The 1852 Slatter & Callan map of Boston… the largest-scale map of the city to date

Slatter & B. Callan, Civil Engineers / Ferd[inand] Mayer’s Lith[ograph]y (lithographer and printer), MAP OF THE CITY OF BOSTON MASS[ACHUSET]TS. 1852. Boston and New York: M[atthew] Dripps & L.N. Ide, 1852.
Lithograph on six sheets joined, 56” high x 36” wide plus margins, original outline and wash color. Varnish toned, some minor scuffing, staining and wear, but about as good as one can hope for with this map.

“I have examined your map of Boston proper, just published, and find it more correct than any other published map of Boston I have yet seen.” (Ellis Sylvester Chesbrough, first city engineer of Boston)

A monumental and information-rich wall map of mid-19th century Boston and the largest-scale map of the city issued up to that time.  Very rare, with but four examples known in institutional collections and one in private hands.

Slatter and Callan portray this intensely developed urban area in immense detail. Not only does the map depict Boston’s topographical features, street plan, rail lines and wharves, but the very large scale makes it possible to accommodate property lines as well as the footprints of individual buildings (with different shading used to indicate construction materials). To get a sense of the detail, one need only examine the depiction of Boston Common, where one can make out the network of walking paths and individual plantings (each with its own shadow!) The decorative impact of the image is enhanced by a lovely foliate border and 16 pictorial vignettes of landmarks such as the State House, the Custom House, City Hall and Faneuil Hall.

As can be seen on the map, in the early 1850s Boston was at an intermediate stage of its topographic development. The shoreline of the Shawmut Peninsula had been extended in all directions, South Bay was in the process of being filled to create the neighborhoods along Harrison and Albany Streets, and the Back Bay had been occluded by rail lines and the Mill Dam complex and partially filled to create the South End neighborhood along Tremont Street. In all, this is an amazingly informative and appealing plan of one of America’s leading cities in the mid-19th century.

Publication history
The planned publication was announced in 1851,

“We have inspected the draught of a new map of Boston from a survey by Messrs Slatter & Callan, which promises to be of a superior character to any yet published or proposed. It is drawn to a scale of 300 feet to one inch, showing every house, building and lot, with the names of all the wards, streets, public buildings, places of worship, newspaper offices, &c. The surveyors are Messrs Slatter & Callan; and from the specimens we have seen of their skill in surveys of New York and other cities, we are persuaded they will do their work with the utmost nicety and accuracy” (Boston Daily Evening Transcript, May 10, 1851)

Publication was announced on March 24, 1851,

“We noticed briefly … the appearance of another new map of the city, published by Mr. Ide, of this city, in conjunction with Mr. Dripps, of New York. … . It is a beautiful map of the old city, but it does not include East or South Boston, with the exception of an inconsiderable portion of the latter, these being judiciously omitted … It appears from the examination which we have made of many of its details, to be carefully and accurately drawn, and it is neatly engraved on stone … It is a kind of map which has been much wanted, and we have no doubt, it will be in demand as a work of extensive utility.” (Boston Semi-Weekly Advertiser, March 24, 1852)

John Slatter and Bernard Callan
The survey is credited to “Slatter & Callan”, the partnership of John Slatter (b.1821?) and Bernard Callan (1819-1886). Slatter arrived in the United States aboard the Europa, departing Liverpool and arriving in New York on May 23, 1850. The manifest lists him as an English-born civil engineer, aged 29. The very next person on the passenger list was Bernard Cullen, also a civil engineer but Irish-born, aged 45. Beyond a short window of activity with Callan, Slatter has not been further traced.

Callan is rather better documented, although his biography is handicapped by his, and his wife’s, inclination to give widely differing ages and therefore dates of birth on official forms – 45 in 1840, 35 in 1856 and 42 in 1860, and even on his tombstone (b. 1815).

Slatter and Callan worked in New York, then Boston in 1851 and Cleveland in 1852, where they surveyed and published a four-sheet plan of Cleveland, lithographed in Philadelphia, but with no example located. The Cleveland Leader noted that “Getting up city maps is an old business to Slatter & Callan. The latest and most approved map of Boston is their work, as well as the maps of several other cities of smaller size.” (March 29, 1852).

Slatter disappears at this time, while Callan proposed, in July 1852, to publish a plan of Zanesville, Ohio, though I have been unable to locate any examples. He remained in Cleveland in private practice as a civil engineer and surveyor until 1856, relocating in that year to Des Moines where he remained until his death. There he continued to work as a civil engineer and surveyor; he announced plans to produce a plan of des Moines, but found little local enthusiasm, and the map was probably not published.

A great year for Boston maps
For some reason no fewer than three other monumental maps of the Boston area appeared in 1852. One is a map of the greater Boston area privately published by J.C. Sidney, and another is a reconstruction of the original Boston shoreline by City Engineer E.S. Chesbrough. The third, Henry McIntyre’s Map of the City of Boston and Immediate Neighborhood, is on a smaller scale than the Slatter and Callan map (450 feet to the inch) and is generally less detailed and considered to be less accurate. It lacks the lot lines depicted by Slatter and Callan, though it does include much information about property ownership not provided by them.

Nancy Seasholes has pointed out that the McIntyre and Slatter and Callan maps “have differences in notation and some outright discrepancies.” For example, where McIntyre indicates Martin’s Wharf along the old South Cove, Slatter and Callan show “Loring late Martin’s” Wharf. To take another example, Seasholes points out that the huge Boston Wharf Company wharf in South Boston is shown in an essentially complete state by Slatter and Callan, whereas McIntyre depicts it as a work in progress. These two examples alone suggest strongly that McIntyre’s surveys were conducted some years prior to those of Slatter and Callan, and that for some reason publication was delayed until 1852.

Boston Engineering Department, List of Maps of Boston, p. 136 (listing examples only at the Boston Public Library and New England Historic Genealogical Society). Krieger and Cobb, Mapping Boston, p. 203 (ill.). OCLC #36487054 (as of October 2021 giving the Boston Public Library example and additional copies at the Boston Athenaeum and Brown University). Not in Phillips or Rumsey. Some background from Nancy Seasholes, “On the Use of Historical Maps.” In Mary C. Beaudry, ed., Documentary Archaeology in the New World.