And it all
started with a walk in the woods.
through the woods and I'd find an old foundation. I wanted to find
out about it, so I looked at old maps. I thought that was just
fascinating," said Allen. "That's how I got interested in old
maps, from hiking."
turned into much more than a hobby. Over the last 20 years,
Allen's map quests have led him to libraries and collections all
over New England and to the Library of Congress. A resourceful
researcher, he has discovered maps of historical significance that
no one knew existed. And he has come to know the history of the
area like few have.
he published books of early maps of Greenfield, Mass., and
Hinsdale, Winchester, Swanzey and Keene, N.H. On Dec. 10, "Early
Maps of Brattleboro" was published -- just in time for the town's
this would be a good way to commemorate Brattleboro's 250th
anniversary," said Allen, noting that the town charter was signed
on Dec. 26, 1753.
book contains nearly 50 maps of Brattleboro, from its earliest
days as wilderness country, when Massachusetts built Fort Dummer
to protect its settlements in Deerfield and Northfield; to
formative years when Brattleboro was one pawn in the "huge power
struggles between colonial governors and their big-shot buddies,"
as Allen puts it; to the early years of the 20th century, when
this thriving Vermont town had four drug stores, a tobacconist, a
telegraph office, two grocers, a wallpaper store, three "clothing
and furnishings" businesses, two paint stores, three banks, a
cobbler and a printer, all on Main Street between Elliot and High
"What a map
does is, graphically and quickly, you can see cultural changes,"
said Allen. "You can see, at certain periods of time, tremendous
growth. For example, Brattleboro experienced tremendous growth
after the Civil War."
written a narrative history that accompanies the maps and puts
them in context, and his writing is insightful and instructive.
But he hopes the book will trigger other revelations.
"I'd love to
have people do an analysis of them. A map is full of tons and tons
of information," he said. "I'm hoping amateur historians will look
at them and discover new things."
Allen made a
valuable discovery of his own while researching his book.
are very obscure; some of them are unknown. I've got a map from
the National Archives that nobody in Brattleboro has ever seen,"
created in 1830 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, shows the
route of a canal proposed to run roughly where the train tracks
are now to improve river commerce along the Connecticut.
finds include a map of Fort Dummer made in 1749. A modified copy
of the map made in 1891 has been seen before, but Allen located a
photostat of the original map at the Vermont Historical Society.
Allen found contains much written information about the
construction details of the fort and who was living there. That
information is included in the CD-ROM which accompanies the book.
A third rare
find is a 1724 drawing of the original proposal for Fort Dummer by
Col. John Stoddard. With hostilities with the Indians looming,
Stoddard specified that the fort "be made of of hewed timber" and
called for "the Timber to be bullet-proof."
this map in the Beinecke Library at Yale University. Why? Because
pioneer Fort Dummer soldier Timothy Dwight was the grandfather of
an early president of Yale, also named Timothy Dwight.
Those are the
journeys historical research can take you on.
enjoy research. I enjoy the process," Allen said.
enjoy poring over old maps to find where their houses are and what
the town looked like in 1852, 1869, 1876, 1886, 1895 and 1912.
They may also
enjoy some of the oddities they'll find. One map describes
Wantastiquet as "a mountain which appears to be a volcano."
Another is a
map sketched by Rudyard Kipling, who feared that the trains
barreling down the tracks would spook his horses as they traveled
what is now Putney Road to Brattleboro. In a corner of a map, the
colorful Kipling drew a gravestone on which is written "in the
midst of life we are in death," apparently as a warning of the
dangers to the railroad company.
the information the maps hold, Allen finds them aesthetically
liked maps because of the shapes and features. Brattleboro has a
lot of that with its topography and the water," Allen said. "The
older maps tend to be more like works of art. Modern maps are very
complete, but their very completeness and accuracy tend to take
away from their beauty."
featuring old maps, the town charter and other important
historical items is on exhibit at Brooks Memorial Library through
of Brattleboro," which includes the CD-ROM is available at local
bookstores and at Baker's.