The Mapmaker’s Daughter



Map of Connecticut circa 1625: Indian Trails, Villages, Sachemdoms. Compiled by Mathias Spiess, Drawn by Hayden L. Griswold, Copyrighted by Mary Pierson Cheney, 1930. The Connecticut Historical Society.

It’s a Cinderella story. Mary Pierson (1874-1949) was the daughter of Stephen C. Pierson, a civil engineer based in Meriden, Connecticut. The CHS has a large map of Meriden surveyed by Pierson in 1891. In 1898, his daughter Mary married Horace Bushnell Cheney, a member of the Cheney silk manufacturing dynasty. The couple traveled widely, had a huge mansion on Forest Street in Manchester, Connecticut overlooking the Great Lawn and a vacation home in Marlborough, Connecticut. Besides helping to run the silk business, Horace was a talented amateur photographer who took many pictures of Mary and their children. In 1930, Mary, who was president of the Colonial Dames, asked Mathias Spiess, a tobacco broker who was the unofficial town historian of Manchester, to compile a map based on his extensive research on Native Americans in Connecticut. The map, which incorporates details from early Dutch maps of New England, was drawn by Hayden L. Griswold, a prominent Manchester civil engineer. The Colonial Dames distributed free copies of the map to libraries and historical societies throughout the state. I’d like to think that this map was inspired at least in part by Mary’s memories of her father, who died suddenly in 1918, while he was out surveying.

With generous support from Connecticut Humanities, the Connecticut Historical Society recently added more than 800 historic maps of Connecticut to its online database.  Also included in the database are hundreds of Horace Bushnell Cheney’s photographs of his family.

Planning the Transcontinental Railroad

The Connecticut Historical Society has just completed a major map project, Maps and Charts: Finding Your Place in Connecticut History, with funding from Connecticut Humanities and the William and Alice Mortensen Foundation. Eight hundred maps from the CHS collection may now be viewed in the CHS online catalog. This 1853 map showing proposed routes for a transcontinental railroad is one of my favorites. It was drawn by Edwin F. Johnson, a civil engineer from Middletown, Connecticut, and printed by E.B. & E.C. Kellogg in Hartford. Johnson was born in Vermont in 1803 and served as surveyor general of Vermont, before moving to Middletown, where he established the first department of civil engineering in the country at the Military College that was the precursor to Wesleyan University. Johnson was not just a teacher, however; he was a practical engineer who worked on many early New England railroads, including the New York & Boston Air Line Railroad. As early as 1840, he was advocating a railroad to the West, crossing the Mississippi River at Rock Island, Illinois. In 1853, he published a pamphlet recommending the route later developed by the Northern Pacific Railroad, of which he eventually became chief engineer. This map accompanied the pamphlet and illustrated the proposed route. The first continental railroad, the Union Pacific, was completed in 1869. The Northern Pacific was still under construction when Johnson died in 18722012_312_202