Archives and Special Collections Acquires Rare Map

sam mackenzie elliottOne of only four cataloged copies of Henry Francis Walling’s 1859 wall map of Staten Island is now available to researchers in Special Collections. (Other copies of the map are in the collections of Cornell University, the Boston Public Library, and the Boston Atheneum).

Measuring approximately four and one half feet square, the map provides details, such as the names of property owners. In addition, insets enlarge the most populated areas of the island at the time: Long Neck, Mariner’s Harbor, New Sprinville, Port Richmond and Castleton, Richmondtown, and Tottenville. Elliottville receives  bird’s-eye treatment.

One of the interesting aspect of the maps for researchers is what was chosen for special emphasis. Map maker Henry Francis Walling (1825-1899) was born in Providence, Rhode Island and was employed at the Providence Athenaeum, a private membership library, before discovering his skill for mathematics and surveying. He worked with Samuel Barrett Cushing on a revised atlas of Rhode Island, acquiring the skills that he began employing around 1850 in creating town plans for Bristol County, Rhode Island. Before long, he was making town plans for Massachusetts, establishing a business model of contracting with town officials to supply a set number of maps, after which he had the right to produce and sell copies. His business expanded rapidly and he relocated to Franklin Square, off Pearl Street in New York City in 1856 to take advantage of the city’s wealth of skilled lithographers.

Assuming the Richmond County officials with whom he contracted chose the towns to be highlighted, as well as the prominent residences that are featured insets, can be one starting point for investigations of the map. Some of the places—New Springville, Richmondtown, and Rossville—were among the oldest communities on Staten Island. However, Long Neck, now known as Travis (and Linoleumville in between) had only become important after 1816 when the Richmond Turnpike Company created an improved toll road (most of the route is today’s Victory Boulevard) as the most direct route across Staten Island. The turnpike company established a new ferry at Long Neck to get travelers to New Jersey and improve travel times to Philadelphia.

Elliotville was an even more recent development. The man identified with the area, Dr. Samuel MacKenzie. Elliott, M.D., a Scotsman, had arrived on Staten Island as a twenty-four year old in 1836. By 1846 he had constructed a number of stone houses, developing a neighborhood around the intersection of Bard Avenue and Richmond Terrace. His reputation as an oculist had advanced to the point that patients with various eye conditions sought him for treatment from around the country and sometimes from abroad. He was known for successfully performing eye operations before the advent of anesthesiology by kneeling above his floor-prone subjects, holding their heads immobile between his knees. One of his patients was Mrs Francis George Shaw. She and her husband, a philanthropist and abolitionist, settled on Staten Island and other New Englanders who wrote and lectured about the evils slavery, like Sydney Howard Gay and George William Curtis, followed, and the neighborhood came to be called Elliottville in the decades prior to the Civil War. The prominence granted the settlement on the map may well reveal the political sympathies of the men who commissioned the work.

It is also interesting to note that Tottenville appears on the map. This southernmost neighborhood of Staten Island had originally been named Bentley Manor by early landowner Christopher Billopp, after one of his ships. However, in the nineteenth century the Totten family had become prominent in that part of the island. Even though the area was not officially renamed until 1869, the political appointees and/or elected officials paying for the map anticipated the honor they would later pay the family.

Honoring the politically powerful may also have determined the choice of the three houses featured in large renderings on the maps. Their owners—the lawyers George Bowman and Michael O’Connor and physician William G. Eadie—did not remain important enough for inclusion in today’s history books.

The other aspect of the map of some note is the business directory. First of all the arrangement is not alphabetical. Perhaps, some sense of the regard in which some are held is revealed by the fact that clergy, teachers, and postmasters head the list. Saloons come immediately after physicians and before groceries. Butchers and tailors end the list. Many of the businesses and professions are still important today, but in this time period, livery stables, tinsmiths, and candle manufacturers provided necessary products and services.

The map is available for further study in the Archives and Special Collections during normal reading room hours, Tuesday through Friday from 9:00am to 5:00pm.

-Dr. James A. Kaser, Professor & Archivist