H.F. Walling’s Newport County, Rhode Island

Lithograph, 27 ¾”h x 37 ½”w at neat line plus margins, wash and outline color.

An important, decorative and surprisingly rare map of Newport County by the preeminent New England mapmaker of the 19th century.

Walling’s was for its time by far the largest and most detailed map of Newport County, Rhode Island. The scale allows for great detail, including topographical features and roads; the locations of quarries, mills, mines, schools &c noted; and many hundreds of businesses and residences identified by name. The map’s visual appeal and informational value are greatly enhanced by inset plans of Block Island and the center of Newport itself, the latter particularly rich in detail along the busy and crowded harbor front. At lower left is a view of Euston’s (i.e., Easton’s) Beach in Newport, while the upper left features a vignette of the State House, aka the Old Colony House, built in Newport in 1741 and for many years the meeting place of the colonial and later the state legislature.

This is one of the earliest maps to bear the name of Henry Francis Walling (1825-1888). Walling was born and educated in Rhode Island, and some time in the mid 1840s he took a position with surveyor Samuel B. Cushing. With Cushing he produced in 1846 his first published map, a new edition of James Stevens’ 1831 Topographical Map of the State of Rhode Island. The two men produced a number of other maps together, before Walling set out on his own in late 1849 or 1850. In that first year he demonstrated the amazing productivity that marked his career, issuing among others this map of Newport County as well as important maps of Fall River, Mass.; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; and Bath, Maine.

His collaboration with Cushing on the new edition of Stevens’ Rhode Island map may have been Walling’s first introduction to what at the time was known as “trigonometric” surveying. This involved the use of extremely careful astronomical observations to establish geodetic “control points,” from which a network of triangulated reference points was run across the state. This highly accurate framework was then filled out with less-rigorous but more detailed data obtained form surveys with compass, chain and odometer. Walling almost certainly reused Stevensz’ “trigonometric” data as the basis for this 1850 map of Newport County, but filled out the details with new surveys conducted by himself and others under his supervision. He may also have borrowed data from Simeon Borden’s trigonometric survey of Massachusetts, as well as from the Coast Survey’s mapping of the Narragansett Bay coastline.

Walling was the one of the first American commercial mapmakers to employ this blended approach to map construction, and he was also one of the most prolific: During his long career he produced perhaps 150 large-scale, separately-issued maps of American towns and counties; seminal maps of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island; and numerous state and county atlases. His 1850 map of Newport County is thus an important artifact of a transitional period in American mapmaking, when commercial cartographers began to combine scientific rigor with far more detailed depictions of the natural and human landscape.

The map is as rare as it is impressive. I find no record of other examples having appeared on the antiquarian market and note institutional holdings only at the British Museum, Library of Congress (2), Providence Athenaeum, and Yale.

John Russell Bartlett, Bibliography of Rhode Island, p. 181. Phillips, A List of Maps of America, p. 499. Stephenson, Land Ownership Maps, #827. OCLC 857109299 (Library of Congress only). Walter Ristow’s American Maps and Mapmakers devotes chapter 20 to a discussion of Walling’s career. Also of use, but rather more focused, is Michael Buehler’s “Henry F. Walling and the Mapping of New England’s Towns, 1849-1857,” The Portolan, no. 71 
(Spring 2008), pp.  22-33.