Restored 1856 Map Returns to WFPL

A map of Middlesex County from 1856, newly preserved and framed, has been installed on the second floor of the Watertown Free Public Library. Since the map measures about five square feet, the outlines of the towns are visible from a distance, but a closer look reveals fascinating detail.

1856 Map of Middlesex County
Map reproduction courtesy of the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library

Prolific cartographer Henry Francis Walling (1825-1889), who served as “Superintendent of the State Map” for Massachusetts, created the map with help from a draftsman and lithographer. It was based on a trigonometrical survey (also known as a triangulation or geodetic survey) that used the latest technology and yielded great precision. At a scale of 1:50,000, the county map displays topographical features, railroad lines, points of interest such as the Arsenal in Watertown, and properties labeled with their owners’ names.

Closeup from Levanthal map room BPL

Surrounding the county map are 64 small maps of town centers, as well as a geological map, business directories for several communities, a table of distances, and some statistics on the county. The inset map of Watertown indicates the locations of private homes (also labeled with owners’ names), Town Hall, churches, the grist mill, Spring Hotel, and other sites, at a scale of 1:2,000.

Closeup 2 form Leventhal Map Room BPL

This project was made possible as an additional funding project approved by Town Council for the FY19 budget. Since fall of 2017, the map has been safely in the hands of Northeast Document and Conservation Center in Andover, the local experts on conservation and archival restoration.  There it was cleaned with dry and wet techniques, parts of the map that had been lost were inpainted, tears were aligned, loose pieces were inserted, and finally it was mounted and framed. It was installed in the library in June 2019. We hope anyone in the community interested in maps and Watertown will stop by and enjoy this piece of local history brought to life!

– Caitlin, WFPL Assistant Director

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