MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s a geographic oddity — that “top hat” on Minnesota, the little jog into Canada, and Charles from Golden Valley wants to know: Why is it there?
It stems from a mistake made by a mapmaker in the late 1700s. You remember the Revolutionary War, right? Well the Treaty of Paris officially ended it in 1783 and that’s when the Americans and the Brits decided on our northern border.
The “top hat” was supposed to go from the northwestern point of Lake of the Woods due west to the Mississippi River. Geography buffs can probably spot the problem. The Mississippi River ends 140 miles south of the “top hat.”
The mapmaker also thought the Lake of the Woods was round, when it isn’t.
When everyone realized the mistake about 14 years later, the Brits proposed a change, but the Americans said: Nope, we want that northwesternmost part of Lake of the Woods, which is why that “top hat” is called the northwest angle.
A treaty wasn’t signed for another 45 years, but those 19th century Americans stuck to their guns. They knew this 123 square mile piece probably wasn’t worth very much, but they didn’t want to do anything to change the treaty that gave the U.S. its independence.