What Can We Learn from Interesting Historic Maps of the Upper Valley?

Vintage Cartography: Art and Science.

In doing research on early Upper Valley settlement, I came across some great early maps that have been digitized and made available on-line.  The inset below represents northern Windsor County, and southern Orange County VT, from the 1779 map by Sauthier.  The map is titled:  "A Chorographical Map of the Province of New York in North America Divided into Counties, Manors, Patents and Townships Exhibiting Likewise All the Private Grants of Land Made and Located in that Province.  Compiled from Actual Surveys Deposited in the Patent Office at New York.  By Order of his Excellency Major General William Tryon, by Claude Joseph Sauthier Esquire, London." 

1779 Sauthier Map Inset, depicting the White River Valley and surrounding townships.

The 1779 Sauthier map was created before Vermont became a state, and during the time both New York and New Hampshire claimed the land that is now Vermont.

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If you look closely, you can see that there were certainly some errors in the surveys that generated this map.  A fair amount of conjecture probably went into the drafting of the map in the less explored wilderness areas.  The general pattern of the White River is recognizable, however it is listed as what we know today as the Ompompanoosuc River to the east, (flowing through Norwich), and as the White River flowing into it from the west, sort of the two rivers combined.  

Also, some township names will seem odd to those of us today.  The town of Hartford is where Hartland is today.  Hartford is instead, named "Ware".  Above Norwich, and below Thetford is a town called "Pagnell" (I think).  Chelsea is "Charlotte",  Vershire looks like "Gageborough" and Bradford is called "Mooretown".

Places like Rochester, Hancock, and Granville, near the headwaters of the White River hadn't even been granted or settled at this point.

The full 1779 Sauthier map can be seen at Library of Congress website:


1795  "Carey" Map

The above Carey map was drafted sixteen years later, in 1795  On this map we  see major pathways drawn in.   Rochester and Hancock are also now drawn in.  Gaysville is also settled, but during this time it was known as "Kingston".  Chelsea is now "Turnersburg".  And one name I like, is the Waterquechee River, which is now spelled Ottaquechee.

1797 Sotzman Map

The above map inset, from a 1797 map by Sotzman, was drafted in Hamburg, Germany, and seems a bit more accurate than the 1795 Sauthier map, though it's the first map I've seen with the county name "Grafschaft" (similar to Grafton, in NH).  Schaft can be translated from German as "community".

Close-up of Carey's 1822 Map

By 1822, plenty of settlement, surveying, and migration inland had taken place.  Carey's upgraded 1822 map was in color and more accurate.  We can see all three branches of the White River, plus the Main branch reaching up into Hancock and Kingston (Granville VT).

Pathways are also drawn in to approximate major routes. Some of theses routes we still use today, such as the scenic Vermont Route 110, which travels along the First Branch of the White River through Tunbridge and Chelsea into Washington VT.  Many of these pathways began as Native American foot trails, following certain streams and tributaries to their sources and then going through a gap in the mountains.  Finally they would descend down another river valley to the lowlands on the other side of the mountains. 

Inset of 1831 Finley Map

One of my favorite early maps of Vermont, for pure visual appeal, is the Finley map above, from 1831.  River routes are becoming much more accurate, and the town names are starting to appear as we know them today.  The White River and Ompompanoosuc riverways are nicely drawn in.

1838 Map by Bradford

This 1838 map by Bradford is also visually appealing and probably more accurate than previous versions.  Visual appeal is created by color and shading.  Simplicity and ease of viewing is created by removing Township boundary lines, allowing one to focus on the major rivers, their branches and tributaries, and mountain peaks and ranges.  This map shows how important waterways were in the north country in 1838, at a time when railroad transportation was about to move in to Vermont.

                                                    Inset from 1856 Colton Map

As you can see, things have gotten a lot busier by 1856, both in terms of commerce and transportation, and the map itself is much busier.  In addition to the riverways, place names, and mountain peaks, we see Township boundaries, railroad lines and roadways.  We also have the names of the counties in large print, and each county has its own color.  Townships are in smaller bold print, and small place names, such as villages, are in small italic print.  Examples of villages now on the map include Post Mills, White River Junction, and Cornish Flats.  Even some stores are listed.  Just east of the word "Barnard" is "Snows Store".  As transportation improved, and more and more information was to be displayed on maps, the maps tended to become more complicated and difficult to read.

A nice feature of the 1856 Colton map is that it also includes major features in adjacent New Hampshire.  We see the Boston, Concord and Maine Railroad running from above Haverhill NH, through Warren and Wentworth and on toward W. Rumney.  Also depicted is the Northern Railroad, from West Lebanon, through Canaan, Grafton, Danbury, West Andover, NH.  Roadways in New Hampshire that were part of the New Hampshire Turnpike system show up nicely without all the extra lines, as on the Vermont side of the map.

Inset from Burgett Map of 1876

Burgett's map from 1876 shows us another variation in style.  This map has bold county lines, and different colors for adjacent townships.  In the twenty years since Colton's map, there has been an increase in roads and railroad lines.  The roads are becoming more prominent as well, with thicker lines used to denote them. 

In 1879 the United States Geological Survey, (USGS) was created.  Maps of the United States would become much more accurate and comprehensive.

USGS Maps show topographic lines which are lines of equal elevation.  They can be quite dramatic and closely drawn when the land is steep.  In a wide river valley or coastline, the lines are spread out, indicating relatively flat terrain. 

The confluence of the Ottaquechee and Connecticut Rivers in North Hartland VT. 

USGS 1908 15 Minute Series Map

The confluence of the White River and Connecticut River at White River Junction, Vermont

and West Lebanon NH.  1908 USGS Map

Also depicted on the 1908 map close-up above are:  The Mascoma River, The Boston and Maine Railroad, Crafts Hill, Wilder Village, and many buildings shown as small dark squares.  Some streets are named too, such as Christian Street just west of Wilder village.  The bridge connecting Vermont to New Hampshire at Wilder also shows up nicely.

We can learn many things from exploring and examining the details found in maps, especially a group of maps of the same area over time.  We can use historical maps as aides to study settlement patterns over time.  Many features in old maps not only give us clues to the way things used to be, but also show us the ways in which generations before us viewed and interpreted their world, what was important to them in that world, and how they used that world.

Some settlements changed their names.  Some disappeared altogether.  Some were logging camps and mill sites long ago. Clues about these settlements exist on historic maps and in the back country areas that those maps represent.  Rivers change courses due to severe weather events, and coastlines and shorelines change over time.

I really enjoy old maps because of the clues they hold to the past, and the ways in which they are depicted.  They are artistic expressions of geographic facts and sometimes, conjecture. 

USGS Map 1932

Most of the maps for this article are courtesy of VTRoads.com which is a great website.

The USGS map images came from the University of Texas at http://legacy.lib.utexas.edu/maps/topo/vermont/

Thanks for reading and subscribing to "Old Roads, Rivers and Rails" blog.  I'm Bob Totz, retired Vermont Postmaster, Geographer, former choir director and composer and performer of folk songs.   

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