The map was published in the immediate aftermath of two epochal events in the history of southeast Texas: the catastrophic Galveston Hurricane of 1900 and the discovery of oil at Spindletop in 1901, which launched the Texas oil industry generally and that of Trinity-Galveston Bay specifically. Those events helped propel Houston far ahead of Galveston as the most important entrepot in the region, a role on which it would build continually thereafter.
Though at the time of publication Houston was a relatively small city on the banks of Buffalo Bayou, in encompassing all of Harris County the map depicts what would grow into the present-day metropolis. The scale is at 6000 varas to the inch, a vara being 33 1/3 inches. The map is particularly useful for depicting property boundaries and landowners throughout the county, as well as the many rail lines that converged on the city and facilitated its rapid growth. The small inset map of the United States highlights Houston’s proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and the rail network tying it to the rest of the country. A table at bottom center drives home the promotional message by laying out some eye-catching statistics, including among other things the volume of cotton passing through the city, its dominant export before the oil boom of the early 20th century.
The map was first issued in 1899, the only apparent change to this 1902 version being the date (The only example I find of the first state for $1792.50 at Heritage Auctions on March 3, 2012.) Whitty issued a second map of Harris County in 1908, at the somewhat larger scale of 4500 varas to the inch.
Whitty was Houston’s longest-tenured City Surveyor of the 19th century. His biography is well-summarized in the following excerpt:
“The Whitty clan had initially put down its Houston roots a mere six years after the end of the Civil War when … young civil engineer Patrick Whitty, migrated to Houston from the Canadian province of Newfoundland. By 1872, he had moved his small family to a home in the Brunner section of Houston and established the Texas and Houston Land Company. Mr. Whitty was the first Civil Engineer employed by the City of Houston, beginning his municipal employment in the administration of Mayor I.C. Lord in 1875 where he served in that capacity for nine years. He maintained a private practice as well, advertising in the City Directories of Houston for a number of years.
““Patrick Whitty: Civil Engineer and Surveyor. Land Boundary questions a specialty. On hand and for sale: Maps of all counties in Texas. Also maps of the City of Houston and all city additions. Maps made by blue print process, photo-litho process or lithograph process. Correspondence solicited. Office: 117 1/2 Main, Corner Franklin Avenue. Houston, Texas.”
“Patrick Whitty was instrumental in placing and mapping many of Houston’s streets, parks, and neighborhoods. His involvement in the burgeoning city is evident. He laid out the lots for the Brunner Addition, the Magnolia Addition, Riverside Park, Kingwood, and Clear Lake areas held by Humble Oil and Refining. In fact on today’s city maps, Whitty Street parallels Jensen Drive and the Eastex Freeway…. Houston, Harris County, and Texas maps and plats of the period abound with the notation “P. Whitty.”” (City of Houston Archaeological & Historic Commission, “Landmark Designation Report” for the Edmond V. and Maude Whitty House, 2004)