Historic Map Site at UNH   Raymond Caron
  Apr 14, 2005 18:16 PDT 

Being new to discussion list, I don't know if people are aware of
Historic USGS map web site hosted by UNH. Visiting this site and
learning how to cut and paste images from it can give researchers better
idea of roads and development of areas maybe 100 years or more back in
history. For example I offer a link to West Hawley map dating to 1894.
It shows how main roads bypassed Cold River and Trout Brook river


Ray Caron
Waltham MA
RE: Historic Map Site at UNH   John Eichholz
  Apr 15, 2005 06:43 PDT 


Thanks for the link. Not only are the roads different, but Trout brook
itself seems to have formed a new branch. See:
for the current USGS map of the area. The headwaters to the west form
an entirely new branch, and at this time it is the branch with the
higher flow.

Joh Eichholz
Re: Historic Map Site at UNH    Raymond D. Caron
   Apr 15, 2005 16:41 PDT 


I see what you're saying. On closer inspection I see the artist/mapper has
extended watercourses practically right up to the tops of the ridges on the
east side of the drainage and omits the sizable water course on the west
side of the drainage that is shown in the modern map. I've noticed big
differences in old and new maps before. Suffice it to say they didn't have
benefit of aerial photogrammetry or satillites techniques. I've often
wondered what were their principal methods of developing maps. Of course
many more ridge tops were open due to lack of trees in those days so it was
easier to set up a transit and take shots etc. What is this site you
accessed to get the modern map anyway. Is it open to general public?

Ray Caron
Re: Historic Map Site at UNH    Don Bertolette
   Apr 15, 2005 19:11 PDT 

Not sure of the dates for the topos you're looking at, but the classic
manner of making topographic maps involved stereo aerial photography and
some dedicated topographers using stereo optics. They would dial in two
symbols ( a O and an X ) until they superimposed...depending on the amount
of elevation change, they would do this on a grid, until they encountered
areas that needed greater detail. Where possible, they would send ground
truthing crews out, but as you can imagine in those times, there were places
that were just too remote to access...

I've had occasion to access 1900-1910-1920 topos of the North Fork of the
Kings River Canyon (wonderful part of the Sierra Nevadas with some serious
elevational change (4000 at river, to nearly 14,000 along the Sierra crest)
and had to just marvel at the determination it must have taken.

Before aerial photography, it was walking across the area to be mapped with
survey equipment or barometers on a grid, and some meticulous mapping
interpretation and interpolation back in the office. These hand drawn
topomaps are pieces of art to 'map geeks'...judging by your posts on these
old topos you're comparing, you're on your way to 'map geekdom'! Me? It all
started with Forestry 140 (Forest Engineering at Humboldt State Univ., Cal),
where we created our own topo maps using 'plane table' mapping
technique...not a bad way to map an old-growth stand, by the way...
-Don B
Re: Historic Map Site at UNH    Raymond D. Caron
   Apr 16, 2005 05:26 PDT 

Notation on UNH web site says it was surveyed in 1886 and published 1894 and
reprinted 1938. Map title box indicates Edition shown is the 1938 reprint
and states "Surveyed by reconnaissance methods".
Re: Historic Map Site at UNH    Don Bertolette
   Apr 16, 2005 09:07 PDT 
Kinda takes the the definitions of terse, brief to a higher level...
Obviously, this map preceded aerial mapping technique. Presumably it was
done the old-fashioned way, by taking barometer readings or transit level
readings at pre-determined grid intersections, then hand drawing the
contours, geographic names, and numerations.

For a brief and informative handling of topographic mapping, by the gov't
agency that has been involved nearly from the onset, go to hypertext below
(I've copied and pasted a few snippets below as well).

As an aside, my first job away from home was with BLM, doing original corner
restoration (surveys contracted out by General Land Office in 1870s, 1880s
in most of the West), using same mountain transits, steel "topo" tapes that
measured in 'chains'...like the original surveyors, we scribed bearing trees
referencing corners that we monumented (sometimes with 'linear' rocks that
we chiseled corner designations on/into). Of course, I was out west where
land survey was based on a grid system, as opposed to the east (of
Mississippi River) where metes and bounds surveys were the norm.


The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) produced its first topographic map in
1879, the same year it was established. Today, more than 100 years and
millions of map copies later, topographic mapping is still a central
activity for the USGS. The topographic map remains an indispensable tool for
government, science, industry, and leisure.

Much has changed since early topographers traveled the unsettled West and
carefully plotted the first USGS maps by hand. Advances in survey
techniques, instrumentation, and design and printing technologies, as well
as the use of aerial photography and satellite data, have dramatically
improved mapping coverage, accuracy, and efficiency.

The USGS and the Mapping of America

      Planetable surveying by turn-of-the-century USGS topographers


Initially charged by Congress with the "classification of the public lands,"
the USGS began topographic and geologic mapping in 1879. Most of the early
USGS mapping activities took place in the vast, largely uninhabited Western
United States.

Extreme challenges awaited these mapping pioneers. Travel was arduous and
costly. Many locations could be reached only by mule pack train.
Furthermore, surveying and mapping instruments were crude by today's
standards. Most maps were made using a classic mapping technique called
planetable surveying.

Planetable surveying took great skill and, depending on the mapping site,
equal daring. Carrying a planetable-essentially a portable drawing board on
a tripod with a sighting device--the topographer would climb to the area's
best vantage point and carefully plot on the map those features that could
be seen and measured in the field. Planetable surveying remained the
dominant USGS mapping technique until the 1940's, when it gave way to the
airplane and the age of photogrammetry.

Re: Historic Map Site at UNH    Don Bertolette
   Apr 16, 2005 09:38 PDT 

Another site of interest to New Englander mapgeeks can be found at



Re: Historic Map Site at UNH    John Eichholz
   Apr 16, 2005 16:52 PDT 


That is a site published by the state of Massachusetts. You can get
maps of the entire state, even "3d", and also many GIS layers. I find
you have to go to the index map at 


to get the number to use for the map file you want.
Also check out the rest of the site.   Massachusetts is great at making
this stuff available.