This month’s map selection is the Travellers Map of Long Island, published by J.H. Colton, New York in 1850. This is a little gem of a map, only 7 3/8 inches in tall and 20 inches long, but it is packed with fine detail. The map is drawn on a small scale (ca. 1:14,000), but how delicate the engraving is. The Omnigraph Machine produced steel plates, which allowed for sharper and harder lines, and created a plate that lasted much longer than one made of copper. These plates for Long Island appear to have been used again and again, as many editions in dates ranging from 1843 to 1857 have survived to our time. The coloring for this map was done by hand, and you best see the contrast of the human touch of the colorist to the hard, machined lines of the engraving along the details of the shoreline. The size of the map underlines its designation as a traveler’s map as it could have been easily folded and carried in a wallet or bag, and its lack of ornament further underscores its utilitarian intention, as elaborate border ornaments were usually a hallmark of Colton maps. The size, this plainness, and the focus on roads and transportation surely make this map, as David Yehling Allen has observed, “a not-too distant-ancestor of the modern road map.”
J.H. Colton was an important map publisher in the 19th century, located in New York. His company published States maps, atlases, railroad and travel maps, and even Civil War maps. He brought his sons into his company in the 1850’s and it produced hundreds of maps until it merged with the Ohman Company in 1898 to become Ohman, Colton & Co. Look for more on J.H. Colton in future map posts.
The map is so detailed and covers such a diversity of landscapes, dozens of observations could be made. Here are three: The single line of the Long Island Railroad on this map ran from Brooklyn to Greenport and was designed to bring passengers to the ferries to Allens Point or Stonington in Connecticut, where they would continue on the last leg of their journey to Boston by rail. (Incidentally, LIRR failed this same year and it took more than a decade and the addition of a few more lines before it recovered.) Kings County is recognizable on this map, but Queens County is much larger than modern-day Queens. Nassau County was created in 1899 after a succession battle that began in 1898 when the western towns of Queens County were incorporated into the New York City, leaving Hempstead, North Hempstead and Oyster Bay as part of Queens County, but not part of New York City. And what happened to Barren Island, nestled between Coney Island and Rockaway Beach at the entrance to Jamaica Bay? It became part of Floyd Bennet Field as a result of a land reclamation project begun in 1926.
Please share your observations in the comments section below. Better yet, visit the Othmer Library at the Brooklyn Historical Society to see for yourself. You can view the BHS map collection anytime during the library’s open hours, Wed.-Sat., from 1-5 p.m. Appointments are not required to view most maps.
This map was cataloged with funding provided by a Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) “Hidden Collections” grant.