III. Thoreau and Maps

Supporting Maine History. The focus of our work is, of course, Maine and its history. Our collecting policy emphasizes the preservation of materials with a clear Maine connection, and many of our special public programs address Maine concerns.

Maps are integral to many aspects of Maine history, most obviously in relation to the many explorers and travelers who traced the region’s coasts, rivers, and hills and to the division of the interior into towns for sale and settlement. These two themes coincide when Henry David Thoreau first traveled into the Maine woods in 1846 during his second summer at Walden. Thoreau’s profession as a land surveyor in Massachusetts (items 7 and 8) presented him with a significant paradox. While his work took him repeatedly into the woods around Concord and permitted him to observe nature closely, each survey inevitably presaged further human modification of the landscape and destruction of those woods. Thoreau nonetheless held all maps up to a high standard for both topographical and geometrical accuracy. He was therefore very disappointed that the standard map of Maine (item 5) seemed to bear little relationship to the actual rivers and lakes of the interior; he much preferred a less common, but higher resolution, map of Maine’s public lands (item 6). For more information about Thoreau, his surveying, and his use of maps at Walden Pond and in Maine, see Kent Ryden, “‘A Labyrinth of Errors’: Thoreau, Cartography, & The Maine Woods,” in his Landscape with Figures: Nature & Culture in New England (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2001), 96-134.