Exhibitions

Washington County, Maine (Camden, Me.: Camden Herald Pub. Co., ca. 1960) OS-1960-125

Washington County, Maine: 2,528 Sq. Miles of Vacation Delights (Camden, Me.: Camden Herald Pub. Co. for the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, ca. 1960)

According to the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, Maine’s most eastern towns, points of land, and landmarks are not to be missed. The chamber’s ca. 1960 map of “Sunrise County” ~ Washington County, Maine: 2,528 Sq. Miles of Vacation Delights ~ is a promotional travel map and information brochure designed to fit in small, convenient spaces for those on the go. Sandwiched between complimentary colors, skewered by infrastructure, and seasoned with place names, this map dishes out Washington County (with a side of interesting tidbits) as a feast for the eyes of the voracious consumer. For an advertising map, its recipe is strategic and tested; create a map that portrays Washington County as a vacation destination - a rare place unrivaled in location and blessed each morning by the nation’s first rays of sunlight. As a Maine sightseeing map, Washington County, Maine is part of an important genre that has the singular and collective ability to transcend basic roadmaps or items of Vacationland tourist ephemera and to emerge as advertising campaigns, articles of endorsement, public fundraisers, and creators of regional identity.

The basic formula for a mid-twentieth century tourism map of Maine seems to call for common stylistic elements that cohesively brand the state as someplace “extraordinary” in comparison to all those other “ordinary” places (Hummon 1988, 185). Compared to the 1963 Map of the State of Maine by L. S. Phillips, the formula becomes obvious; visual images promote and define the area’s picturesque identity borders, vignettes show unique destinations filled with old houses, natural wonders and recreational opportunities for everyone, while slogans and text profess statements of singularity, heritage, leisure, and opportunity (Hummon 1988, 195; Hanna and Del Casino 2003). Promotional maps communicate more than just a route number. They champion for the importance of first hand experience, the classification and categorization of place, and encourage the imaginative upkeep of regional identity though commodification. Like a fiction novel, Maine, both statewide and in Washington County, becomes a location outside of reality and different from everywhere else; a place so extraordinary you have to see it to believe it.

Although the Map of the State of Maine seemed to consider the easternmost county an afterthought, looking at the Washington County, Maine map in the context of the genre demonstrates a shared objective for the establishment of “place.”  It is widely accepted that Maine is “Vacationland,” but the promotional agenda seen in this Chamber of Commerce map is based on defining Washington County as a “place” exclusive from the rest of the state. The emphasis on eastern location becomes a defining promotional theme. Surrounded by areas too uninteresting and redundant to delineate, the county itself falls in the eastern quadrant of the map, as does the large north arrow, eye-catching sun logo, stylized textual labels, and zoomed out reference map. The boundary of Washington County is thus identified as a unique and exclusive place on the fringe of society, where roads covering “2,528 sq. Miles of Vacation Delights,” all converge towards Lubec and West Quoddy.

Further information on the back of the map adds depth and meaning to the place names and sketches while continuing to sell Washington County as a unique destination. Advice and ideas are dolled out to encourage the capturing and retention of essence of place, wile stories of Washington County’s rich history (minus Native Americans, though they sell “curios” at the reservations), beautiful landscape, and bountiful resources are rendered hallmarks strategically chosen to be consumed, collected, printed, and shared with friends and family back home.

In a quest to construct a marketable image, it is not surprising to see this type of selective filtering in an effort to create an imagined place ideally devoid of anxieties and filled with perfection. As a genre, there is much that can be learned about the mindset of the nation, state and traveler during a particular time in history. Promotional travel maps paved the road to a better place, turned the ordinary into the extraordinary, constructing regional identities though a blurred lens of reality that invited the erasing of particulars along the edges. After all, who is to doubt that a place as optimistically coined the, “Sunshine County of the U.S.A,” isn’t practically perfect?

Further Reading

Hanna, Stephen P., and Vincent J. Del Casino, Jr., eds. 2003. Mapping Tourism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Hummon, David M. 1988. “Tourist Worlds: Tourist Advertising, Ritual, and American Culture.” Sociological Quarterly 29, no. 2 (1988): 179–202.

 

Megan G. Theriault (MA American and New England Studies; USM 2015)

September 2014

Prepared for ANE 633, “Mapping New England”