I thought it was really neat,” Grant said. “I love history. We live in Buffalo Bill’s hometown. How could you not love history?”
They hung it in Peterson’s Professional Insurance Advisors LLC building on Jeffers, where it has rarely failed to attract comments from visitors.
But Peterson has relocated to the third floor of the NebraskaLand National Bank building at 1400 S. Dewey St. Some of his other tenants also are moving.
The couple plans Wednesday to close their building’s sale to Dave and Matt Pederson, who plan to relocate their family law firm there from the downtown Wells Fargo & Co. building.
After deciding they couldn’t take the map home, Grant said, she put out online inquiries seeking potential buyers.
But she also set out to find out what her 159-year-old map might be worth.
Grant called Geographicus Rare Antique Maps, based in Brooklyn, New York, whose website showed an 1861 U.S. map similar to hers.
“I said, ‘I’m looking at this map,’” she said. ‘His reply was, ‘We have hundreds of maps. Which one are you looking at?’”
When she told him, the Brooklyn dealer said he had just sold such a map for $7,000.
It’s a second-edition copy of the “Washington Map,” first created in 1860 by Matthew Fontaine Maury, superintendent of the U.S. Naval Observatory.
A Virginian and one of his generation’s foremost navigators, scientists and cartographers, Maury resigned to join the Confederacy when the Civil War broke out.
As a result, his name and likeness were stricken from the 1861 version of his map. But his impressive summary of information remains.
Grant’s map, another copy of which resides at the Library of Congress, shows the boundaries and organization dates of the 36 counties in then 7-year-old Nebraska Territory.
Its chart of 1860 U.S. county populations includes the 114 people in Nebraska’s brand-new but loosely organized Shorter County. It isn’t depicted on the map, but it would be reorganized and renamed Lincoln County in 1866.
Grant said she’s long loved the 1861 map’s inclusion of possible routes for a transcontinental railroad from surveys done by the U.S. Army between 1853 and 1855.
It shows the eventual Union Pacific, organized a year later, running not along the South Platte River but northwest up the North Platte River valley. U.P. built the current branch line there much later.
Grant said she received enthusiastic bids from as far away as California and down into Mexico. But she decided to donate the map instead.
“Doug came home one night,” she said, “and I said, ‘I’ve been thinking about this all day. I’m not going to sell it for a pittance of what it’s worth, but I will donate it to the museum.’”
She’ll take the map to the county historical museum in the next few days, Grant said. Jim Griffin, the museum’s director and curator, said it should mesh well with displays on Fort McPherson, organized in 1863.
“I think it’ll give people a good idea of what was known about the country at that time,” he said.
Except, it turns out, for the exact boundary of Nebraska Territory on the eve of civil war.
Further investigation by The Telegraph found that both the Geographicus website and the Library of Congress have two different versions of the 1861 map soon to reside at the museum.
Nebraska Territory, which originally stretched north and west to the Canadian border and the Rocky Mountains, was shrunk twice by Congress in a two-day period as Abraham Lincoln prepared to assume the presidency on March 4, 1861.
Both maps show the brand-new Colorado Territory, created to the south on Feb. 28, as well as the massive Dakota Territory to the north that Congress created on March 2.
But the bill creating Dakota did more than that.
It also gave Nebraska Territory a sliver of land from Washington Territory to square off an “extended” Panhandle across most of southern Wyoming. (It would be chopped to its current size in 1863, four years before statehood.)
Grant’s map doesn’t include the added sliver. The version Geographicus told her about — the one that sold for $7,000 — does.
Like a two-headed coin or a misprinted dollar bill, the difference suggests the U.S. government sold Grant’s map for only a brief time before issuing a corrected map.
That only makes her map more special, she said.
“I hope people go out (to the museum) and look at this,” she said. “I think this is an awesome piece.”