Leavitt’s White Mountains “masterpiece” (Tatham)

Drawn by Franklin Leavitt, Guide / [Lithography by J.H. Bufford?] , LEAVITT'S MAP WITH VIEWS OF THE WHITE MOUNTAINS NEW HAMPSHIRE. , [Lancaster, New Hampshire] / Copyrighted Boston, 1854.
Lithograph, uncolored

An amazing piece of folk cartography, produced as a promotional for the White Mountains and today one of the most desirable early images of the region.

By the mid-19th century the transmission of the Romantic ethos across the Atlantic, the rise of a middle class with disposable income, and the development of rapid rail links with coastal cities transformed the White Mountains into a major tourist destination. Over three decades Franklin Leavitt, a Lancaster, New Hampshire contractor, guide, would-be poet, and all-around “character” produced five charming maps to cater to the visitors flooding the region. All bear important stylistic similarities that render them engaging examples of what might be called “folk cartography,” including a lack of consistent scale or orientation, the pictorial depiction of local landmarks and history, and an emphasis on Leavitt’s own exploits. The maps nonetheless would have been reasonably helpful to casual visitors and desirable as souvenirs, though useless or even dangerous to anyone using them as guides to the region’s rugged back country.

Offered here is Leavitt’s second map, published in 1854, one of the rarest of the series, and by far the best designed and most attractive. David Tatham, author of the only serious article on Leavitt’s work, called it “a major example of American folk art, and … Leavitt’s masterpiece” (Prints of New England, p. 118.)

The central feature is a small-scale map of New England, flanked by tables of distances likely cribbed from guide books or railroad timetables. The map is oddly compressed along its north-south axis and offers minimal topographical detail beyond major river systems, the White Mountains, and Leavitt’s own hometown of Lancaster. It does however emphasize the many rail routes available for accessing the region via Boston, New York or Montreal.

The map’s real glory lies, however, in its less functional elements. At the base is a profile view of the high peaks of the White Mountains, purportedly as “seen from the north west side.” While the elevations given are reasonably accurate, the drawing in fact jumbles together views of peaks taken from different angles, while significantly exaggerating their precipitousness. Just above the profile are perspective views of many of the grand hotels that sprang up to serve the growing number of visitors-and which served as outlets for distributing Leavitt’s maps to eager tourists. Surmounting the whole are four views of White Mountains waterfalls, flanking wonderful vignettes of human encounters with the wilderness: the famous 1826 landslide that killed the Willey family in Crawford Notch, Abel Crawford shooting a bear, Ethan Crawford having killed a moose, and-this writer’s favorite-Leavitt himself being lowered down the side of Mt. Willard to explore the “Devil’s Den.”

Cobb, New Hampshire Maps, #218 (American Antiquarian, Dartmouth, New Hampshire Historical Society). David Tatham, “Franklin Leavitt’s Pictorial Maps of the White Mountains,” in Prints of New England, ed. Georgia Brady Barnhill (1991), pp. 115-118 (fig. 6.4). OCLC #14190478 and 57273236, giving examples at Boston Athenaeum, Dartmouth and the New Hampshire Historical Society. Another is held by the American Antiquarian Society. All of Leavitt’s maps, along with biographical information, may be viewed on line at the White Mount History web site.


Old folds flattened, with repairs to a few minor separations and losses. Lined with mulberry tissue. Withal, quite good for an ephemeral item printed on very fragile paper.