The Cayuga Museum of History and Art has opened their main fall exhibit You Are Here! Putting Auburn on the Map. The exhibit, which explores the variety and history of maps, and how they are made and read, was inspired by maps held in the Museum, mostly in the General John S. Clark collection. [Read more…] about Cayuga Museum Opens Historic Maps Exhibit
Exploring Historic Dutch New York has been co-published by the Museum of the City of New York and Dover Publications (2012). The easy-to-read guide is filled with hundreds of historic facts and anecdotes about the greater New York area. Exploring Historic Dutch New York is the only travel guide and reference book currently in print that encompasses the historic Dutch elements of the former New Netherland colony in present-day New York, New Jersey and Delaware.
Edited by Gajus Scheltema and Heleen Westerhuijs with an introduction by Russell Shorto, this guide tours important sites and also serves as a cultural and historical reference. Seventeen international scholars explore topics such as Dutch art and architecture, Dutch cooking, immigration during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, furniture and antiques, and more. Color photographs and maps are included throughout the guide. [Read more…] about New Guide: Exploring Historic Dutch New York
For more than 125 years, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the largest producer of printed topographic maps, has portrayed the complex geography of the nation. Prior to 2009, USGS topographic maps were created using traditional cartographic methods and printed using the lithographic printing process.
Now the USGS National Geospatial Program (NGP) is nearing completion of the conversion of these these historical printed topographic quadrangles to an electronic format (GeoPDF). The scanning and processing effort serves the dual purpose of creating a master catalog and digital archive copies of the irreplaceable collection of topographic maps in the USGS Reston Map Library, as well as making the maps available for viewing and download online.
USGS has digitized nearly 200,000 maps, including its collection for the contiguous United States and Hawaii. Remaining maps for Alaska, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Trust Territories are expected to become available in the coming months.
Local historical societies and municipal historians fill an important role of building awareness and appreciation of their community’s resources, which they often achieve by producing unguided walking and driving tours of local points of interest. By recognizing these points of interest and inviting others to share their appreciation, we can often encourage local historical homeowners to keep a neat garden or persuade local cemetery managers to tidy up.
Glenn L. Pearsall’s Echoes in these Mountains, is subtitled “Historic Sites and Stories Disappearing in Johnsburg, an Adirondack Community,” but thanks to Pearsall, a tireless advocate for local history, those historic sites and stories are being remembered.
The geography of Johnsburg, the largest township in New York State, is central to Echoes in these Mountains. The book is arranged in chapters highlighting various historic sites, all with handy maps to help locate them on the landscape. That approach – locating historical stories around town on the landscape – is part of what drives Pearsall’s personal exploration of his town’s history, and what led to the answer to an interesting historical question.
In 2006, as Pearsall began writing Echoes in these Mountains he set out to confirm long-held local oral history that Mathew Brady was born in Johnsburg and lived there until heading off to become, after his death, the most famous photographer of Civil War. (Brady’s photograph of Abraham Lincoln appears on the $5 bill – both the old and new designs).
From Brady’s personal letters historians had long known that he was born and spent his youth north of Lake George. Pearsall confirmed through vital records and census schedules that Brady had in fact grown up in Johnsburg, off the old road that went from the Glen to Wevertown (now the straightened Route 28). Bushwacking the old road near Gage Mountain, which now crosses private property, Pearsall found the remains of the homestead.
The story is illustrative of the trove of historical sites in Adirondack small towns, some yet hidden, some in plain sight. Echoes in these Mountains brings those in Johnsburg to life again.
The book is handy as well. GPS locations of each of the book’s 55 historic sites are included in addition to the maps, along with a driving tour. At more than 400 pages, this local history is comprehensive, and well footnoted, though disappointingly lacking an index when would make it all the more important a as reference work. But that’s a minor complaint considering the depth and breadth of Pearsall’s effort. It’s among the most important references to Johnsburg’s local history and an outstanding small study of one Adirondack community.
Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.
There is a new online tool developed by the New York Public Library to help people find their New York City relatives in the 1940 census, which was released April 2.
NARA released the census online for the first time, but transcribing and indexing the data is a slow process,that could take as long as six to eight months.
The Library’s online tool connects people to 1940 New York City phonebooks, which they digitized for the first time, where you can look anyone up by last name to find their address. Once you have the address, just enter it into a search field and up pops the census enumeration district number. Clicking the number takes you to the National Archives’website, where you can find the correct section of the census.
It’s a great research tool, but it’s also meant to grow into something more. When you find an address, the tool pins it to both a 1940 map and a contemporary map, so you can see how the area has changed (buildings torn down, freeways put up, etc). You’re then invited to leave a note attached to the pin – memories, info about who lived there, what the neighborhood was like, questions – and so forth. As people use the site, we’ll build a cultural map of New York in 1940 that will assist both professional historians and laypeople alike. Users have already found New Yorkers including Mayor John Lindsay, Jackie Kennedy, and Jane Jacobs.
Check out the Library’s new tool right here.
Columbia University Press has announced the publication of The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan, 1811-2011, edited by Hilary Ballon, which includes more than 150 illustrations and a gatefold of the original plan. The book accompanies the exhibit of the same name which just opened at the Museum of the City of New York.
Laying out Manhattan’s street grid and providing a rationale for the growth of New York was the city’s first great civic enterprise, not to mention a brazenly ambitious project and major milestone in the history of city planning. The grid created the physical conditions for business and society to flourish and embodied the drive and discipline for which the city would come to be known. The Greatest Grid does more than memorialize such a visionary effort, it also serves as reference full of rare images and information.
The Greatest Grid shares the history of the Commissioners’ plan, incorporating archival photos and illustrations, primary documents and testimony, and magnificent maps with essential analysis. The text, written by leading historians of New York City, follows the grid’s initial design, implementation, and evolution, and then speaks to its enduring influence. A foldout map, accompanied by explanatory notes, reproduces the Commissioners’ original plan, and additional maps and prints chart the city’s pre-1811 irregular growth patterns and local precedent for the grid’s design.
This text describes the social, political, and intellectual figures who were instrumental in remaking early New York, not in the image of old Europe but as a reflection of other American cities and a distinct New World sensibility. The grid reaffirmed old hierarchies while creating new opportunities for power and advancement, giving rise to the multicultural, highly networked landscape New Yorkers are familiar with today.
Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.
The first comprehensive exhibition to trace one of the most defining achievements in New York City’s history—the vision, planning, and implementation of Manhattan’s iconic grid system—will be on view at the Museum of the City of New York from December 5, 2011, through April 15, 2012.
The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan for Manhattan, 1811—2011 will document the development of the “Commissioners’ Plan,” which in 1811 specified numbered streets and avenues outlining equal rectangular blocks ranging from (today’s) Houston Street to 155th Street and from First Avenue to Twelfth Avenue.
The exhibition, which is organized on the occasion of the bicentennial of the plan, will elucidate, through maps, photographs, and other historic documents, this monumental infrastructure project—the city’s first such civic endeavor—which transformed New York throughout the 19th century and laid the foundation for its distinctive character.
Some 225 artifacts will be on view in the exhibition, which is organized chronologically and geographically, leading visitors from 17th-century, pre-grid New York through the planning process and the explicit 1811 Commissioners’ Plan, and from the massive and elaborate implementation of the plan to contemporary reflections on New York and visions for its future.
“The 1811 grid was a bold expression of optimism and ambition,” Susan Henshaw Jones, the Ronay Menschel Director of the Museum said. “City commissioners anticipated New York’s propulsive growth and projected that the city—still relatively small at the time and concentrated in what is now Lower Manhattan and Greenwich Village—would extend to the heights of Harlem. The 1811 plan has demonstrated remarkable longevity as well as the flexibility to adapt to two centuries of unforeseeable change, including modifications such as Broadway and Central Park. The real miracle of the plan was that it was enforced.”
The exhibition will showcase the illustrious—most notably, John Randel, Jr., who measured the grid with obsessive care. Randel was an apprentice to Simeon DeWitt, the surveyor general of New York State from 1784 to 1834. Between 1808 and 1810 Randel measured the lines of streets and avenues at right angles to each other, and recorded distances and details about the island, its features, and its inhabitants. This resulted in a manuscript map of the grid plan, which he completed by March 1811. Randel continued surveying the island from 1811 to 1817, setting marble monuments (one of which will be on view in the exhibition; there were to have been 1,800) to mark the intersections of the coming grid. Between 1818 and 1820 Randel drafted a series of 91 large-scale maps of the island, now known as the Randel Farm Maps (ten of which will be on view). An article written in the 1850s cited Randel as “one of our most accurate engineers,” further stating that his survey of New York City was done “with such a mathematical exactness as to defy an error of half an inch in ten miles.”
The commissioners’ detailed notes about the grid will also be on view in the exhibition, explaining the plan and expressing their intent to “lay out streets, roads, and public squares, of such width, extent, and direction, as to them shall seem most conducive to public good…” (From “An Act relative to Improvements, touching the laying out of Streets and roads in the City of New-York, and for other purposes. Passed April 3, 1807.” )
Other colorful figures will be highlighted, including William M. “Boss” Tweed, who implemented high-quality improvements, advanced services, and pushed forward many amenities while at the same time benefitting his associates.
Other rare and exquisitely detailed maps dating from 1776 to the present will be on view, alongside stunning archival photographs portraying the island of Manhattan throughout various stages of excavation. An extraordinary street-by-street explanation of the plan in the words of the commissioners—Gouverneur Morris, Simeon De Witt, and John Rutherfurd—will be on view as will other historic documents, plans, prints, and more.
The merits of the grid will be debated. Historians have viewed it as the emblem of democracy, with blocks that are equal and no inherently privileged sites. Historians have also praised its utility, its neat subdivisions that support real estate development. The rectangular lots of Manhattan’s grid parallel Thomas Jefferson’s national survey, which organized land sales in square-mile townships. The grid manifests Cartesian ideals of order, with streets and avenues that are numbered rather than named for trees, people, or places. Frederick Law Olmsted bemoaned its dumb utility and lack of monuments and other features. Jane Jacobs credited city streets with creating New York’s public realm. And Rem Koolhaas called the grid “the most courageous act of prediction in Western civilization: the land it divides, unoccupied; the population it describes, conjectural; the buildings it locates, phantoms; the activities it frames, nonexistent.”
The Greatest Grid will reframe ideas about New York, revealing the plan to be much more than a layout of streets and avenues. The grid provided a framework that balanced public order with private initiative. It predetermined the placement of the city’s infrastructure, including transportation services, the delivery of electricity and water, and most other interactions. Manhattan’s grid has provided a remarkably flexible framework for growth and change.
Visitors will have the opportunity to consider New York’s preparation for the future and whether or not the grid will enable the city to face 21st-century challenges. New proposals for the city, the results of a competition, will be on view in a separate, related exhibition co-sponsored by the Architectural League. The Greatest Grid will also feature “12 x 155,” a conceptual art video by artist Neil Goldberg along with other artistic responses, such as original drawings from the graphic novel City of Glass (Picador, 2004) by Paul Auster, illustrated by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli
The Greatest Grid is co-sponsored by the Manhattan Borough President’s Office.
The exhibition is accompanied by a companion book of the same title, co-published by the Museum of the City of New York and Columbia University Press. Dr. Hilary Ballon, University Professor of Urban Studies & Architecture at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University, conceived of the exhibition, is its curator, and is the editor of the companion book.
A related exhibition, on view concurrently at the Museum, will feature the results of a competition in which architects and planners were asked for submissions using the Manhattan street grid as a catalyst for thinking about the present and future of New York; this exhibition is co-sponsored by the Architectural League of New York.
There is a new New York City addition to the Big Map Blog, a bird’s-eye view of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1885 made by noted print makers Currier & Ives. The image is freely downloadable by anyone at its highest resolution [8,999px × 6,293px].
The Big Map Blog was begun in March and already has a considerable number of large, unusual maps. “I came across many of the maps you’ll see on the Big Map Blog while doing research for a film I’m working on,” The Big Map Blog’s curator, who calls himself 59 King, reports. “While searching, I found thousands of old, beautiful maps that are sadly being kept from the public that deserves them — sometimes by clumsy or unwieldy government ftp sites, and other times by archives with steep fees for research, and steeper fees for reproduction. I felt strongly that something should be done about this.”
The site adds new maps five days a week. There are also several other NYC maps on the Big Map Blog, which can be found using the New York City tag.
On Friday, May 6, 2011, the Great Lakes Seaway Trail Discovery Center in Sackets Harbor, NY, opens for the spring season with a special exhibit of New York’s Historic Military Maps from 1750 to 1820. At 6:30 pm that evening living history re-enactor Randy Patten will share his collection of historic maps, accouterments and artifacts from the French and Indian War.
Patten says, “These maps provide a fascinating look into America’s history as it occurred in New York State. Several show the local Northern New York area as well as all of New York state and parts of Canada and Pennsylvania, plus the waterways that people traveled to establish settlements and forts in such places as Oswego and Youngstown.”
Over the past 30 years, Patten has traveled to the Library of Congress and as far as Great Britain to obtain color copies of original maps, including some from the collection of King George III. Patten describes the hand-drawn maps as “works of art.”
The presentation by the retired New York State Trooper will include a look at French and Indian War artifacts, a British broadsword from a man-of-war used in the War of 1812, and a lesson on historic musket safety.
The exhibit of more than 50 historic maps will be on display Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 5 pm at the Great Lakes Seaway Trail Discovery Center through June 26, 2011. The Center is located at 401 W. Main Street. Day admission is $4. Evening program admission is $5.
For more information on the Great Lakes Seaway Trail Discovery Center and the Great Lakes Seaway Trail National Scenic Byway, visit www.seawaytrail.com or call 315-646-1000.