May 18, 2011

Lincoln Logs

Sorting a box of miscellany, we ran across this numbered certificate.

Lincoln Farm Association certificate (1909)

Dated June 17, 1909 and addressed to “Lottie Brown” the text reads, in part:
You have been this day enrolled as an honorary member of the Lincoln Farm Association, a patriotic organization formed by American citizens for the purpose of preserving as a National Park, the farm on which Abraham Lincoln was born.
Here's the story.

Abraham Lincoln was born in a cabin on the Sinking Spring Farm (Kentucky) in 1809. As the centennial of this event approached, a group of citizens felt that his birthplace should be preserved for future generations. In fact, the cabin had been moved many times and was exhibited in 1897 at Nashville, Tennessee, where it was united with another from Kentucky—purportedly the cabin in which Jefferson Davis was born. Both cabins were later dismantled and shipped to New York. After an appearance at the 1901 Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, their logs were stored in the basement of a Long Island mansion.

Formed in 1906, the Lincoln Farm Association purchased the Lincoln logs for $1,000 and the Sinking Spring Farm for $3,600. (This was the same year that President Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act, which offered protection for federally-owned sites.) The expensive part of the project was the grand Memorial Building, in which the reconstructed log cabin would be enshrined. Despite donations from over 100,000 people, financial concerns forced the building plans to be scaled down (along with the dimensions of the cabin), but still the cornerstone was not laid by President Roosevelt until 1909. The memorial was dedicated two years later by President Taft, whose signature is printed just above "Mark Twain" on the Lincoln Farm certificate.

Lottie Brown at Low Plain School (c. 1905)
Lottie Brown had just turned twelve years old when she received the certificate, issued to all who donated between 25 cents and $25 to the project. The tenth and youngest child, Lottie attended the Low Plain school at the foot of Seamans Road. Her father was Alston Brown (1847-1938), who joined New Hampshire's First Volunteer Cavalry at the age of 16. He lost his left arm during Wilson's raid on Nottoway Courthouse, Virginia, on June 23, 1864. Six days later he was captured near Stone Creek by Confederate forces and imprisoned for two months. Whether he contributed to the Lincoln Farm project in Lottie’s name, or whether she donated her own money, we cannot know, but we can imagine that the preservation of Lincoln’s memory would have appealed to her family, as it did to the families of so many northern veterans.


May 14, 2011

Mapping Everytown

Imagine a map of New London that identifies the location and occupants of every building. Now expand that image to Merrimack County, to the state of New Hampshire, and finally to all the New England states. The task would require Google-sized resources today, but in the mid-1800s one man undertook that cartographic challenge.

New London Center (1858)
Henry F. Walling (1825-1888) produced around 150 maps, some on such a large scale that building footprints are represented (at a time before fire insurance maps made such views commonplace). A commercial endeavor, Walling’s maps were drawn and embellished in ways that might appeal to the broadest audience, and the fact that every property owner’s name appeared in print may have helped promote sales. While his success attracted competitors in larger markets down in Massachusetts and Connecticut, his wall maps of New Hampshire counties, with their inset engravings of landmarks and details of villages and town centers, were unrivaled.

Trained as a civil engineer, Walling apparently used a combination of earlier town maps, subcontracted surveys, and his own original field work. (On the Walden Pond portion of his Concord, MA, map, for example, he credited “surveys by H.D. Thoreau Civ. Engr.”) For practical reasons, Walling favored a compass and wheel odometer over the more traditional surveyor’s chain to plat town roads; his odometer was fast, accurate, and required just one man rather than a crew of three.

Walling also saw the artistry of his profession. In 1886, he concluded an address on topographical mapping with these remarks:
As the success of the portrait painter is measured by his skill in reproducing not only the more striking and familiar features of his subject, but a certain subtle, undefinable expression of individual character, so the topographer is a true artist who brings out upon his map not only the salient contours of the country, but the less apparent though real markings which reveal to experienced eyes the conflicts of the past between the great sculpturing forces of nature and the rugged resistances which have opposed them, the effective touches in either work of art being applied in the presence of the subject portrayed, with a true artistic sense of form and proportion.
Today you can find his large (5' x 5') 1858 map of New Hampshire’s Merrimack County at the Archives and displayed at several local businesses.