Category Archives: Maps

- Name that town


Unidentified town plan by Thomas R. Dunn. Library of Virginia Maps Collection.

The Library of Virginia began accessioning maps in 1911. Today its collection has grown to encompass several types of maps, including town plans. One of those plans is currently the center of a mystery for Library of Virginia staff members. Completed by Thomas R. Dunn in the late 19th century, it is drawn with pen and ink on cloth and measures 29 1/2 x 27 1/8 inches. The featured town is 16 blocks wide and 15 blocks high with 4 block spaces in the center. Streets running horizontally are named after states: Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and Colorado. Vertically-laid streets are identified sequentially from First Avenue to Sixteenth Avenue. Beyond this basic information, the plan is unnamed and unidentified. What town does it represent?

Dunn did notate the plan but he didn’t include an index to explain the numerous abbreviations. Several lots are identified by surnames but we haven’t been able to verify if they represent the names of lot owners. A search through ProQuest’s digital Sanborn maps collection was not conclusive but there are several Virginia localities that include sections similar to Dunn’s plan, including Portsmouth. The 1920 Sanborn map of the City of Portsmouth is the first we know of featuring a similarly-laid section.

So, what more do we know? T.R. … read more »

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- The Island Formerly Known as 314


Richard Young, A Plan of the City of Richmond, Detail, 1809.

This summer’s announcement that Mayo’s Island is again for sale prompted a look back at the history of of the most well-known of the James River islands.

Mayo’s Island is located at degrees 37˚31’45.47”N, 77˚25’59.14”W and can easily be viewed through Google Earth. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names officially registered “Mayo’s Island” as a feature name in 1979. The name also appears on earlier maps and atlases of Richmond, including the Beers (1877) and Baist (1889) atlases. Going back even further, the land mass was unnamed on the Young (1809) and Baist (1835) maps of Richmond, identified only as number “314.” An untitled manuscript map of the city drawn circa 1838 merely labels the island as “Toll Gate,” and an 1873 office map of Richmond identifies present-day Mayo’s Island as two islands: Long Island and Confluence Island.

Plats and certificates from the late 18th and early 19th centuries are extant and they reveal that the islands were commonly known as Long and Confluence Islands; parcels of land were granted by the Virginia Land Office to John Mayo (Long Island) in 1792 and to Thomas Burfoot and Milton Clarke (Confluence Island) in 1830. Mayo had petitioned the General Assembly in November 1784 to build a bridge at his own expense and desired to levy a toll to recoup his costs. While John Mayo never saw his … read more »

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- The 2014 Alan M. and Nathalie Voorhees Lecture on the History of Cartography

The 2014 Alan M. and Nathalie Voorhees Lecture on the History of Cartography will be held at the Library of Virginia on Saturday, 12 April.   This year’s lecture features two guest speakers:   Dr. Maury Klein, “Railroad Maps as Promises of the Future,” and William C. Wooldridge, “Tracks on Maps:  Showcasing Virginia’s 19th Century Railroads.”  This event includes a special one-day exhibition of maps relating to the talks from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM.  Out of the Box presents a sneak preview of two of the maps from the Library’s collection that will be on display.


Map and Profile of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, 1856, call number 755 R15 1856, Map Collection, Library of Virginia.

Railroad construction boomed in 1850s Virginia. Railroad companies drafted and published maps to raise support for and to alert the public about ongoing railroad track construction. One example is the Map and Profile of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad.  This shows the railroad track from Lynchburg to Bristol, Virginia, and highlights the technical surveys of the project in tables printed below the map. Coalfields and coal pits are shown.


A Map of the rail roads of Virginia, by Lewis von Buchholtz, 1858, Board of Public Works (BPW 672), Map Collection, Library of Virginia.

In 1858, A Map of the Rail Roads of Virginia by Ludwig von Buchholtz was lithographed by Ritchie and Dunnavant, a Richmond publishing firm. The map clearly shows the railroad lines completed in the commonwealth, those in progress, and those proposed. When compared to the 1848 Internal Improvements Map of Virginia drawn by Claudius Crozet it clearly shows … read more »