Saturday, September 17, 2011

I Am a Map Magnet

From Chester Public Library Sept. 2011
Not too long ago, I found a map at the Plainfield Public Library, hidden in an envelope of Courier News clippings. It seems that the universe has recognized my love of all things cartographic and sent another great gift of New Jersey history in my direction. During my first week working at Chester Public Library, Lesley (the library's Director) came into my office holding a long oblong box with an ebony handle poking out of one end, and said there was a map inside. The map had been hidden behind a filing cabinet, and its provenance was a mystery. I immediately rose and said we should go into the big meeting room two doors down and set up a few tables on which to unroll the map.
From Chester Public Library Sept. 2011
We each clad our hands in white cotton gloves and gently began unrolling the map. Lesley followed my speed, taking great care since we saw that the map was acidic and quite brittle (see the photo immediately above). Fortunately, the rest of the map was in very good shape for its age and its storage. It had been pretty tightly rolled, sleeved in a cardboard liner, then placed within a cardboard carton with one open end.
From Chester Public Library Sept. 2011
As soon as we had it unrolled, Lesley held the bottom ebony roller while I took as many photos as possible. The one directly above was taken from atop a step-stool. As you can see from the photo and the ones to follow, the center of the map is a topographic representation of the state, while surrounding images include small illustrations of cities from elevated views, street maps, and a fascinating time dial.
From Chester Public Library Sept. 2011
Above is a street map of Paterson, which has seen its fair share of news lately due to the recent hurricane Irene.
From Chester Public Library Sept. 2011
The city of Newark anchors the lower right corner of the map.
From Chester Public Library Sept. 2011
The border grapevine and flower design, as well as what I'd call "vignettes" of the Delaware Water Gap and Paterson are shown in the illustrations above.
From Chester Public Library Sept. 2011
The map also features a meteorological map designed by Lorin Blodget, author of American Climatology.
From Chester Public Library Sept. 2011
After I had finished photographing the map, I wanted to find out more about it, so Lesley and I began to roll it back up to place back into its original packaging for the time being. During the rolling, we discovered that it had been mounted as two pieces onto a woven fabric that was sewn together (see the photo abov).

As soon as I could, I posted my photos to Picasa and sent out a few emails to the New Jersey State Archives and some contacts at Rutgers Libraries' Special Collections. I heard pretty quickly from archivists at the State Archives who said that they do not have a copy of the map, but that the State Library does (and would we want to sell or donate ours to the archive -- can't blame them really, I'd probably ask the same).

The catalog page of the map states the information found in the title area (shown in the first photo at the very top of this post). If you magnify the image, you can see that it can be dated as 1860 because it states (in rather small print directly above the scale measurement) "Entered according to Act of Congress in the year 1860 by Robt. P. Smith in the Clerks Office of the District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania."

It would be interesting to see which other state offices, organizations, and/or individuals might have a copy of the "Topographical Map of the State of New Jersey, Together with the Vicinities of New York and Philadelphia, and with Most of the State of Delaware from the State Geological Survey and the U.S. Coast Survey, and from Surveys Compiled by G. Morgan Hopkins, Civil Engineer. Adopted for the use of the Geological Survey, authorized by ACTS of the LEGISLATURE passed March 2nd 1854 and March 14th 1860, under the direction of William Kitchell, SUPERINTENDENT of the GEOLOGICAL SURVEY of NEW JERSEY." (The emphasis is not mine.)

If you have any information on the map that you think might be useful, or if you know about the history of this particular map, please let me know. Thanks in advance for any help you may be able to give.

Monday, September 05, 2011

The Good News and the Struggles

The Struggles
It’s hard to share good news these days without feeling a little guilty. However I have very good news, and I will share it. But since I’m one of those people who likes to hear the good news last (in a choice of good or bad news), I’ll share the struggles first.

A friend at the Plainfield Public Library who had been living in a Rahway basement apartment lost everything in the flood accompanying Hurricane Irene. She and her little boy are staying with family in a very small space, which means that co-workers and friends can’t supply her with replacement items yet. But we’re planning. For instance, John and I talked about what we could give up from our pile of combined-household items sitting in storage. It didn’t take long for a quick inventory to produce furnishings that someone starting from scratch should have.

Some immediate needs had to be met first. My flood-surviving friend only had the shoes she was wearing when she was rescued; all the others were destroyed. As always, I am grateful for unexpected generosity. When I reached out to my local and Facebook friends, used shoes in my friend’s size were readily supplied. For those who might be interested in making a donation, when a complete list of her needs is available, I’ll post it here and on Facebook. In the meantime, I’ll continue to let her know of donations that will be coming later.

In other Irene news, like tens of thousands of others, my parents’ basement furnishings and appliances were destroyed. Because they lost power, they did not have a working sump pump. Consequently, the water soaked into everything until they could bail out from it. It could have been much worse, but fortunately, they were able to save some books, papers, and old family photo albums.

I escaped pretty much unscathed. My power was out for four days, but I was able to pack up my frozen and perishable food, and bring it all to a pal who made room in his fridge and spare room for me until the power returned. Because my pal lives less than 2 miles from my house in the opposite direction from the worst flooding in the area, I was able to check on the house daily. Here’s how fortunate I am in all this: the worst of my circumstances was having to postpone my trip to D.C. to tour the Smithsonian’s archives and Field Book Project due to all the road closings and the lack of power.

We live close to the Raritan River, and the flooding made getting to the Plainfield Public Library difficult. Easton Avenue, a major artery in the area, became a red-brown river. Today, it’s not hard to see how far up the water rose. For those who might recognize the landmarks, the water line can be seen on the white cement wall by the Stop and Shop, as well as on leaves of the trees opposite Landing Lane.

Usually we expect that Easton Avenue will be closed by the entrance to Route 287 because the Raritan Canal and River provide the northern border between Somerset and Piscataway. South Bound Brook (which always floods) is the next town to our west. But we didn’t expect that nearly the entirety of Easton Avenue would be closed from that point up to the park past Landing Lane. Thankfully, the river receded quickly, and we haven’t yet had any rain (although NOAA reports that we’ll see rain for the next 4 days). By Tuesday, I was able to get to the Plainfield Public Library in about 30 minutes.

The Good News
Before Irene beat up the East Coast, I had been interviewing for a part-time position at the Chester Public Library. I had met with Lesley, the library’s director, and with members of the Chester Historical Society (CHS), all of whom were delightful. So, I was very pleased when Lesley offered me the newly created Local History Librarian spot.

I’ll be building the Local History Department from scratch and working with the CHS’s volunteers as well as library staff. It’s going to be an exciting partnership between the library and the CHS, since the society has been collecting materials for quite some time and storing them in local storage facility. I expect that it will be a bit slow going because I’ll only be there on a part-time basis, but the CHS members I have met have already assured me that volunteers will plentiful. I’m looking forward to this big adventure and will be sure to share it with you here.

But that’s not the end of my good news. After a year of volunteering at Plainfield Public Library, I’m now a grant-funded, part-time archivist there. I’ll still be an all-purpose archivist (not assigned to a specific project, as you might find with many grant-funded positions), processing and describing collections, but I’ll also help patrons with their wide ranging requests and handle some administrative archives tasks.

The way this all worked out is pretty fantastic. My work at Plainfield dovetails very well with what I’ll be starting at Chester. Plus, my long-time mentor at Plainfield, Sarah, continues to help guide me in ways that will be key to building a successful department. There are great resources closer to Chester in the Morris County Library system that I can turn to, as well as online resources. Among the helpful list servs of the Society of American Archivists is one for solitary practitioners cleverly named “Lone Arrangers.” It’s a great group of folks, and I’ll have to see if there are T-shirts or bumper stickers for a newly minted Lone Arranger like me.

Stay tuned for updates on the big adventures!