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Warren Upham & Glacial Lake Agassiz

Warren Upham (left) and map of Glacial Lake Agassiz
Map Credit: Manitoba Historical Maps
Licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Warren Upham (left) and map of Glacial Lake Agassiz

In 1908, a railroad station in McHenry County, North Dakota, was platted and incorporated. We know the town as Upham, located about 50 miles northeast of Minot. But, unlike many towns that were named for the founder or early settler, Upham was named in honor of geologist Warren Upham.

Born in New Hampshire in 1850, Upham graduated from Dartmouth College in 1871. After a short stint working in New Hampshire, Upham was hired by the U.S. Geological Survey. In 1879, his work took him to western Minnesota to work on the geology of what would become known as glacial Lake Agassiz.

There had been speculation that features of the landscape stretching from northern Minnesota through North Dakota, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and elsewhere was the result of glaciers. Geologist William Keating, for example, studied the area in and around the Red River Valley in the early 1800s and hypothesized that it was a lakebed.

Later, over the course of seven years and traveling by foot, horseback, and wagon, Upham investigated the topography and geology, finally charting the existence of what we now know as glacial lakebed. Upham named the glacial lake in honor of Louis Agassiz.

Agassiz, considered the father of glacial geology, was born in Switzerland in 1807 was a professor in Switzerland where he studied glaciers. He came to the United States in the 1840s to lecture and study geology, subsequently accepting a professorship at Harvard University where he continued to work on glacial geology. His work on glaciers, include his hypothesis of an ancient “Ice Age,” and he even came west to the Great Plains during the summer of 1868, where he found evidence of glaciation.

Upham’s 700+ page report, The Glacial Lake Agassiz, was published by the United States Geological Survey. Although Upham was perhaps given little recognition at the time, his monograph on glacial Lake Agassiz is highly regarded for its accuracy and detail. You can page through the report here.

Chuck Lura has a broad knowledge of "Natural North Dakota"and loves sharing that knowledge with others. Since 2005, Chuck has written a weekly column, “Naturalist at Large,” for the Lake Metigoshe Mirror, and his “The Naturalist” columns appear in several other weekly North Dakota newspapers.
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