An attractive, sweeping and carefully-rendered 1886 bird’s-eye view of the town of Peterborough, New Hampshire as seen from the east, with Mount Monadnock towering in the background, by one of the most prolific American viewmakers of the 19th century.
First settled by Europeans in 1749 and incorporated in 1760 by Governor Benning Wentworth, Peterborough was well placed to embrace the Industrial Revolution. The Contocook River, which flows north and empties into the Merrimack, provided many promising sites for siting mills and factories. Already by 1810 the first cotton factory was established, and by the 1880s, when this view was made, there were at least three textile mills; factories making furniture, shoes, thermometers, trusses, carriages &c. That said, rail service in the form of the Monadnock Railroad did not reach the town until 1871, which must placed a real constraint on growth. The population expanded only slowly, from 1333 in 1800 to 2507 in 1890.
This bird’s-eye view by Lucien Burleigh captures the town as seen from the east in Summer or early Fall, while Peterborough’s trees were fully leafed out. Four insets depict South Peterboro, West Peterboro, and two outlying factories along the Contocook, while a legend identifies churches, public buildings, factories and other businesses. It appears that artist Burleigh has attempted to depict every structure—even every door and window—with great thoroughness. The overall impression is of a dynamic little manufacturing town, with the Contoocook River powering numerous substantial factories manufacturing a wide range of goods, with ready access to markets provided by the Monadnock Railroad (at the time controlled by the Boston & Maine), which is visible in the foreground following the river.
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.
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 Peterborough: Every building is carefully rendered, as for example the Coffin Shoe Factory at the foot of Main Street, and great care taken to differentiate the foliage on the many trees lining the streets of the town.
In all, a fine, detailed and very rare rendering of this important southern New Hampshire town.
Cobb, New Hampshire Maps to 1900, #413 (Library of Congress and New York Public Library). Reps, Views and Viewmakers of Urban America, #2259 (Boston Public, Library of Congress, New Hampshire Historical Society, Peterborough Historical Society). OCLC 5451230, together giving holdings at Boston Public, Library of Congress and Penn State as of Sept. 2022. Background on Burleigh from Reps, Views and Viewmakers, pp. 167-170.