A new month means that it is time for a new item in our virtual display case! This September we’re sharing one of the many bird’s-eye view maps that is found within our Special Collections holdings. Featuring a view from Boston all the way to Provincetown, this map highlights the ins and outs of Massachusetts’ southern coastline and the islands that fill its harbor.
The map, titled “Bird’s eye view of Boston Harbor along the South Shore to Provincetown,” was published in 1920 by the Union News Co. in Boston and printed and engraved by the Federal Engraving and Publishing Co., also in Boston. Bird’s-eye view maps rose to prominence in the mid-1800s, and as their name suggests, they depict towns and landscapes as if seen from above. Though they do show roads, boundary lines, and in this case, shipping routes, bird’s-eye views differ from more technical wayfinding maps because they also include some artistic details and distinguishable features of a location’s built environment. If you look closely at this map, you’ll see miniature representations of lighthouses and boats, and in the bottom center of the map you can even see the golden dome of the State House. Bird’s-eye view maps are also an important resource because they provide a glimpse into what a location looked like at a specific time in history, since they often depict local industries and factories and the size of various towns as they spread into the surrounding open space.
The key at the bottom of this map provides helpful assistance with locating landmarks found within it. Many of the locations are picturesque sites that can still be visited today, like Fort Warren on George’s Island (10) and Race Point Light in Provincetown (23). But the map also depicts locations that were prominent enough in 1920 to be included but are no longer in existence, like the grand Pemberton Hotel (13) which was located at the very end of Nantasket Beach in Hull. The hotel was demolished in the 1950s, but an image of it that dates to the same year as this map can be found in the Boston Public Library’s Leon Abdalian Collection and accessed through the Digital Commonwealth. One other interesting item to note is the New Custom House (B). The tower of the Custom House is an iconic part of Boston’s skyline, but the structure as we know it today was relatively new to viewers in 1920. The 496 foot tower was added to the existing building on State Street between 1913 and 1915. This map is dated, but if it were undated, then the inclusion of “new” in front of Custom House could have helped to give it a circa 1915 date.
These are just a few of the many intricate details in this map. To give it a close examination, check it out on DSpace. And while you’re in DSpace, be sure to peruse our large collection of digitized bird’s-eye view maps. Maybe you’ll find one from your own town!