Exhibitions

44. Brunswick and Topsham, 1877

Guest curated by Senator Angus King

“I have been fortunate to call Brunswick home for the past 40 years (in fact, I have lived in four of the buildings shown on this map) and throughout that time, I have always been aware of the town’s remarkable history. Indeed, great figures in American history – including a President, a Speaker of the U.S. House, a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Civil War Generals, renowned authors, courageous explorers, and many, many more – all once knew Brunswick as their home.

“When this map was drawn in 1877, two notable figures were at Bowdoin College. General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain led the College as its President, and future Admiral Robert Peary was in his final year.

“It’s not difficult to imagine those two great American figures – one a hero of the Civil War and former Governor of Maine, the other bound to find both danger and glory in his pioneering trip to the Arctic – exploring Brunswick in their own right. Perhaps Peary strolled down Maine Street, walking to the mall where the cows grazed and then on to the mills that hugged the banks of the Androscoggin. And Chamberlain, moving slowly from a wound sustained in battle, most surely crossed many times from Bowdoin’s campus to his house on nearby Potter Street – not far from where I live today.

“Without question, much has changed in the 138 years since this map was drawn, but in it we can begin to imagine and understand the deep and profound impact that our small Maine town has had on some of the most influential people in our nation’s history.  In Brunswick, like everywhere in Maine, the echoes of those who came before continue to speak to those willing to hear the quiet but powerful call of history.”

Anonymous
Brunswick and Topsham Cumberland County, 1877, Sagadahoc County, Maine

United States, 1877
Osher Collection

1158
45. Lewiston and Auburn, 1937

Guest curated by Representative Bruce Poliquin

A glance at this map and I’m quickly transported back to my boyhood – the fine black lines detailing streets and scenes of my youth – as vivid to me now as they were several years ago. What takes my back, indeed transports me, is the sight my grandfather’s house, no longer there, as it is now part of the Lewiston High School. The house, like the man, was modest but strong. For me, the times I spent in that home, filled with stories and laughter, come back as I look at this map as though they were yesterday.

The busy streets of a vibrant Lewiston – the hustle and bustle going past as I held my grandfather’s hand on one of our many walks down Lisbon Street – where I trotted to keep up and craned my neck, glancing at my grandfather as he greeted all who passed by, warmly, graciously.

Much has changed about Lewiston since my youth. Many of the mills now shuttered – the story of so many of Maine’s mill towns today. The streets, depicted here with care and craftsmanship, do not bustle as they once did. Yet, along these well-trodden lanes, a new vibrancy is growing, born of hard-working first generation Mainers, who will chart their own course through history, traveling the streets I knew so well as a boy.

City of Lewiston Chamber of Commerce
City Map of Lewiston and Auburn Maine

Maine, 1937
French Collection

1004254
46. Mexico and Peru, 1880

Guest curated by author Monica Wood

The first maps I remember lived inside an extravagant pull-down affair in Sister Ernestine’s fourth-grade classroom. The device operated like a window shade that spanned most of the wide, old-fashioned blackboard. Depending on which shade-pull Sister chose, a different map appeared. The State of Maine. The United States. Europe. Asia. The continent of Africa. Oh, what lovely maps they were! Meticulously cared for; bright and clear; painted in winsome colors that appealed to deskbound children. All the countries of the world, their borders inked in black, had a unique hue, and great whitewashed acres of ocean separated the colorful patchwork of the continents.

A map gives the viewer one of two gifts: mystery or memory. Sister Ernestine’s maps were made of mystery, for I’d never been anywhere outside my hometown, a place so small and overlooked that to find its name, if it appeared on a map at all, required a magnifier.

Fifty years later, I have before me a nineteenth-century rendering of Mexico, Maine, the place that formed me. This map is made of memory. Looking at it, I’m ten again, squinting into the summer sun, listening to my mother call me home for lunch. I feel the hot, chewable factory air. I hear the churning river. This map is modest, as maps go, lacking the decorative touches of the ones affixed to Sister Ernestine’s blackboard. No matter. Whether beautiful or utilitarian, antique or recent, depicting a place foreign or familiar, a map speaks. Behold, it tells us. Behold our glimmering world.

Anonymous
Mexico and Peru Maine

From: Oxford County Atlas
United States, 1880
Carpenter Collection

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47. Caribou, 1877

Guest curated by Senator Susan Collins

Historic maps are invaluable documents that help us to better understand how the human experience is shaped by geography and nature, and to vividly show both the change and constancy in society across the generations. On this 20th anniversary, I commend the Osher Map Library for its stewardship of these precious resources for the people of Maine and for scholars around the world.

The 1877 map of Caribou tells a fascinating story of my hometown. It is easy to see how, from the first settlers in the 1820s to incorporation in 1859, the young community’s highway was the Aroostook River; the power supplies for the lumber and grain mills that drove the developing economy were Caribou Stream and the Little Madawaska River.  In fact, the north bank of Caribou Stream near the Aroostook is where my ancestor, Samuel W. Collins, established a lumber mill in 1844. Five generations later, the S.W. Collins Co. still operates on the same location, now known as 6 Washburn Street.

The straight and even property lines describe a community that earned its living from the land - one can easily imagine the potato blossoms forming rows as straight and even as the property boundaries. So many of the names on those lots were the names of my neighbors growing up, demonstrating the strong roots that make Caribou a truly special place. Even the remarkable accuracy of the map, drawn at a time when surveyors had only basic levels and compasses as tools, speaks to a remarkable work ethic.

The uniform lot sizes are the result of an intriguing history. The disputed border between the Maine district of Massachusetts and British Canada that was left unresolved after America won its independence led to the decades of tension and uncertainty known as the Bloodless Aroostook War and, consequently, a trickle of settlement. When the dispute finally was resolved in 1842, the young State of Maine offered two lots to anyone willing to invest in the now-stable region by building mills. Samuel W. Collins was one of three millers to make that investment. The rapid influx of settlers and the vigorous land sales that followed demonstrated the wisdom of this early example of a successful public-private partnership to foster economic development.

Anonymous
Caribou, Maine

From: Aroostook County Atlas
United States, 1877
Carpenter Collection

48. Penobscot Bay, 1880

Guest curated by author Susan Minot

Who has not gazed at a map and felt her spirit fly to imagined places?  For a map indeed lifts us above the earth, suspended over the planet, taking, if not God’s perspective, then at least the bird’s eye view. 

When the map of is of a well-known area, the flights are richer and Penboscot Bay is a place most dear to me.   The island I know best is here in the center: North Haven with her skeletal hand hovering over the shoulder of Vinalhaven.  When seen from this distance, they appear, along with Deer Isle and Isle au Haut, to create a kind of geological swirl, their own planet shape, their own globe.

The subjects of most maps change little over time.  Glaciers move slowly, shorelines are worn, so the rendering reflects the era.  And look at the beauty of this one, drawn in 1880 by an anonymous cartographer with a graceful style and precision (maps are not always precise.)  The needlepoint dotting of trees, the shaded swirl for the soft hills on Isle au Haut. I see no bridge over to Little Deer Isle, and my beloved Banks Cove is not named—but most of it is unchanged.  There is the island I visited when falling in love (called appropriately, or not, Fling), the tidal river where my family swims on hot August afternoons (Mill River),  the cove which at low tide is a grey saucer of mud (the Cubby Hole.) 

Speckled numbers are scattered like seeds across the white spaces of sea, indicating the terrain few ever see: the ocean floor.  For those in a boat, this is crucial information, which unless you know the waters, you have no other way of discerning.  And the names always so evocative: Butter, Bald and Burnt—one a picnic destination, one no longer bald and one a beloved place whose green velvet paths I know well.

I particularly like the marine view of the mainland vanishing at sufficient distance from the water, as if land were no longer of consequence at a remove from the sea.

It might as well be a map of my heart.

Alexander Dallas Bache, (1806 -1867)
United States Coast and Geodetic Survey
Penobscot Bay Maine

Washington D.C., 1880
Osher Map Library Collection

12496
49. Coast of Maine..., 1777

Guest curated by Representative Chellie Pingree

For over 40 years now, I’ve lived on North Haven Island, a small year-round community in the middle of Maine’s Penobscot Bay.  During those years, I’ve spent a lot of time on the water—on ferries, sailboats, fishing boats, and more—so I’ve come to appreciate the importance of having a good chart for navigation.

These days, technology offers us endless information for marine navigation.  Sophisticated equipment has led to charts that can be digitally zoomed in to an astounding level of detail.  Sonar has mapped the bottom of the sea floor. Satellites track our every move from space, telling us where we are to the foot.

But these technologies didn’t exist when the mapmaker drew this chart—which makes its detail and accuracy striking.  Its depiction of water and land isn’t far off from what’s on our maps today.

With Maine’s geography, putting that kind of detail on paper couldn’t have been easy.  As every elementary school student here learns, if you stretched out all the coves, harbors, and crags of Maine’s coast, it would stretch nearly 3,500 miles.  It’s amazing to think of the painstaking work that must have gone into putting all the inlets and islands on this map in their right place.

Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres, (1722-1824)
Coast of Maine- From Frenchman's Bay to Musketo Island including Mount Desart and Deer Islands, and Penobscot Bay

London, 1777
Osher Collection

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