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.

Playing the Teaching Game

Quotap Desk CHSI teach by day and work with toys by night. If that opening did not give you a hint, yes I am a comic book fan. I’m always trying to figure out a way to bring that out in my teaching, whether is setting up my desk at work with fun action figures, or trying to work video games into a lesson plan, my most effective work usually has a part of me in it. Continue reading

Sledding Down Drive A


Fifty years before I was born, children of the Cheney family enjoyed sledding on the Great Lawn in Manchester. My grandparents and great grandparents worked in the Cheney silk mills. The Connecticut Historical Society, 1988.133.73

When I found Drive A on a map last summer, when we were in the middle of our map project, “Finding Your Place in Connecticut History,” I knew that I had found my place. There it was on a map of Greater Hartford from the 1950s: Drive A in the housing complex known as Silver Lane Homes in Manchester. Like most of the streets in Silver Lane Homes, Drive A ran steeply downhill. Our house was located near the top of the hill; there was a big pine tree near the bottom and right after that the street curved sharply to the left. I’d forgotten about that, but the map showed it plainly. The houses were flimsy things, built for workers at Pratt & Whitney during World War II. I lived there until I was eight years old. When the houses were torn down, I moved only a block away, and the abandoned streets were fantastic places to go sledding in the winter, smooth and straight (except for that big curve) and no cars. We ran races and set up obstacle courses, jumping our sleds over hillocks and maneuvering around and under trees. My sled was a Flexible Flier, one of the fastest and best. We never complained about the snow in those days. Those wartime housing complexes don’t appear on many maps. We don’t have any pictures of them in the graphics collection at the Connecticut Historical Society (how I wish we did). Finding Drive A on a map was a special experience for me that brought back a special period in my childhood. Funny how a map can do that.

Peek Behind the Scenes All Year Long!

behindc the scenes at CHSIt is time to unveil the 2014 line up of Behind-the-Scenes Tours. We’re offering even more access to the hidden treasures of Connecticut history that are normally behind closed doors, and with the option of buying a Season Pass, you can get that sneak peek at a great 20% discount!

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A Specialist in Cemeteries


Designed and drawn by Benjamin F. Hatheway (1827-1906). The Connecticut Historical Society, 2012.312.45

Some engineers specialize in land surveys, others in laying out highways or railroads. Benjamin F. Hatheway specialized in the design of cemeteries. Hatheway was born in 1827. I’m not sure when he developed his interest in the lovely rural cemeteries that were so popular in the nineteenth century, but he designed a lot of them, in places like Poughkeepsie, Hyde Park, and New Palz, New York, and Dover, New Hampshire. This map shows his plan for Woodlawn Cemetery in Suffield, Connecticut, his hometown. It incorporates curving roads and ponds and to create a park-like setting for the graves. Only a portion of the cemetery is laid out in plots; the rest remained to be developed at the time Hatheway’s map was made, about a year after the cemetery opened in 1872. By this time, Hatheway was living in Stamford, Connecticut, which remained his home for the remainder of his life, and where he is buried—in Woodland Cemetery, one of the beautiful rural cemeteries that he loved so well.

Hatheway’s map of Woodlawn Cemetery is one of over 800 maps that have recently been digitized with support from Connecticut Humanities. To see more maps and learn more about their stories, explore the Connecticut Historical Society’s online catalog.

The Names Have Been Changed


Map from The New and Unknown World, by Arnoldus Montanus, Amsterdam, 1671. The Connecticut Historical Society, 2012.172.2

Look at any really old map of Connecticut—from about 1800 or earlier—and you’ll see lots of unfamiliar place names. In part this is simply because spelling had not been standardized, but many places were simply called different things at different points in time. The Native Americans had their own names and so did the Dutch. A few of those early names have endured, but others have long been replaced by names imported from England. There is a wonderful book called Connecticut Place Names, long out of print, which was published by the Connecticut Historical Society in 1976. It gives the origins of all the different names by which communities and geographical features have been known over time. We use it at CHS when we try to determine where old photographs were taken, when all we have to go by is a microscopic road sign in the picture or a scribbled annotation on the back. We also use it to date undated maps on the basis of the names that do or do not appear on them. It’s a reminder that names are often arbitrary things and that just like everything else they are subject to change.

So take a look at some of the old maps which have recently been digitized with support from Connecticut Humanities, and think about the names you see every day, as you drive to work or walk around your neighborhood: the names of streets and streams, roads and rivers, towns and cities. Rightly understood, these names have the ability to take us back in time and connect us with the past.

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

The Incredible Life and Mysterious Death of Captain George M. Colvocoresses

CHS got a grant last summer from the Connecticut Humanities Council to catalog and digitize 800 of its 1000+ maps. I’ve done most of the cataloging on these maps. We’ve got maps that are hundreds of years old, from the 17th century, and maps that are from the late 1990s. They vary in size, from the teeny to the huge. Some are very rare and others are pretty commonplace. Continue reading

The Revolution in Connecticut

I recently returned from a mini-vacation to visit some friends in Colonial Williamsburg (and brought back a cold, which leads to my apology at this late posting!).  Even after living in New England for almost six years, I still think of Virginia and Massachusetts when I think of the American Revolution.  Being a Midwestern girl, most of my education on the subject of the American Revolution revolved around these two states (when we weren’t talking about the French fur traders on the mighty Mississippi).  These were the places you learned of and the places you yearned to visit.  However, after being immersed in a crash-course of New England history upon my move, I’ve learned quite a bit about the part Connecticut played in our fight for independence.


A New and Correct Map of the United States of North America. 1784. Engraved and Printed by Abel Buell. 1950.553.0.

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Treasure Maps

Maps may lead us to buried treasure, but not all treasure is found below the ground. On Saturday, June 8, learn more about the map holdings of CHS at our Behind-the-Scenes tour. A map recently discovered in the Rudd and Holley Family Collection leads us to another kind of “buried treasure.”  Continue reading