A monumental and richly informative wall map of Berkshire County in western Massachusetts, known today as a beauty spot and cultural destination for the profusion of museums and performing arts venues in Great Barrington, Lenox, Stockbridge, Williamstown and surrounding towns.
Published in 1858, this is by far the largest and most detailed map of Berkshire County produced to date. The region’s hilly topography, from which it derives so much of its natural charm, are shown by hachuring and shading, and rivers, streams, ponds and wetlands are delineated with care. Town boundaries are indicated by heavy outline color, and an effort has been made to show every road and rail line. Arguably the map’s greatest contribution, however, lies in its identification by name of many thousands of landowners and residents, as well as schools, businesses, and places of worship. To this are added five pictorial vignettes of local educational institutions, dozens of inset maps of population centers, a business directory, a table of distances, and an inset of Edward Hitchcock’s geological map of the county, all of which add considerable decorative impact and documentary value.
The map was for its time the best-available resource for understanding the population density and demographics of Berkshire County and was only superseded by the town and county atlases that began to proliferate in the 1870s.
Henry F. Walling
In the 1850s and 60s, mapmaker Henry F. Walling was one of the most distinguished and prolific American commercial publishers focusing on local markets, dedicating much of his energy to the mapping of Massachusetts. Much of his early career (ca. 1849-55) was spent producing over 50 large-scale maps of Massachusetts towns. His crowning achievement in the late 1850s was his set of wall-size Massachusetts county maps, of which the present item is an example. These were produced in the context of his 1855 commission by the legislature as “Superintendent of the State Map”, charged with updating the official state map originally compiled by Simeon Borden and published in 1844.
The title’s use of the phrase “trigonometric survey” refers to the particular method by which the state map was constructed, using two basic kinds of data: First, a statewide “trigonometric” or “scientific” survey used refined instruments and careful astronomical observations to establish a network of precisely located control points. This was then fleshed out with detailed local information–town boundaries, roads, topography, residences, &c—obtained from less rigorous local surveys by Walling and others working in a private capacity.
Later in his career Walling worked for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey and then the U.S. Geological Survey, primarily on projects related to the mapping of New England and the Appalachians. He is noted as an early proponent of federal-state cooperation in the “topographical” (i.e., scientific) mapping of the states. (cf. Ristow, p.337) Such arrangements made sense, because they “leveraged” limited state resources by providing access to the expertise and rigor of Federal agencies. In no small part due to Walling’s advocacy, Massachusetts became the site of the first joint federal-state topographical survey, in which he played an important role.
Phillips, A List of Maps of America, p. 142. Stephenson, Land Ownership Maps, #307. For background on Walling, see Ristow, American Maps and Mapmakers, chap. 20, “Henry Francis Walling.”