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The Earliest Printed Map of Amherst, 1833

By John Lancaster
by Michael Buehler

The earliest printed map of Amherst, Massachusetts.

Thanks to the sharp eye and inquiring mind of Council member Adam Apt ’77 (more about that later), and the generous annual allocation of funds by the Friends, the Library has brought home a copy of the earliest printed map of the town, in which the College figures prominently and which the title legend credits to two undergraduates, Charles Baker Adams and Alonzo Gray of the Class of 1834. Adams returned to Amherst as professor of zoology and astronomy, from 1847 until his untimely death in 1853; Gray went on to an academic career at several institutions. The classmates also collaborated on a textbook, Elements of Geology, published in 1853.

Not only does the map include a striking picture of College Row (as well as one of the Mount Pleasant Classical Institution), it labels each house with the owner’s name. So we can see exactly where Edward Hitchcock and other members of the faculty lived at the time.

In 1830, the Massachusetts legislature required “the city of Boston and the several towns in the state to make accurate maps of their territories on a scale of one hundred rods to an inch and deposit them with the secretary of state” (Walter W. Ristow, American Maps and Mapmakers [Detroit, 1985], p. 100), as a preliminary to preparing a new map of the state.

The town maps were prepared in manuscript and filed, as required, with the state; they are still to be found in the state archives. And though the state map was not completed and published until 1844, a number of the town maps were printed (most, like that of Amherst, by Pendleton’s Lithography in Boston), with publication costs borne locally.

Although Adams and Gray are credited as authors on the map, they were certainly chosen for the task and guided by Edward Hitchcock, the eminent geologist who was then professor of chemistry and natural history at the College, as well as the Massachusetts state geologist. (Hitchcock’s own geological map of the state was printed by Pendleton’s in the same year.)

The story of this copy’s return to Amherst is also worth noting. Adam Apt had seen a copy displayed at Harvard not long ago, and when in town for the Millionth Volume Celebration and spring Friends Council meeting, inquired whether the College owned a copy. We were dismayed to find that, despite the map’s origins, we did not.

Serendipitously, soon after that, Adam was visiting Michael Buehler, proprietor of Boston Rare Maps, and learned that he had recently acquired a fine copy. He put Daria D’Arienzo and me in touch with Mike, who visited Amherst with the map. We were taken with its fine condition; the Friends annual allocation, made at the spring meeting, meant that funds were available, and it now resides in the Archives and Special Collections.