Booster Mapping of a Growing City

References to the Fore!

Detail of Cullum 1836

Booster Mapping of a Growing City



The port-village beside the Fore River rebounded, if slowly, from the disaster of its destruction in 1775. It became the core of the new town of Portland, set off from Falmouth in 1786. The new town’s name was derived from Portland Head, actually in Cape Elizabeth, which marked the entry point into Casco Bay and the harbor in the Fore River. The town of Portland comprised much more than the nucleated port-village: it encompassed the entire neck of land, including Munjoy Hill to the northeast and Bramhall Hill to the southwest, as well as a portion of the “mainland” (Willis 1831–33, 189–90).

Economic disaster struck with Jefferson’s 1807–9 embargo on marine trade. But with trade restored, the city once again continued to expand and develop. By the 1810s, Portland was undoubtedly the largest center of population and economic activity in the district of Maine (Willis 1831–33; more recently Summers 1980; Levinsky 2007; Hornsby, Judd, Hermann 2015, pls. 35–36). The failure of the state’s authorities in Boston to counteract the British occupation of Castine during the War of 1812 energized the political movement for Maine to secede from Massachusetts, and there was every expectation that Portland would become the capital of a new state. Agitation for independence had a strong geographic element. In 1816, Moses Greenleaf published a large map and a short statistical summary of Maine, which together demonstrated the ability of an independent Maine to succeed (Thompson 2010, no. 27; see Macdougall 2006).

It was within this context of growth and independence that a series of maps of Portland were published. Most of these maps were produced in conjunction with printed directories of the city’s inhabitants and businesses, but even these were not produced solely as navigational guides. After all, even with its growth, Portland remained an easily navigable walking city that residents would know and that visitors could readily negotiate by the time-honored practice of wandering around and asking for directions. The maps were less instrumental guides and more acts of boosterism: celebrations of Portland’s arrival on the urban and civic stage.

This genre of maps is marked by the development of a specific set of representational conventions that reflect, in part, the peninsula’s geographical configuration. Specific elements include the maps’ orientation and so alignment of the peninsula, the placement of titles and indexes to the main buildings, and the use of those buildings to present a civic hierarchy. Most important was the genre’s spatial frame, which encompassed the legal territorial entity of the town of Portland, as it had been set off from Falmouth in 1786, with the addition of the full harbor, which required the frame’s extension to encompass the portion of Fore River and opposite shoreline that belonged to Cape Elizabeth. While some of the maps indicated the land boundary between Portland and Falmouth (later Westbrook and Deering), none indicated the line of Portland’s boundary with Cape Elizabeth that ran along the middle of the river. The contrast between the built-up port, facing the full harbor, and the surrounding “open” space formed a common theme in these maps: not only was Portland a growing city that still had room to grow, but the built-up area was destined to fill the entire town.

Map 1. The First Printed Plan of Portland, ca. 1815

Anon plan of Portland (ca. 1815)

[Map 1. C[ornelius] Barnes, Plan of Portland, engr. F. Buxton (n.p., ca. 1815). Copper engraving with hand-applied watercolor, 49 x 68 cm. Harvard Map Collection, Harvard University. G3734.P8 1800 .P6. Click on map for high-resolution image.]

The Plan of Portland, the first map of the booster genre, survives in just one known, undated impression. It offers more questions than answers. It is a large and ambitious work that set the stage for several later maps. Derived from a survey by a local surveyor and probably produced outside the Portland community, it was nonetheless apparently intended for local consumption. This history manifested in its hesitant and rather tentative depiction of Portland as civitas.

Production, Authorities, and Date

Only one impression of the Plan of Portland is recorded; its quality is not the best. The wide neatline is smeared in several places, and ink gathered at the edge of the plate. The impression is weaker across the top of the image, as evident in the mottled neatline. And, the names of the surveyor and engraver are very weakly engraved, akin to a preliminary scratching prior to final engraving. These suggest that work on the plate was not finished and that this impression was likely a proof although, it must be admitted, a printer’s proof would likely not have been colored. Nor was the watercolor applied carefully; for example, it bleeds past the neatline at upper right. The outline of Munjoy Hill and the escarpment of Bramhall Hill have been added with a watercolor wash; they are not engraved. The result is a work that appears to have been a proof of concept, as it were, for a more complete and ornate map.

The Plan of Portland is undated and lacks an imprint. It records only the names of two authorities, in small annotations below the lower neatline: it had been “drawn from actual survey by C. Barnes” and then engraved in copper by one “F. Buxton.” The publisher ~ who had the vision of turning Barnes’ survey into a printed map and who undertook the expense of producing it ~ is not identified, so I refer to this map simply as Plan of Portland.

“C. Barnes” was likely Cornelius Barnes, a local surveyor of roads. Maine Historical Society holds (map F 102) his “Plan of the Road as Now Travelled from Standish to Portland; also, representing routs shown by petitioners of Standish, & agents from Gorham for the purpose of shortening the distance & rendering the travel more convenient” (Portland, 17 June 1817), and the Eastern Argus (15, no. 758 [14 April 1818]: 1) recorded the review of his route for a road from Standish to Saccarappa and then on to Deering’s Bridge on the edge of Portland.

No record has been found for any engraver with the last name of “Buxton,” including in the detailed records of the American Antiquarian Society, which specializes in the early U.S. printing trades. It is presumed that he was based in Boston for the simple reason that the first engraver known to work in Portland did not arrive until 1820, and that this specific impression was acquired by a minister in Salem, close to Boston.

External and internal content indicates that the Plan of Portland was printed sometime between 1807 and 1817. First, the depiction of Moody’s Observatory, built in 1807, defines a likely terminus post quem for the map. Second, the map was given to Harvard College in 1818 by Israel Thorndike, as part of the extensive library he had bought from the German geographer and fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Christophe Daniel Ebeling. Furthermore, the map’s verso bears the signature, “Revd. William Bentley, Salem.” Bentley (1759–1819) was the minister in Salem’s East (Second Congregational) Church, and was a prominent multilingual scholar and philanthropist; his diary reveals that he was deeply interested both in mapping and in the growth of settlement in Maine (Bentley 1905–14). Bentley was also one of several Boston-area scholars who sent Ebeling maps and books, and who received many in return from Europe (generally, see Brown 1940, 473). Ebeling’s half of their correspondence has been digitized by Harvard College’s Houghton Library, and alludes to many works sent from New England, but the few specific works mentioned do not include this particular map. For the Plan of Portland to have reached Ebeling and then for Thorndike to have returned it to Boston, it had to have been printed by 1817 (terminus ad quem).

I find it likely that, within the possible span of 1807 through 1817, the map was produced later, say in about 1815, rather than earlier. Not only does this agree with the period when Barnes is known to have been active, but it is more likely in terms of a reason for preparing the map. By itself, a small walking city seems an unlikely subject for a published map. But, after 1814, anticipation of Maine statehood and the imminent enhancement of Portland’s status as state capital suggest that a publisher might have identified a potential market for the map.

There are no hints that the map was sold in Portland. At least, a review of the Portland newspapers for the decade after 1807 did not reveal any advertisements. So, it might not have been intended as public work.

Design and Presentation

The design of the Plan of Portland features two conscious decisions in defining a spatial frame with which to depict the nascent city. We can accordingly look to this map as establishing, at least in print, the basic conventions for booster maps of Portland.

First, the map situates the peninsula ~ which actually possesses a northeast/southwest axis ~ so that it runs horizontally across the page in order to make maximum use of the copper plate and the printed page. North thus lies towards the upper-right corner. Combined with the common convention that maps should be oriented with North at the top, this spatial convention has contributed to the local practice of Portland’s residents to refer to the “East End” and to the “West End” without regard for actual compass directions.

Second, the map shows most of the territory of the town of Portland. At upper-left, a faint dashed line, running between a small stream emptying into the Fore River and another flowing into the Back Cove, indicates the boundary between Portland and Falmouth (to 1814, when Westbrook was set off: Anon. 1980, 193). This is the boundary as defined in 1784 and implemented in 1786, but the map ignores the islands belonging to the First Parish that were also inherited by Portland from Falmouth (Willis 1831–33, 189–90). Importantly, the map includes the full width of Fore River, labeled “Portland Harbour” (in lettering larger than the title!), together with the opposite shore of Cape Elizabeth (now South Portland).

This spatial frame was not inevitable. It contrasts markedly, for example, with the northward alignment of the peninsula in harbor charts (Section 1) and in the maps produced within the national genre (Section 7).

Because of the nonstandard orientation, the Plan of Portland includes a compass rose, set out in the Fore River. Note that the compass rose defines both true and magnetic north. Most surveyors in New England in this era used the surveyor’s compass, which recorded bearings with respect to magnetic north; only occasionally would they bother to define the local magnetic variation in order to be able to indicate true north. By showing both, Barnes suggested, first, that the map was indeed grounded in a direct survey of the town and, second, that the map’s audience was not other surveyors and the professionals who used their works (such as lawyers) but was more general in nature.

Encompassing the whole town plus the harbor, the Plan of Portland depicted the full extent of the city’s life, which reached across the neck to include the distant rope walks, the isolation (smallpox) hospital, and the three bridges that connected the neck to neighboring towns: across the entry to Back Cove, built 1796; across the Fore River, 1800; and across an inlet of Back Cove to Deering, 1806 (see Willis 1831–33, 2: 267–69).

The Plan of Portland recorded the key buildings within Portland itself. It also colored them consistently, although there is no explanatory key:

red for semi-public institutions of note: the smallpox hospital and Observatory on the east end; seven churches in the middle of town; and the alms house in the west.

yellow for public buildings: the main works and batteries of Fort Sumner on Munjoy Hill; the court house, jail, and city hall in the middle; on Bramhall Hill the magazine by the alms house; and the three bridges.

red and yellow for the five ropewalks scattered around in the few flat spaces available.

brown for the two cemeteries.

green for the last remaining patch of common (which would be annexed to the eastern cemetery in 1820).

The consistency of color suggests the intent to highlight civic and public buildings. That is, the map might be grounded in Barnes’ survey of the built environment of Portland, but the building footprints and lots depict many of the moral and civic elements of Portland’s community. These urban features are not presented with the kind of hierarchy that would soon become the hallmark of maps of Portland. The title itself is almost hidden in the Fore River, but the text curves as if it might become part of a larger and more revealing title. All told, visually and semiotically, the Plan of Portland is rather flat and understated, emphasizing the urbs with only an initial acknowledgment of the civitas.

A Map to Be Published in Portland, 1820

Maine achieved its independence in March 1820, with the U.S. Senate’s passage and President James Monroe’s signing of the so-called Missouri Compromise. This legislation offset Maine’s entry to the Union as a free state by admitting Missouri as a slave state. Portland hosted the constitutional convention, and soon became the capital of the 23rd state. A state house was erected next to city hall.

Portland’s continued growth ~ its population had grown to about 9,000 by the early 1820s ~ made it appear a place of great opportunity and great potential for personal enrichment. Yet, in practice, the city could not sustain all the specialized craftsmen who flocked there, like the several engravers and copperplate printers who came and went through the 1820s (Shettleworth 1971). In this context, the inevitable plans to map this burgeoning town were limited by the inability of Portland to support specialized craftsmen.

The principle that a growing port and city ~ a burgeoning economic and political center ~ should be mapped as an act of both utility and boosterism is evident in the work of Danforth Newcomb, the first engraver to set up shop in Portland. Newcomb arrived in Portland in July 1820, hard on the heels of statehood, and soon advertised his intention to undertake a map of the city:

Map of Portland. ~ Mr. Newcomb, the engraver, who has lately established himself here, is exerting himself, to prepare a large and correct map of this town. He waits for nothing but encouragement to enable him to bear the expence of the undertaking, which we have no doubt he will liberally receive, to accomplish an object at once so useful and ornamental. (Portland Gazette 23, no. 27 [19 September 1820]: 3)

Newcomb, however, seems to have made little progress on this project before his untimely death, still only 22 years old, in October 1821 (Shettleworth 1971, 59–60).

Map 2.1. Abel Bowen Establishes the Conventions of Booster Mapping of Portland

Newcomb’s vision of a map of Portland that would be both “useful and ornamental” would soon be fulfilled by Abel Bowen. In doing so, Bowen set the tone for subsequent booster maps of the city.

Bowen was a successful wood-engraver in Boston who also worked in copper. By mid-1822 he had bought up Newcomb’s stock and set up a branch office in Portland. The branch was run by Abel’s younger brother Sidney and proved only short lived. It was still listed in the November 1823 city directory, although the last newspaper advertisement for engraving work had appeared several months before, in February. It would seem that Abel did all the actual engraving work in Boston (Shettleworth, 1971, 60–61; more generally, see Whitmore 1884).

Bowen, Plan of Portland (1823)

[Map 2.1. Abel Bowen, A New and Correct Plan of Portland Maine. Drawn and Engraved by Abel Bowen. 1823. Population 9000 ([Portland], 1823). Variant 1. Copper engraving, 23 x 28 cm. Maine Historical Society, Portland. Map FF 299. (Williamson 1896, no. 1529) Click on map for high-resolution image.]

Whether or not Newcomb’s stock included an unfinished map of Portland, such a work was one of the first products of the local branch of Bowen’s business. It was advertised in January 1823 at a cost of 50¢, or 75¢ to non-subscribers (Shettleworth 1971, 61). That Bowen’s New and Correct Plan of Portland was indeed prepared and printed in Boston is perhaps suggested by one significant error: the misplacement of the isolation hospital on Munjoy Hill. The map’s boosterish spirit is evident from the small boast under the title ~ “Population 9000” ~ and the extensive network of mostly unnamed and prospective streets on Bramhall Hill that pointed to Portland’s expansive character.

Structurally, the New and Correct Plan of Portland had much in common with Barnes’ earlier and much larger Plan of Portland. The later map adopted the same spatial orientation, with the neck running across the page. Bowen slightly enlarged the frame to show a slight change in Portland’s town boundary with Westbrook. The boundary now runs straight from the Fore River at the left, across Back Cove Creek, to what is now Deering Ave. This adjustment, which seems unattested in the formal record (Anon. 1980, 177, 193), seems to have been made to encompass a lot of 180 acres of land, belonging to the heirs of Moses Pearson (1697–1778, a leading figure in Falmouth from the 1730s on), that had been granted to Portland in 1786 even though it lay north of the creek and therefore within Falmouth (Willis 1831–33, 190n2).

The key differences between the first two maps of Portland were semiotic in nature. Bowen established some conventions whose pragmatic character meant that they would be followed by subsequent maps of the city. His map featured three particular innovations.

First, Bowen placed the boldly framed title block in the middle of the Back Cove. This made practical sense. The cove is not as deep as the Fore River and was the site of relatively little economic activity. It therefore provides a naturally empty space at the top of the map that could readily receive a title block without interfering with the depiction of the wharves and bridges that increasingly clogged the Fore River.

Second, Bowen dropped the indication of magnetic north from the compass rose, leaving only true north. This suggests that it was no longer important to indicate the work’s origin in an actual survey of the urbs. What was important, rather, was the public’s image of the community (civitas).

Third, Bowen defined a hierarchy of city features. Some features, such as the Observatory, were depicted on the map by their footprint and with a descriptive label. Others were indexed by numbers that were explained in a scroll of “references” placed in the upper reach of the Fore River:

Detail of Bowen, Plan of Portland (1823)

[Detail of Map 2.1.]

It is fair to say that this use of an index was made necessary by the issue of space. Bowen’s map is about a quarter of the area of Barnes’ earlier Plan of Portland. Whereas that earlier plan had had the room to show the footprints of important buildings and also to label them, even in the crowded confines of Portland’s built-up area, Bowen’s smaller map lacked the space to do so.

Yet pragmatics is only part of the explanation. Bowen also structured his list of references to bring out the moral, civic, and educated character of the community: items 1–8, are churches; 9–11, civic buildings; 12–21 are “rows,” which is to say large, newly built buildings dedicated to commercial activities; and, finally, an inverted circle with a cross for the school houses, too numerous to be singled out and individually named. This emphasis on such moral and civic features, listed in a scroll set in the Fore River, serves as the particular hallmark of the booster maps of Portland.

Map 3. Lemuel Moody’s Large Manuscript Plan (1826)

Moody ms plan of Portland (1826)

[Map 3. Lemuel Moody, “Portland. With a View of the Different Streets by Lemuel Moody. 1826.” Manuscript on several pieces of paper, 76 x 138 cm. Maine Historical Society, Portland. Map RR 8. Click on map for high-resolution image.]

There also survives an intriguing manuscript map of Portland, dated to 1826, by Lemuel Moody. Moody had already published a two-sheet chart of Portland Harbor in 1825 (Section 1), and he presumably now planned a similarly large map of the city. The support was assembled from several small, irregular pieces of paper, and the manuscript includes many corrections. The work was never published, for several reasons. First, David G. Johnson, the engraver who set up shop in Portland after the failure of Bowen’s local branch office, who had engraved Moody’s chart of Portland Harbor, and who would likely have engraved this map, left Portland in 1827 because of the lack of business (below). Second, the cost to engrave such a large map would have been daunting. Third, another set of booster maps published in the city directories (Section 4) already satisfied the local market. But Moody seems to have reused the map as the foundation for his historical reconstructions of the 1775 destruction of the port for William Willis (Section 6).

Moody adhered to some of the developing conventions for representing Portland, notably in orienting the peninsula. His large format gave him plenty of space to label individual buildings on the map, but he nonetheless repeated the idea of Bowen’s index. He selected slightly different items to be indexed ~ the churches came first, followed by the civic buildings, and then the five banks that Portland then boasted ~ but the overall sensibility remained the same.

Detail of Moody's ms plan of Portland (1826)

[Detail of Map 3.]

Moody’s coloring of the buildings probably reflected the building materials: yellow for wood, red for brick, and grey for stone. (I am indebted to one of the attendees of my original lecture in January 2015 for this observation.) Large buildings away from the built-up area, like the Observatory, were shown by their footprint and labeled. However, Moody adopted a tight frame that excluded Cape Elizabeth altogether and limited space in the Fore River, so he moved the title, compass rose (again, no magnetic north), scale bar, and the list of references to Munjoy Hill.

Cite this Page

Edney, Matthew H. “Booster Mapping of a Growing City.” Section 3 of “References to the Fore! Local Boosters, Historians, and Engineers Map Antebellum Portland, Maine.” Published online, 1 July 2017.