This large scale, colorful and scarce map of Boston and surrounding towns as surveyed in 1859 captures Boston just before the Civil War. The scale of this map permits a close view of the street level aspect both of Boston and of its neighboring towns as far west as Lexington. The highly developed wharf line of Boston, South Boston, East Boston and the Mystic River are drawn in fine detail. The depths of the Boston Harbor waters are shown and the deep channel into the Central or Long Wharf based on U.S. Coast Surveys. The map incorporates work from Henry Francis Walling's surveys of all Massachusetts towns and counties as of this date. Therefore his 1859 Map of Boston and Its Vicinity (the "Boston Map") is constructed based on the map maker's decade of direct experience with this landscape. The time period portrayed in this scarce map of Boston 1/, sums up fifty years of rapid urban change in the first half of the 19th c., the filling of the Back Bay and Boston's harbor front and the dense development of land within the city. The patterns of urban change may also be seen in the surrounding Middlesex County towns such as Cambridge, and in the Norfolk County town of Brookline. The public transit lines shown on this map might well shame us out of our cars or at least give reason to demand investment of municipal funds to restore these public transit rights of way to serve an even larger 21st century public.
The landscape is drawn with an equivalent level of detail such that major water bodies, rivers and even streams and marsh are shown graphically on the map and labeled. While the hills of Tremont are no longer as they were in 18th and early 19th century Boston, the terrain is nonetheless shown with elevations, including the Blue Hills and hills in surrounding towns. The Back Bay while not fully developed is laid out in lots. Savin Hill and its streets and Meeting House Hill are shown. Forest Hill Cemetery and Jamaica Pond are large features in the city landscape. We see the Brookline Reservoir, another necessary element of infrastructure to support Boston's population growth. The map extends west to include Newton, where Baldpate Hill is labeled.
Boston is a harbor city and Walling's 1859 Map of Boston and Its Vicinity includes detailed coastal survey work of Boston Harbor itself. The harbor comprises an area of 50 square miles and the shoreline bounding the harbor is 180 miles long.2/Together, the thirty harbor islands constitute 1,200 acres. All are shown on the Boston Map. The Boston harbor islands are drawn at sufficient scale to permit seeing natural and constructed features on these islands such as the Deer Island Prison, Men's Hospital and Women's Hospital. Reading the map from the East, the Broad Sound Channels are identified and the Deer Island Beacon, located and described "9 burners, 86 feet Above Level of the Sea Visible 14 1/2 Nautical Miles." On Long Island, a drawing of the Long Island Light shows it alit. Concentric circles mark the distance 3 miles, 2 miles and 1 mile out from the harbor bisected by the President Roads. The coastal survey guidance to sailors brings large ships through this deep channel in Boston Harbor to Central, or Long Wharf. The West end of Quarantine Island appears at the farthest edge of the outer harbor. Another feature of Boston Harbor Islands is the strategic location of forts.
In 1859 Boston and Boston Harbor were a hub for transatlantic shipping and shipping within the Caribbean. The U.S. Customs House is shown on the map. Just south of Fort Hill, Foster's Wharf, Rowe's Wharf and Central Wharf are drawn and labeled, among others. In Charlestown, the Bunker Hill Monument and the Charlestown Navy Yard represent both Boston in 1859 and an acknowledgement of its founding. The prosperity of Boston's Minute Men and leaders of the American Revolution can be located on the map as well. At the tip of Winthrop Head, beyond Point Shirley is the Revere Copper Co.
Another distinctive feature of Boston by 1959 is its status as a land transportation hub: the roads, trains and other means of transit connecting Boston to its outskirts formed a network that is detailed on the Boston Map. The city is shown with connections both within the Commonwealth and well beyond, extending north, south, east and west. These developments are mirrored in Winthrop, Cambridge, East Boston, South Boston, West Roxbury, Roxbury, Dorchester, Somerville and Charlestown. The scope and scale of Walling's map permits the viewer to enter this mid-19th c. metropolitan landscape.
Finally, the Boston Map identifies features in the old centers of both Boston and Cambridge that represent the cultural and educational stature of these cities. Cambridge is drawn and detailed with up to date 19th century land development. By contrast, a separately shaded and labeled area on the map is "Old Cambridge" where Harvard College is drawn in plan, its Yard, Chapel and other features identified. Across from the Yard, the Cambridge Common is drawn and the "Washington Elm" located and labeled. The Mt. Auburn Cemetery is drawn in plan. Further to the northwest, Belmont includes Fresh Pond and just above it a "Glacial or Artificial Pond". Farm land is vast in Quincy and North Chelsea's farm and swamp lands extend to its northern boundary. In Somerville, in addition to industry the Boston Map locates the McLean Asylum. The more closely one wishes to read this complex map, the more there is to be discovered.
While the title of the Boston Map follows an American cartographic convention with the phrase "and vicinity" the nature, scope and details of Henry Walling's 1959 map also introduces some new concepts to that notion of vicinity. The vicinity of this map equally includes the waters, islands and navigation of Boston Harbor. The vicinity includes certain towns that in some cases house infrastructure that feeds Boston's needs, such as the Reservoir in Newton and major train lines north and south of Boston. In fact, for the year 1859, the City of Boston Engineering Department list of maps includes only one, H.F. Walling's 1859 Map of Boston and Its Vicinity. Thus this portrait of Boston just before the outbreak of the U.S. Civil War is a milestone in the mapping of Boston, an image of the city still featuring its Revolutionary War roots that are still within the living memory of some Boston residents. And looking to the second half of the 19th c. Walling's portrait of Boston is the image of a port city bursting with economic power and reach not merely within its own vicinity but to the far corners of the world.
1. There are two versions of the Walling 1859 Boston and Its Vicinity map dated identically but not identical with respect to the mapping of Boston. The wall map discussed above shows West Roxbury with an extension of the Dedham Branch Rail Road and considerable new land area with roads in the lower left quadrant extending beyond the neat line. The edition of the map typically seen in institutional collections is a dissected, folding version printed at approximately the same size as the wall map version discussed here. That commonly seen version of the Walling 1859 Boston map is drawn completely within the linear border and lacks the West Roxbury additional mapping.2. Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (MWRA), "History of Boston Harbor"
City of Boston, Annual Report of City Engineer, Boston, 1903
MWRA, "History of Boston Harbor"
American Maps and Mapmakers, Commercial Cartography in the Nineteenth Century, Walter W. Ristow, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 1986
Gaining Ground, A History of Landmaking in Boston, Nancy S. Seasholes, MIT Press, Cambridge, 2003