The Story of an Old Map
Everyone loves old maps. They do a lot more than give directions. Historic maps can share what a place looked like at a certain point in time and transport us back to another era. There are some maps can do more – they can share a story as well. This is the story of a map that takes people back in time, to the City of St. Charles historic past, all the way back to its’ original plat.
A few years ago, while working at the St. Charles County Historical Society in 2010, a crinkled and faded was found. The secretary at that time, Cleta Flynn, was introducing me to some of the more reclusive collections tucked away in corners of the historic building, the City’s original Market House. Saying “if you like old maps, this large map case has a lot of interesting old ones.” I found one that was taped, creased, folded and flattened (something us archivists hate) that appeared to have not seen daylight in a hundred years – which was good for the map – but rather sad.
Keeping the old map handy for the next few years, it would be used for study from time to time. Trying to unlock its secrets, the map did not appear to have any date on it, nor did it have a signature to recognize who had drawn this treasure trove of information. Realizing it was a map of St. Charles, and that it was old (which could be recognized by its ink and paper) we became determined to learn more. It was old, but just how old? And who had drawn it? And why? What was its’ purpose and who was the information for? This wasn’t a map for directions.
The map clearly laid out St. Charles as a grid of streets and cross streets, giving their names. The street names were old and historic – Barbour, Chauncey, Pike and Clay. Over the years we would pull the map out whenever a researcher needed information about early St. Charles. The names of the owners in each of these blocks became very important. It became obvious that if we were to know just when the map was made, perhaps knowing when the owners should be found on such a map, we could possibly discern a date. And so every time we were able, we used the map, taking great care.
Finally we were able to pin the map down to the era of circa 1817, give or take a few years. That is when knowing its importance and wanting to make certain of its preservation, the map was sent off for conservation by Lisa Fox, Head Conservator at the Missouri State Archives. She and her wonderful team worked their magic, carefully removing the old tape, creases, and dirt to reveal an even more magical piece of history. The map, approximately fourteen by seventy-two inches was then digitized in order to enable everyone to delve into its history.
Because of this great work, the map is carefully preserved, yet made available to everyone. Since then, I wanted to know more of the maps other great mysteries. Who was its’ creator and why? Sometimes, when trying to discover the stories found in old documents and maps, you have to travel to the time in which the people lived. So I went to the City’s Record Book A and on Page 8 found this:
Authorizing and ordering the limits of the Town of St. Charles to be estendd [sic] according to the original plan of said town and providing for and ordering a certain proportion of the town commons to be surveyed and divided into lots and regularly numbered which saw lots so surveyed and numbered, together with the Town lots as Extended surveyed & numbered were ordered to be Leased at public sale by the Clerk of the board on the 10th day of September 1821.
Up until 1818, they had been working with a map drawn by Soulard, according to their Minutes. Then there is a bit of a gap, and then is the above entry. As they immediately start selling and leasing these additional lots, which are NOT shown on this map, this indicates that this map is perhaps the one they started with. During this same time period, they have also employed the surveyors Prospect K. Robbins and Nathan Boone. Five pages later, Prospect K. Robbins is paid $20 for surveying completed on the 18th of September 1821. Both Robbins and Boone had worked together before, as a 3 man team was needed – Chain man, Link Man and Surveyor. The third team member may have been James Findley who had settled in Troy when it was founded, as early deeds for this same time period refer to a map made by Findley.
And as you begin to understand the history, the next question becomes “why?” The old map that I was using told me a)the layout of the streets and gave a name and a survey number of the owners of the land. It told me about people who owned land in St. Charles. St. Charles had just become the temporary State Capitol and people were flooding in. The names of the streets running parallel to the Missouri River are Main, Second, High and Fourth. The cross streets run from Barbour, which is the original southern city limits to Tecumseh Street on the north. Buildings are not shown, and the land measurement used is the old French foot. The name of the owner, if the lot is owned by someone other than the City, is referred to as a survey number in a personal Surveyor’s book.
When the map was restored and processed by the State Archives conservator in 2013, the dates I had suggested of circa 1820 were also confirmed in their examination of the paper and ink used. Lynn Morrow, with the Missouri State Archives had examined the map before retiring that year. He also suggested that a friend of his in St. Charles, Robert Myers, might be able to shed more light on the mysteries of the old map. When Robert and I met, I took along a copy of “the map”. When the map had been returned to the Archives, I had obtained a print copy for my own research at the same time I had had one made for the Society. Theirs hangs on the wall in the archives. Mine has become well traveled.
Seeing “the old map” Myers asked “if I had ever seen the map in the City offices?” to which I responded no. Formerly Myers had worked for the City of St. Charles and presently works for St. Charles County. He graciously set up an appointment for me to see this other map, and where I would also meet Chuck Lovelace. Not knowing what to expect, I was totally shocked when I was shown a framed copy of another very old map that was almost identical! And it had a seal that attested to being a true and authentic hand drawn (in 1871) copy of “The Original Plat of the City of St. Charles”.While this new map discovered is wonderful with much darker ink, and even more information, it was further confirmation of the first map’s identity. The information on this map, matched exactly, block by block. This was the Original Plat, perhaps a working copy for the surveyor, although which one drew it we don’t know yet.
Working to compare the handwriting of Auguste Chouteau, Antoine Soulard, Nathan Boone, Prospect Robbins and Joseph Evans (who did receive $50 from the City on July 13, 1822 for surveying) has not yet provided an “aha!” moment yet. The closest so far are Nathan Boone and Prospect Robbins.
This map transports us back to town of St. Charles that has emerged from the early settlement founded by Louis Blanchette in 1769. It has grown past its territorial days as a fur traders outpost, and reached a new glory as important State figures walk these same streets we do today. These people were important in that day as the street names affirm: Barbour, Pike, Clay, Madison and Jefferson. There is so much to yet be learned.