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Useful Maps, ca. 1900

I'm one of those people who love maps. And I've come across all sorts of interesting maps in my research.

The most interesting of all is a perspective map of Buffalo from 1902, which the Library of Congress has put up in a zoomable version.

What you see at right is a corner of the city along the waterfront. That's maybe 2% of the map. The buildings are rendered with such detail that many are identifiable from photographs. There are a lot of perspective maps from the period, many in the Library of Congress's Cities & Towns collection. But I've never seen another with anything like this level of detail. It's like a Google Street View from 110 years ago.

If you want to see how people got about, you need a map like this Rand McNally 1897 map of Brooklyn. The red lines are the street car routes, and the dashed lines in the river are the ferry routes.

This is from the David Rumsey Map Collection, perhaps the largest available online. But there are dozens of smaller collections, many at state and municipal library sites.

Topographical maps from the U.S. Geological Survey offer fairly precise information about an area. For instance, the portion of the map at right is from 1898. I found it at the University of New Hampshire. It shows an area of Brooklyn between Prospect Park and Sheepshead Bay. In less developed areas like this, the USGS maps show individual buildings.

Interestingly, most maps of the period show the area's streets already laid out. But from this we can see it was still open ground. And from what I've read in newspapers of the time, some was still wooded.

Real estate atlases offer another interesting point of view. A number of these are online, including Baist's Real Estate Atlas of Surveys of Washington, D.C.  at the Library of Congress.

The close-up at left is of an area between G & H Streets, NE. The pink buildings are masonry, the yellow wood-frame. H Street is at the top of the image. Cabbage Alley, which I've labeled, was one of many inhabited alleys in Washington. The poor, mostly African-Americans, resided in the alleys. The dwellings were primitive at best and the bane of public health officials. And though the politicians and the press managed to ignore them for years, the map makers recorded them in detail.

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