A fine bird’s-eye view of White Plains, New York by preeminent viewmaker Lucien Burleigh

L[ucien] R[inaldo] Burleigh (artist) / The Burleigh Litho. Establishment, WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. 1887. Troy, NY: L. R. Burleigh, 1887.
Two-stone lithograph, 13 ¼”h x 28 ¼”w plus title, legend and very generous margins on a 19 ¼”h x 32”w sheet. In-fill to small losses in sky and some restoration to edges and corners, all visible only on very close inspection.

An attractive, sweeping and carefully-rendered 1887 bird’s-eye view of the village of White Plains, New York as seen from the southwest, by one of the most prolific American viewmakers of the 19th century. One of very few known examples.

First settled by Connecticut Puritans in the 1680s, White Plains became the Westchester county seat in 1758, though the town of White Plains was not created until later and the village not incorporated until 1866. Lacking significant water power in the area, White Plains remained a quiet county seat with a largely agricultural economy until the New York Central Railroad reached the area in 1844 and provided an easy connection with New York City (The tracks and the station on Orawaupum Street are visible at lower-left center of this view.) Thus by 1887, when this view was published, a transition was well underway from a quiet county seat with a largely agricultural economy to a fast-growing suburb of the nation’s largest city. Indeed, White Plains was booming—relatively speaking–its population growing from some 2400 in 1880 to more than 4000 in 1890 and nearly 8000 at the turn of the century. The view captures the village in the middle of this transition, clearly documenting the growth of the population and the pushing of agricultural land to the margins, but still with little sign of the banking and commercial center that would emerge in the early 20th century.

Artist, lithographer and publisher Lucien Rinaldo Burleigh (1853-1923) obtained a B.S. in civil engineering from the Worcester County Free Institute of Industrial Science (now Worcester Polytechnic). He graduated in 1875, in the midst of economic depression, and perhaps due to lack of opportunities for engineers he walked away from his training and instead “secured employment with a Milwaukee lithographing company, for whom he made bird’s eye view pencil sketches of villages and the smaller cities, to be copied on stone and printed.” (from an obituary of Burleigh, quoted by Reps on p. 168)  He went on to have an extremely prolific career and according to Reps between 1882 and 1899 was involved as artist, lithographer and/or publisher in the production of no fewer than 228 bird’s-eye views, primarily of small cities and towns in New York and New England. “His views,” write Reps, “document the appearance of pattern of small-town New York and New England with a clarity and thoroughness unsurpassed by any other viewmaker.”

The late John Reps, pre-eminent scholar of American bird’s-eye views, praises Burleigh’s work for “document[ing] the appearance of pattern of small-town New York and New England with a clarity and thoroughness unsurpassed by any other viewmaker.” Burleigh’s characteristic thoroughness, perhaps the result of his training as an engineer, is very much in evidence on this view of White Plains: Every building carefully rendered, as for example the County Courthouse at the intersection of Railroad Ave. and Grand Street, and great care taken to differentiate the foliage on the many trees lining the streets of the village.

In all, a fine, detailed and very rare rendering of this important Westchester County village.

Reps, Views and Viewmakers, #2948 (Library of Congress and New York Historical only). OCLC 5451461, giving only the Library of Congress example and another at Penn State, as of Aug. 2022.