A lovely, richly-informative and very scarce wall map of Fairfield County, Connecticut published by Richard Clark in 1858 and in entirely original condition.
Published in 1858, this was for its time by far the largest and most detailed map of Fairfield County. The area’s topography, particularly in the northwest part of the county, is shown by hachuring and shading, and rivers, streams, ponds and wetlands are delineated with care. Town boundaries are indicated by heavy outline color, and an effort has been made to show every road and rail line. Arguably the map’s greatest contribution, however, lies in its identification by name of many thousands of landowners and residents, as well as schools, businesses, and places of worship (Indeed abbreviations are used to differentiate the places of worship of no fewer than seven Christian denominations, while others indicate schools, post offices, cemeteries, and several types of manufacturing establishment.) To all this are added no fewer than 16 pictorial vignettes of fine area residences and other landmarks, and more than a dozen large-scale inset plans of urban areas such as Bridgeport and other population centers, all of which add immense documentary value while enhancing the map’s considerable decorative impact.
The map was for its time the best-available visual resource for understanding the population density and demographics of Fairfield County and was only superseded by the town and county atlases that began to proliferate in the 1870s. For all its excellence, however, it did have significant limitations imposed by its method of construction. Per the subtitle, it was based on “actual” survey by J. Chace of Troy, New York and W.J. Barker of North Hector, New York. In practice this meant that Chace and Barker, or those working “under their direction” systematically walked (or rode by horseback) the county’s many miles of roads armed only with an odometer and compass, and perhaps a stick for fending off hostile dogs. They would have made careful notes of the length and bearing of each stretch of road they traversed, the location and owner of any dwellings, churches or other landmarks they passed, and the rough shape of any areas of elevation and bodies of water visible from the road. Depending on Chace and Barker’s diligence, they may have double-checked their data against existing maps available in town records or, for coastal areas, the excellent charts of the U.S. Coast Survey. A true topographic map would have to await the work of the U.S. Geological Survey in the 1880s and thereafter.
In the 1850s Richard Clark was very active as a publisher of large-scale town and county maps, and dozens of maps of New England counties and towns issued during this period bear his imprint. While the maps issued by Clark were probably less accurate than those by his major competitor Henry F. Walling, they are information rich and far more decorative, typically bearing large-scale inset plans of population centers, numerous pictorial vignettes of local landmarks and richly ornamental borders.
Chace was a civil engineer based in Troy, New York. Per Ristow he is credited as the surveyor and/or publisher of more than 20 county surveys between 1854 and 1860, the majority in New England and others in New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. (Ristow,p. 387-88) Between 1856 and 1860 William Barker of North Hector New York published seven or eight maps of Pennsylvania counties, some with imprints placing him at a Philadelphia address.
Phillips, Maps of America, p. 276. Stephenson, Land Ownership Maps: A Checklist, #59 (#58 mentions an 1856 1st edition.) Thompson, Maps of Connecticut, #176 (Thompson lists holdings at the American Geographical Society, Boston Public and Connecticut Historical Society. He also mentions the 1856 first edition, held at the New York Historical Society.) Some background on mapmakers and publishers from Ristow, American Maps and Mapmakers.