The official map of the City of Boston for 1864, revised under the supervision of City Engineer N. Henry Crafts and providing a valuable snapshot of the city at a time of breakneck growth.
In 1860 the city of Boston was expanding in just about every sense of the word: In just the past decade its population had grown by more than 46%, to nearly 178,000; manufacturing was fueling economic growth; vast new infrastructure was being introduced in the form of roads, railroads, and wharves, with plans afoot to improve the water supply. The city was also expanding in the literal sense, with huge landfill projects planned or underway in the Back Bay, South Bay, South Boston and East Boston. To document and shape this process the city needed a new official map, one that could be regularly revised and reissued as the city continued to grow.
“[In 1860] the City Council decided to have a new 500-scale [i.e., 500 feet to the inch] map of the city prepared by the city engineer’s office. This map was then issued annually, with updates, from 1861 to 1868 (except in 1865) under the name of the city engineer—James Slade (1861-1863) titled, for example, Plan of Boston, Corrected under the direction of . . . Committee on Printing, James Slade, City Engineer  and N. Henry Crafts (1864-1868) titled, for example, Plan of Boston, with Additions and Corrections made by N. Henry Crafts, City Engineer, 1868. In 1868 the map was enlarged to include Roxbury, which had been annexed to the city that year. In 1869 responsibility for the map shifted to the office of the city surveyor, Thomas W. Davis, and the map was published under Davis’s name that year and in 1870, when as Plan of Boston, with Additions and Corrections made under direction of Thomas W. Davis, City Surveyor, it was enlarged again to accommodate the annexation of Dorchester. With its large scale, annual updates, and inclusion, after 1863, of Chesbrough’s 1630 shoreline… the city engineer’s/surveyor’s map is generally an accurate source of information for a study of landmaking…” (Seasholes, pp. 441-442)
Offered here is the 1864 edition of the map, with updates and revisions overseen by then-City Engineer N. Henry Crafts. It’s an wonderfully-detailed piece of work: Above and beyond the expected ward boundaries, street plan, railroads, public buildings, places of worship, &c, it shows the locations of hundreds of “signal stations” (i.e., fire alarm boxes), delineates the network of walking paths in Boston Common and the Public Gardens, and shows the double row of trees that still line Commonwealth Avenue.
But perhaps the map’s most interesting feature is its simultaneous depiction of the city’s past, present and future: A snaking gray line indicates the original shoreline of the Shawmut Peninsula, demonstrating that when first settled Boston was essentially a 700-acre island linked to the mainland by a narrow isthmus in the area of modern-day Washington Street. At the same time, large parts of the street grid—particularly in the Back Bay, South Boston and East Boston—did not yet exist in reality but were planned for areas newly filled or soon to be filled.
Nathaniel Henry Crafts
Crafts was born in Watertown, Massachusetts in 1820. His first employment was for five years at his brother’s “wool-pulling” business—an endeavor which, I just learned, involves pulling wool from the skins of dead sheep, yielding a grade of wool that is useful but coarser than that sheared from live animals. His Boston Globe obituary leaves a gap of nearly a decade, which presumably involved some form of education, for in 1849 he went to work for the chief engineer of the eastern division of the Boston Water Works. From there he moved in 1851 to work for E. S. Chesbrough, Boston’s first City Engineer, and worked under him and his successor James Slade until he succeeded Slade in 1864, the year this map was produced. He held the City Engineer position until 1872, during which time he oversaw the construction of the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, the extension of the water supply into newly-annexed Dorchester and Roxbury, and the cutting down of Fort Hill to create more space for development and provide material for the filling of South Cove.
In all, a rare and striking historical map of the United States, in remarkably good condition.
Boston Engineering Department, Checklist of Maps of Boston, p. 157. Alan Krieger and David Cobb, Mapping Boston, p. 207, pl. 40 (1862 ed.), Nancy Seasholes, Surveying the Shore, pp. 441-442. Background on Crafts from an obituary in The Boston Globe for June 15, 1908, p. 6.