How many have ever seen a panoramic picture of your town showing every detail of life in painstaking detail . . . as it existed over 100 years ago? We love these pictures and have one of our town sitting next to the computer. In this post, we will explore the history and significance of these panoramic town pictures.
What are Town Panoramic Pictures?
Panoramic town pictures were all the rage during the Victorian Age and persisted until the Great Depression. These pictures were also know simply as “birds-eye view,” “perspective maps,” and “aero views” due to the way they depicted the town as if the viewer was several thousand feet in the air–not a likely event for the time.
Towns commissioned these pictures as a point of civic pride and/or promotion. Put succintly:
Panoramic maps graphically depict the vibrant life of a city. Harbors are shown choked with ships, often to the extent of constituting hazards to navigation. Trains speed along railroad tracks, at times on the same roadbed with locomotives and cars headed in the opposite direction. People and horsedrawn carriages fill the streets, and smoke belches from the stacks of industrial plants. Urban and industrial development in post-Civil War America is vividly portrayed in the maps.
The Library of Congress has an extensive collection of panoramic town maps containing over 1,500 of them. These can be viewed for free online which is how we got the panoramic town picture of Portsmouth, New Hampshire shown above. A quick search on the Library of Congress website shows 29 pictures for Maine, 44 for New Hampshire and 29 for Vermont. Do check them out . . . very cool.
More Than Just Art . . .
Of course, to us these town panoramic pictures represent more than just art . . . they represent a way of life. We believe this way of life captured in these pictures is what Northern New England needs to aspire to–sort of a “back to the future” model.
For instance, shown in these pictures is a how the towns functioned as one economic unit. Mills depended on the unique natural resources of the area which fueled the economic engine such as water, trees and land. In turn, these towns grew up around them.
Yet, this model extended far beyond the economic realm since owners and workers often lived side-by-side. As a result, the economics reinforced relationships forged in other arenas such as the church, government or family. There were no, or at least much fewer, “Family Dollar-style predation” from faceless corporations headquartered in distant lands.
This is why we are strong supporters of the role of agriculture to breathe new life into Northern New England towns–as witnessed by Hardwick, Vermont. Supporting local agriculture means you are supporting a neighbor . . . who in turn supports other neighbors, such as the local mechanic or butcher. You may find yourself sitting next to them at your pew, selectboard meeting or Thankgiving dinner.
So for us, these are more than just very cool pictures; they represent the human energies that built these town and the same energies we must tap into once again if we are to restore and preserve them. We need to leverage new ideas from the old way of life–such as tapping into new forms of hydropower.
Visit our New Store . . .
So, if you love these town panoramic pictures as much as we do . . . you can visit our new store (courtesy of the good folks at art.com) and purchase your own to adorn your wall or, like us, your computer desk. For a bit extra, they will even frame and mat your purchase for you so it’s one-stop shopping. And if you have relatives in any of these towns, they would make great gifts too 🙂