By Tom Eastman
CONWAY — The Conway Public Library for one day only is to feature an exhibit on early White Mountains maps Saturday, Dec. 3, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Ham Community Room.
It ought to make for a colorful look at history through the eyes of early mapmakers, note collectors, with the exhibit to feature rudimentary maps by such mapmakers as Franklin Leavitt of Lancaster, notes map collector and cartographer Kurt Masters of Milan.
"I couldn't do this exhibit without the help of others, the Lancaster Historical Society and several dedicated historians/collectors, including Adam J. Apt. of Massachusetts," Masters told The Conway Daily Sun this week. "We will have a minimum of 40 maps, including all eight of Franklin Leavitt's maps from 1852, 1854, 1859, 1871, his extremely scarce 1876 map, his 1878 map which was the smallest of the Leavitt maps, and the 1882 map, which was published that year and in 1888."
The exhibit will also display all of Leavitt's known broadside sheets of prose, and all of his known manuscript sketches.
The library's Henney History Room will also show their collection of many early maps, according to Library Director David Smolen and Henney History Room Curator Bob Cottrell.
"We've got county maps from the 1860s showing all of the houses, schools and post office; railroading maps; old Conway Company lot maps; cemetery and highway maps; maps of different local towns; Atlas maps showing birds eye views of Conway in 1890, and early lot maps of Conway — one on linen and one on parchment. They have been collected and donated over the years," said Cottrell, who said that the Henney Room's maps are always available for display to library patrons during regular hours.
All of them are listed on line at www.conwaypubliclibrary.org.
Smolen encountered Masters and his maps display at the Lancaster Fair last summer and asked if he would be interested in coming down to Conway for an exhibit. Masters said he would be delighted, and in turn contacted other White Mountain map collectors.
Although this first exhibit will be for one-day only, as noted, he hopes it will lead to other exhibits, such as the Museum of the White Mountains in Plymouth. He said that the Jackson Historical Society's Warren Schomaker has also expressed interest in possibly hosting an exhibit some day, if all works out.
As for Saturday's Conway event, Masters, Smolen and Cottrell are hoping for an enthusiastic turnout among lovers of White Mountain history.
"I'm hoping that people will stop by and see what we have," said Masters. "If visitors to the exhibit
have maps by Leavitt and are not sure if they have an original or a copy, they are welcome to bring them along and the experts in attendance can offer an opinion."
"We have about 450 maps in our Henney Room collection. We will be picking and showing some of the most interesting ones in our collection," said Cottrelll, who is also curator of the Conway Historical Society's Salyards Center. "I once heard that someone said that they 'read maps like other people read novels.' I think that's true, that they give a perspective over time. They are like global time machines, as you look at the maps and the changes to the same areas of who lived where and how properties were used."
A good account of early maps in the White Mountains is found at the site, whitemountainhistory.org, an in particular, those of Leavitt's.
An early guide in the White Mountains who worked for Tom Crawford at the Notch House in Crawford Notch, Leavitt produced his rudimentary maps as a way to promote his guiding business, according to Masters.
"When the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railroad reached Gorham in 1852, there were no tourist maps of the White Mountains," said Masters. "So, he wanted to promote his guiding service and came up with the first map as a memento to sell to tourists. He drew a view of what Mount Washington and the White Mountains looked like gazing south from his Lancaster home. It's unusual, in that those peaks are depicted at the top of the map, unlike most maps which traditionally put north at the top."
In his rough, Grandma Moses style of illustrating and creating his maps, Leavitt also depicted scenes of local mountain lore, such as a bear shooting by Abel Crawford; the Willey Slide of 1826, with a diagram of the Willey family running from their cabin and into the swath of the landslide which spared the cabin but killed all of the family members and two workmen; and even a scene of Leavitt himself being lowered down to the Devil's Den where he claimed to have found skulls and many other macabre items — all of which proved to be more than a bit of stretching of the truth, according to Masters.
Leavitt produced eight maps of the White Mountain region, according to an article by Apt published on whitemountainhistory.org. They were produced between 1852 and 1888 — and examples of each will be on display at the Conway Public library Dec. 3.
"The maps are not to scale, orientation of the maps is unusual, and geographic features were placed with little care for reality," writes Apt.
But — to collectors such as Apt and Masters, that is part of their overall charm.
"They are genuine folk art," says Masters, a Milan native who learned his cartography skills while serving in the US Army. He began his collection with the purchase of a print in 1978 of Leavitt's 1859 map that was produced and offered for sale in a 500-copy batch by the Coos County Democrat. He bought his first Leavitt original map at an antique store in Ossipee n the 1990s. "It was one of his 1888 maps, which are his most common," said Masters.
He has been at it ever since.
According to Apt, Leavitt "drew the maps himself and had the lithographic plates prepared in Boston." He then paid printers to produce the actual maps. He sold the maps himself, often through the Grand Hotels of the region, and at railroad stations. According to Apt, Leavitt's 1876 map is extremely scarce.
When Leavitt retired from map-making, he tried his hand at poetry. Readers may see examples of his poems, including a manuscript copy and the definitive article about the poems at the exhibit and on the whitemountainhistory.org website.
For further information, call the Conway Public Library at (603) 447-5552 or visit www.conwaypubliclibrary.org.