Telling the story of 200 years  of White Mountain History
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The Cartography of the White Mountains

                                  By Adam Jared Apt


he cartography of the White Mountains began soon after the first ascent of what we now know as Mount Washington, by Darby Field, in 1642. One of the “divers others” who followed him up the mountain that summer drew a map of the region. The last man to see this map, in 1825, described it as “drawn with tolerable accuracy, of the courses of the rivers flowing from the vicinity of the White Hills,” but shortly after he saw it, the map was destroyed in a conflagration. For many decades after these 1642 ascents, few colonists visited the region, let alone settled there. The native Americans of the Northeast, whose name is usually rendered as the “Abenaki,” had trails through the region, which have been reconstructed on a recent map, but if they recorded maps of their own, these were perishable and did not survive.


The White Mountains first appeared on a published map in 1677, when John Foster showed them as the “White Hills” on his A Map of New-England.  The map was published in both Boston and London, and the London version, which came second, famously misprinted the name as “Wine Hills.”  (This is one of the most valuable of all American maps, and the two printings are to this day known as the “White Hills” version and the “Wine Hills” version.) From the late seventeenth century, European maps of New England and of New Hampshire showed the location of the White Mountains as a whole, but did not distinguish individual peaks or even ranges. The earliest map of the White Mountains, by themselves, to survive into recent times was carved on a powder horn in 1771, but this, too, has recently been lost to fire. Now, the earliest surviving map of the White Mountains may be a manuscript that was elaborated by the Reverend Jeremy Belknap after his visit there in 1784.


Starting in the second half of the eighteenth century, maps of New Hampshire began to identify the White Mountains.  The quality of the cartography of New Hampshire was very high, reflecting the interest of the British colonial enterprise and later the state in having accurate maps. But the cartography of the area of the White Mountains, in particular, was very weak, since the region held little of commercial or political interest until the development of first of tourism, in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, and then of the logging industry, late in the century.


Mount Washington, whose name first appears in print in Jeremy Belknap’s History of New Hampshire (volume 3, 1792), makes its first appearance on a map as “Washington B.” (for “Berg”) on Daniel Sotzmann’s map of New Hampshire (1796); it would be some time before it appeared again on map. Sotzmann’s representation of the White Mountains follows that of Belknap’s map of New Hampshire, published in the second volume of his History (1791). Even Philip Carrigain’s map of New Hampshire (1816), though, does not identify Mount Washington, but it does give its height. Carrigain’s map is of very high quality, but except for its having been engraved in Philadelphia, it is entirely the work of local surveyors and cartographers.  Indeed, throughout the first three-quarters of the nineteenth century, maps of New Hampshire and especially of the White Mountains were largely the work of local cartographers.  With the exception of the work of Henry F. Walling, it wasn’t until the end of the century, with the arrival of the U.S. Geological Survey, that the mapping of the White Mountains again became the province of professional cartographers with national and international experience.  Even afterward, most maps of the region were produced by non-professionals, though some worked to very high standards indeed.


Maps of the White Mountains can be broadly classified into three groups: topographical maps (including hiking maps), tourist and souvenir maps, and thematic maps (covering, for example, such themes as geology, or the regions inhabited by different kinds of flora and fauna). There are some maps that do not easily fall into any of these categories, most notably bird’s-eye views.


The first three printed maps of the White Mountains appeared in 1852, and they were all tourist and souvenir maps. One was by Franklin Leavitt. The first topographical map of the region, by George P. Bond, appeared in 1853.


For the next century and a half, White Mountain maps developed along with the growth of recreational hiking and tourism.  This site has images representing this development, and of some of the key maps during the first century of White Mountain cartography.  


Further Reading


These suggestions for further reading are writings on mountain cartography in general and worthwhile studies of particular White Mountain and New Hampshire maps.


Ambroziak, Brian M. and Jeffrey R. Ambroziak. Infinite Perspectives: Two Thousand Years of Three-Dimensional Mapmaking (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1999).


Apt, Adam Jared. “Harvard Astronomer George Phillips Bond and His Role in Mapping the White Mountains, 1852-1876,” in Historical New Hampshire, vol. 57, nos. 1 & 2 (Concord: New Hampshire Historical Society, Spring/Summer 2002), pp. 39-56.


Apt, Adam Jared. “The Manuscript Notebooks of George P. Bond, 1850-1853,” in Appalachia, vol. 54, no. 1 (Boston: Appalachian Mountain Club, December 2007), pp. 66-84. With corrections to the previous article.


Apt, Adam Jared. “Tolerable Accuracy: A History of White Mountain Hiking Maps,” in Katherine Wroth, ed., White Mountain Guide: A Centennial Retrospective, (Boston: Appalachian Mountain Club, 2007), pp. 170-196. A general history, but with a focus on the maps of the Appalachian Mountain Club. Two errors: on. P. 182, the reference to “the first party to ascent Mount Bond, in 1876” should instead read “1871,” and on p. 185, the reference to “camera [obscura]” should be to “camera [lucida].”


Bourcier, Paul G. History in the Mapping: Four Centuries of Adirondack Cartography: A Catalog of the Exhibition, June 15, 1984 - October 15, 1985. (Blue Mountain Lake, N.Y.: Adirondack Museum, [1986]). Useful for contrasting a nearby mountainous region that was treated very differently by cartographers.


Cobb, David A. New Hampshire Maps to 1900: An Annotated Checklist. (Hanover: New Hampshire Historical Society, 1981).


Imhof, Eduard. Cartographic Relief Presentation, English version edited by H. J. Steward (Redlands, Calif.: ESRI Press, 2007, first published 1965). The standard treatise on how to represent topographic contours, or relief, on maps, with some history of methods.


Machemer, Grace S. “Headquartered at Piscataqua: Samuel Holland’s Coastal and Inland Surveys, 1770-1774,” in Historical New Hampshire, vol. 57, nos. 1 & 2 (Spring/Summer 2002), pp. 4-25.


Mevers, Frank C. and Mica B. Stark. “The Making of the Carrigain Map of New Hampshire, 1803-1816,” in Historical New Hampshire, vol. 52, nos. 3 & 4 (Fall/Winter 1997), pp. 79-95.


Mudge, John T. B. Mapping the White Mountains. (Etna, N.H.: The Durand Press, 1993). A brief survey that fits the cartography of the White Mountains into the broad history of cartography.  Includes a large facsimile of Leavitt’s 1871 map.


Philbrook, Douglas A. “The Grate Pass Powderhorn,” in Appalachia, vol. 36 (1966-67), pp. 24-37. The “Grate Pass” is Crawford Notch.


Ristow, Walter W. American Maps and Mapmakers: Commercial Cartography in the Nineteenth Century. (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1985). Contains the best printed account of the work of Henry F. Walling.


Ruell, David. “The Bird’s Eye Views of New Hampshire: 1875-1899,” in Historical New Hampshire, vol. 38, no. 1. (1983).


Rumsey, David and Edith M. Punt. Cartographica Extraordinaire: The Historical Map Transformed. (Redlands, Calif.: ESRI Press, 2004), chapter 4.


Smith, Alan A. “Mapping the Mountain: Ten Years of Cartography on Mount Washington,” in Appalachia, vol. 48, no. 2 (Boston: Appalachian Mountain Club, December 1990), pp. 18-30. About the making of Brad Washburn’s map of the Presidential Range.


Smith, Alan A. “Mapping the Mountain: Ten Years of Cartography on Mount Washington, Part Two,” in Appalachia, vol 48, no. 3 (Boston: Appalachian Mountain Club, June 1991), pp. 69-80.


Tatham, David. “Franklin Leavitt’s Pictorial Maps of the White Mountains,” in Georgia Brady Barnhill, ed., Prints of New England: Papers Given at the Seventh Annual North American Print Conference. (Worcester: The American Antiquarian Society, 1991), pp. 105-134. Includes a complete account of all the different versions, including much biographical material.


Woodward, D. “The Foster Woodcut Map Controversy: A Further Examination of the Evidence,” in Imago Mundi, vol. 21 (Amsterdam: N. Israel, 1967), pp. 50-61. The paper that definitively established the relationship between the two versions of Foster’s map of New England.

         Click here to view 25 early White Mountain Maps 


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