Historic Maps in Vermont and New Hampshire
Many towns in Vermont have Proprietor’s Maps. Towns were first granted to individuals—proprietors—who then met to divide up the land into lots. The lots were equally divided. Often the first division was in lots of 100 acres while the second division was in lots of 50 acres. Land was also set aside for schools and the ministry. Often the land was divided by the proprietors sight-unseen, as proprietors often resold the land to actual settlers. Usually these first town maps can be located in the town office. These can also be purchased here.
Panoramic Maps or “Bird’s-Eye Views”
The bird’s-eye view, or panorama, is a print showing a community as seen from the air. These maps became very popular at the end of the nineteenth century and were produced by traveling artists. Real estate agents and chambers of commerce used the maps to promote sales to prospective buyers of homes and business properties.
The Vermont Historical Society has originals or reproductions of about half of the known views of Vermont towns. In spring 1983 the New Hampshire Historical Society published a special issue of Historical New Hampshire focusing on bird’s-eye views. It includes a checklist of maps of New Hampshire towns. The Library of Congress also has an extensive collection that includes some local maps. l
Frederick W. Beers published very detailed maps of New England counties and towns during the late nineteenth century. Vermont and New Hampshire county maps date from the 1870s. These maps include the names and locations of residents and businesses as well as the locations of schools, churches, cemeteries. In addition to maps, the county atlases provide statistical information, engravings of important businesses, town histories, and biographies of prominent citizens. Many of these atlases can be found in local libraries and historical societies; they are rare and should be treated with care. Some 1876 Beers maps (also H.W. Burgett & Co.) can be found at www.davidrumsey.com. You can purchase Beers maps here.
United States Geological Survey (USGS) Maps
The United States Geological Survey began its topographic atlas of the United States in 1882. The University of New Hampshire Library’s Government Information Department holds a working collection of over 55,000 paper USGS maps. This online collection of over 1,500 USGS topographic maps includes complete geographical coverage of New England and New York from the 1890s to 1950s.
Current USGS topographic maps are readily available in both paper from from USGS directly, on CD-ROM, and on the internet. They are also often available in the larger public libraries.
Sanborn maps date from 1867 and depict the commercial, industrial, and residential sections of some twelve thousand cities and towns in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The maps were designed to assist fire insurance agents in determining the degree of hazard associated with a particular property and therefore show the size, shape, and construction of dwellings, commercial buildings, and factories as well as fire walls, locations of windows and doors, sprinkler systems, and types of roofs. The maps also indicate widths and names of streets, property boundaries, building use, and house and block numbers. They show the locations of water mains, giving their dimensions, and of fire alarm boxes and hydrants. Sanborn maps are thus an unrivaled source of information about the structure and use of buildings in American cities and towns.
The Bailey-Howe Library Map Room at the University of Vermont has Sanborn maps in its collection. You can also access Sanborn maps online through the Brooks Memorial Library and Vermont Historical Society and through microfilm at the Department of Libraries in Montpelier.