Franklin Leavitt was many things: a well respected mountain guide, a mapmaker, a publisher, and later in life, a poet. He was involved with building the Crawford Path, the Alpine House in Gorham, and the Carriage Road. He's one of the many characters the region produced. His maps might be considered more as folk art than as topographical maps, and his poetry was, to put it politely, unique. He was born in 1824 in Lancaster, NH, and died in 1898. There are links to two of his published maps, with biographical information, lower down on this page. Examples of his poetry also appear lower down on this page.
Leavitt was entirely self-educated, but he had evidently seen professionally executed topographical maps, and he knew what he wanted to achieve. He was also exceptionally enterprising, and he saw an opportunity to make money by selling souvenir maps to the burgeoning numbers of tourists coming to the White Mountains. One can try to imagine the reaction of a respected printer in Boston when a laborer from northern New Hampshire turned up on his doorstep with instructions for running off a large run of maps, of which he had only a simple drawing. And one can wonder at the financial risks that Leavitt and the printers took in agreeing to this business proposition.
Three manuscript maps by Franklin Leavitt are known to exist. One (dated 1869) is in the collection of the Lancaster (NH) Historical Society and two have recently been acquired from the Douglas Philbrook collection by Adam Jared Apt. Adam has generously allowed us to include these two maps on this website.
Doug Philbrook's widow has told us the story of Doug's twenty-year quest for those maps. Doug somehow learned than an elderly woman in Lancaster had a cast-iron safe, allegedly full of Franklin Leavitt maps. The safe was stored outside, exposed to the elements, and could not be opened because the combination had been lost. Doug made repeated visits to the woman (and the safe) over a twenty-year period, concerned about their safety. He offered to have a locksmith come and open the safe; he offered to have the safe trucked to safe storage where it could be opened; but the owner declined each such suggestion. Eventually, the owner moved to Franconia, and in the mid-1980s, the safe was opened. As it turned out, the safe contained just what it had been said to contain: several Leavitt maps, including the two unique manuscript maps, all undamaged despite the safe's having been outdoors. Extended negiotations resulted in Doug's being able to acquire all the material. He kept the material that was lacking in his collection and passed the duplicates on to other collectors.
Clicking on any map will bring up an enlarged image.
Manuscript 1877 Map
Manuscript 1879 Map
Close study of these maps will show curious differences between them, and also idiosyncracies that differentiate them from the published maps. Both have several misspellings, although the 1879 map has fewer. Leavitt seems to have trouble writing the letter 'S' the correct way around. On both maps, there are examples of the reversed 'S', but fewer on the 1877 map. Most noticeable is the difference in the drawings of the hotels. The 1877 map shows roughly sketched buildings, with little attention to actual appearance. The hotels on the 1879 map appear to have been drawn with a ruler and are closer to the actual appearance of the buildings. (The 1869 map does not show any buildings, or other embellishments other than mountains.) The 1877 map is partly done in pencil; the 1879 date appears to have been altered and both show an arrow labeled for north and south, a feature that does not appear on most other Leavitt maps. One can speculate on whether anyone else assisted Leavitt in his drawings, but the writing does appear to be uniformly in one style.
Another distinctive aspect of these two manuscript maps is their small size. The published maps were far larger. It is likely that Leavitt presented his printers with small maps, which they (on his instructions) enlarged. Also, these manuscript maps have far less in the way of illustration than most of the published ones. (The 1879 has a few sketch drawings near the center.) One may speculate that, had these been published, they would have constituted the central portion of the broadsides, which would have had additional drawings by Leavitt around the borders.
This illustration of the 1869 map is a copy taken from an article by David Tatham, in Prints of New
England, published by the American Antiquarian Society in 1991. It is used with their permission, and that of the Lancaster, NH Historical Society. That article, Franklin Leavitt's Pictorial Maps, is the definitive history of Leavitt's maps.
Published copies of Leavitt's 1852 map and his 1871 map appear elsewhere on this site, both with informative commentary by Adam Jared Apt. You can also see all the Leavitt maps, by clicking here.
When Leavitt retired from the map business, around 1888, he started to publish poetry. As far as is presently known, Leavitt published four broadsides, which he sold at local hotels. Two broadside are below. Click on either for a larger version.
Read all four (two of which were only available from photocopies in the collections of Dartmouth).
The Kilkenny Smashup, 1890
Collection of Bryant Tolles
The 1888 broadside is comprised of several short verses, including one about the 1885 Cherry Mountain slide and another about the Glen House.
1888 Broadside Verse
From a Private Collection
The Lancaster Historical Society has a manuscript with several verses by Leavitt and they have kindly allowed us to include it. Two of the verses in the manuscript are included on the 1888 broadside. Perhaps others were published on broadsides we have not seen. Click here to read the manuscript.
David Tatham has also published the definitive article on Leavitt's poetry in the Fall, 1978 issue of Historical New Hampshire. (Reproduced here through the courtesy of the New Hampshire Historical Society.) Tatham also published a small booklet that included the poem about the Willey Tragedy. Only 76 copies were printed. Our copy is from the collection of Bryant Tolles.