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From Sea Isle City to Hackensack, Six Rare New Jersey Maps Illustrate the History of New Jersey

September 1, 2017
New Jersey map

Pictorial New Jersey (1858). View the high-resolution scan on RUcore:

One-of-a-kind, 19th-century maps of Sea Isle City, Woodbury, Ewing Township, Newark and Hackensack are latest in Rutgers University Libraries' collection to be conserved and digitized.

With generous funding from the New Jersey Historical Commission, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries, has recently completed a 17-month project to conserve six rare maps that depict Sea Isle City (1883); Woodbury (about 1854); Ewing Township (1882); Newark (1834); Hackensack (1860); and New Jersey as a whole (1858). The maps were treated to reduce stains and to stabilize tears and cracks at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts in Philadelphia. They are now available to the public in the Libraries’ RUcore repository as high-density digital scans.

The maps selected for this project are distinctive because they were extremely fragile, survive in very few copies, and are exquisitely detailed. They also represent the different regions of the state throughout the 19th century, detailing footprints of individual buildings, property and city boundaries, owners’ names, roads, waterways, and types of buildings (for non-residences) such as schools, county buildings, and houses of worship, together with cemeteries. Some of the maps are illustrated with black-and-white drawings of local buildings.

Three of the conserved maps depict New Jersey county seats before the American Civil War. The circa 1854 map of Woodbury (only two other copies recorded) is drawn at a scale of 330 feet per inch. It includes seven black-and-white illustrations of buildings in the margins, including the Gloucester County courthouse.

The 1860 map of Hackensack (only two out-of-state copies recorded) is drawn at the scale of 200 feet per inch. It includes four illustrations of buildings, as well as a contemporary business directory for this Bergen County city when it was still just a village.

The third map of a county seat is an uncolored 1834 map of Newark in Essex County (no other copies recorded) for which the scale is not stated. This map shows a portion of the Passaic River, named streets, unnamed alleys, the Morris Canal with its related basins and inclined plane, an unnamed railroad—the New Jersey Rail Road, then either still under construction or just completed—and the boundaries of four city wards.

The single township map included is an 1882 depiction of Ewing Township in Mercer County (no other originals known). This map, which incorporates color, is drawn at the scale of 1,320 feet per inch. The map emphasizes the relative size, number of acres, location, boundaries, and home sites and owners’ names for most properties, together with the depiction of unincorporated named settlements, waterways, land transportation routes (railroads, roads, some driveways), and cemeteries. The placement of individual structures (but not their shapes) is shown, including non-residences such as places of worship, railroad stations, schools, hotels, factories, and state properties, such as a lunatic asylum.

The 1883 map of Sea Isle City in Cape May County (one other out-of-state 1883 copy recorded) is drawn at a scale of 320 feet per inch. A promotional item for the then-recently incorporated borough, it includes one illustration (tents and a lean-to under trees) at the top and descriptive text around the edges. The text lists 75 buildings erected since 1881 or under construction, especially boarding houses, hotels and cottages, indicates how to get to Sea Isle City from Philadelphia, reproduces an engineer’s report on the settlement’s location and climate and describes the size and quantity of the lots available for purchase. The map itself depicts streets, numbered lots within numbered blocks, a railroad, an ocean beach, the Atlantic Ocean and Ludlam Bay, together with an inland waterway and its high water mark.

The 1858 New Jersey state map by Ensign, Bridgman, and Fanning (no other copy recorded of 1858 edition) is significant as it represents an example of a standard wall map of New Jersey that remained in print for over thirty years in competition with the more widely referenced wall map by Thomas Gordon. The six illustrations on the 1858 map consist of portraits of four individuals (Benjamin West, J. Fenimore Cooper, Francis Hopkinson, and William Bainbridge), the state seal, and an image of George Washington crossing the Delaware River. Text surrounding the map pertains to New Jersey and includes summaries of boundaries, internal improvements, the government, state history, special laws, information on forest trees, population and economic data, information on religious denominations, and details of physiographic features.

Housed in Special Collections and University Archives located in Alexander Library at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, the maps are part of a collection of about 4,750 New Jersey maps. The collection includes regional US maps that include New Jersey, maps of the state as a whole, regional maps within New Jersey, county maps, regional maps within a county, and depictions of individual municipalities, real estate subdivisions, and even individual properties (such as military camps, parks, cemeteries, or estates), ranging from the 1600s to the 2010s. The map collection is used frequently by historians and genealogists to understand the landscape in which the events or people that they are studying took place or lived or to visualize changes in the cultural landscape over time.

Since the mid-1980s, Special Collections and University Archives has completed conservation and preservation projects for maps and other materials that it owns and makes available to the community of researchers who rely on its extensive New Jersey history collections. Thanks to the efforts of map and manuscripts curator Albert C. King and his colleagues, imperiled maps like the ones described here will be available to researchers for decades to come via bibliographic records, digital images stored in RUcore, and in-person at the New Jersey Room of Special Collections and University Archives.