Monumental chart of Chesapeake Bay by George Eldridge

George Eldridge / G. W. Boynton, Sc., ELDRIDGE’S CHART OF CHESAPEAKE BAY, JAMES, YORK, RAPPAHANNOCK AND POTOMAC RIVERS. Compiled from the latest surveys by GEORGE ELDRIDGE, HYDROGRAPHER. Boston: S. Thaxter & Son, 1868/1895.
Navigation chart, 56 ½”h x 32 ¾”w at neat line plus margins, spot color. Lined with old linen, 3 printed labels affixed to verso. Minor toning, soiling and staining (the toning somewhat heavier near the bottom), and some wear at edges, but better than very good for its type.
On Hold

A mammoth George Eldridge chart depicting in detail the waters of Chesapeake Bay and its tributary rivers, most notably the James, York, Rappahannock, the Potomac (extending upstream to Washington, D.C.) and the Patuxent (to Baltimore). An inset at upper right, probably added for the 1888 edition, extends the coverage to Havre de Grace, Maryland. Thousands of soundings are given, along with notations about shoals and other hazards, lighthouses and other aids to navigation, sailing directions, &c. Several notes describe the areas tides, currents and compass variations, and a variety of symbols indicate sunken and exposed rocks, currents and sailing lines. There are a couple of ink annotations in an early hand, including one near Smith’s Island reading “Lighthouse carried away by ice.”

Consistent with Eldridge’s other work, the whole is executed in a style that, while attractive, is functional and free of unnecessary information or adornment.

“Although based upon the official Coast Surveys, the Eldridge charts were unsubsidized and more expensive. They survived because of good design, simplicity, omission of extraneous shore topography, legible sounding and notes, and the use of compass courses only.… Their loyal public, fishermen, coaster, tug masters, and yachtsmen, often continued to use obsolete Eldridge charts until the beginning of World War II.” (Guthorn, p. 12)

This chart was first issued in 1868, but its utility ensured its repeated reissue, and I have found reference to editions of 1870, 1874, 1879, 1882, 1883, 1888 and 1895, the last of which is offered here. Though designed for heavy use, the condition of this example suggests that it was well loved and/or saw little service at sea.

The firm of Eldridge
George Eldridge (1821-1900) of Chatham produced his first chart (of Monomoy shoals) in 1851 and over more than four decades issued numerous charts and pilot books covering the coast from New York to Maine. Guthorn offers a nice account of the beginning of his long and productive career:

“[Eldridge] had gone to sea with his fisherman father at an early age, and continued as a fisherman, coaster and local pilot, until an injury at sea in 1850 forced his convalescence ashore. He observed the effects of a new inlet which was formed during a furious storm in april 1851, creating new and dangerous shoals, in the path of vessels. He explored and sounded the new bar in his dory and drew a chart which was lithographed by Tappen [sic] & Bradford in Boston, [which] was an immediate success. Encouraged, he compiled a Chart of Vineyard Sound…” (p. 12)

Eldridge’s son George W. (1845-1914) later took over the business, and the family firm continued issuing charts through 1932. Though under new ownership, the Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book is published to this day.

OCLC # 649718496 (1870 ed.) Phillips, Maps of America, p. 228 (1868 ed.) Background on the firm of Eldridge may be found in Garver, Surveying the Shore, Historic Maps of Coastal Massachusetts, p. 129 and Guthorn, U. S. Coastal Charts, p. 12.