The Northwest Angle

On June 19, 2008 · 5 Comments

I can’t believe I haven’t discussed the Northwest Angle yet, perhaps the most famous and renowned national border anomaly in North America. Way back when I started Twelve Mile Circle I featured Michigan’s Lost Peninsula and I’ve long had a fansite devoted to my visit to Point Roberts, Washington, but somehow the Northwest Angle fell through the cracks until today.

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The Northwest Angle is the northernmost point in Minnesota and in the "lower 48" states as well. One would have to travel all the way to Alaska to find another spot in the United States north of the 49th parallel.

It is also an exclave, a parcel of land belonging to the United States but not physically contiguous with the rest of the country. Visitors can fly to it by float plane or ski plane depending on the season, or they can cruise across Lake of the Woods by boat, but the only access by land goes through Canada.

Many decades passed between the time when explorers of European descent first traversed the great interior of the continent until surveyors could map it accurately. Geographers and diplomats made their best guesses based on limited information passed along by adventurers and trappers. At the conclusion of the American Revolution, the Treaty of Paris of 1783 established a boundary between British territory and the new United States. It extended a line through Lake of the Woods to its northwest corner, and then straight west to the Mississippi River.

… thence through the middle of said Long Lake and the water communication between it and the Lake of the Woods, to the said Lake of the Woods; thence through the said lake to the most northwesternmost point thereof, and from thence on a due west course to the river Mississippi; thence by a line to be drawn along the middle of the said river Mississippi…

But that was impossible! Unbeknownst to experts at the time, the Mississippi River didn’t extend that far north. A subsequent agreement corrected the error by placing a border along the 49th parallel, leaving that little notch on Lake of the Woods to stand out on its own.

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There are also a couple of other exclaves along Lake of the Woods. Elm Point and Buffalo Point are much smaller than the Northwest Angle but they came into existence through the same set of historical facts.

People do live within the exclaves and their neighboring islands. The 2000 United States census recorded 152 inhabitants, with 118 in the exclaves and 34 on the islands.

On June 19, 2008 · 5 Comments

5 Responses to “The Northwest Angle”

  1. […] There are various small locations in the United States that are physically disconnected from the rest of the country. Two of those spots require people to clear immigration and customs to enter Canada, then do it all over again to get to the small parcel, unless you want to take a boat. I’ve featured those locations previously: Point Roberts, Washington and Minnesota’s Northwest Angle. […]

  2. […] on little areas of the U.S. separated from the rest of the country such as Point Roberts, the Northwest Angle and Alburg, Vermont. Here I give equal time to the Canadians by outlining a couple of instances […]

  3. Greg says:

    Am I correct in guessing that the boundary marker (there must be one; maybe a buoy?) marking the northernmost point of the Angle is maybe the toughest marker to get to that’s not behind some sort of armed guard? The terrain around there looks awful.

    • Great question! Actually, I’m not sure. I’ve always focused on the land portion of the Northwest Angle. Anyone on the Intertubes have on-the-water experience with that?

  4. David says:

    I’ve actually been to the Northwest Angle (around the time that you posted this piece in your blog that I’m just now discovering and asking myself why I didn’t know of this sooner), and wrote a little piece about the visit, how to get there, and what to find there, for the local paper.

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