This bird's eye view of the Charles River, while an unaccustomed one to land based human experience of the Charles River as a boating or walking environment, is perhaps the most perceptive artistic rendering of this water body that twists and turns its way through the Massachusetts landscape. The Charles River may be understood visually from reading this map as a continuous land form.
The subtext beneath the map's title is "Carries Shown by Red Lines". This text is an instruction to canoeists or kayakers explaining where they must leave the river and carry their crafts to the next launch site. There is no map key or other text within the body of the print. Therefore we may infer that Geo. Walker intended his bird's eye view to be a map useful to explorers as well as instructive to a person enjoying this scarce lithograph print as art.
The Walker lithograph "Charles River" is also an historic timeline of the industrial revolution in Massachusetts. The 19th c. Massachusetts factories that required water power are in some instances shown on this print. In the foreground we see the Waltham Watch Factory. In Newton Upper Falls, at Echo Bridge, where for many years I had an office in a repurposed mill building with a window right on the water fall, the Charles River makes numerous tight S-curves, one of them running under the high, arched Echo Bridge which currently is a small parkland with hemlock trees, and limited access beneath the echo producing masonry arches. The Charles River continues on its corkscrew route through Newton to Newton Lower Falls, where another dam changes the water flow and factories are located, now reused as office space.
As a historic landscape, the "Charles River" lithograph is a testimony to the power of the Charles River as it emerges from an inland source, and grows wider through an increasingly densely developed landscape where it is throttled, girded, laced and frustrated by masonry, pavement and steel. The Walker print "Charles River" shows trains as well as roadways, dams, bridges and other manmade obstacles even as much of the landscape c. 1906 is still open or farm land. His subtitle is a nod to recreational use of the river by small boaters.
It might seem curious to those who claim the scenic urban Charles River for the denizens of the academic hub in Cambridge that Geo.Walker Lith. & Publ. Co. would choose this inland, rural bird's eye view of the of the Charles River as its iconic image. But this view of the river, working its way from the Charles' origin through the landscape and becoming a defining feature of the landscape, expresses the many facets of its identity: wetlands and natural habitat for wildlife, forest edge, irrigation for farming1, water power for industry, transportation, recreation, and an aesthetic highlight throughout a large region of Massachusetts just west of Boston. With our perspective now also shifted aloft by Geo. Walker Lithography's bird's eye view of the Charles River, we may perhaps for the first time also take flight and comprehend this river's need for protection, as we imagine ourselves migrating along its life giving path to the sea.
1. The map identifies the Walker-Gordon Milk Farm founded in 1891. This innovative dairy Farm was owned in part by George Walker. After George Walker and his wife's death, the farm was dedicated to becoming a residential school for children with special needs and functions today as the Walker Therapeutic & Educational Programs institute. www.walkercares.org/History