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Using Old Maps to Find A House Site   

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But where to? The Beers atlas map shows "U.A. Woodbury" as a homeowner in Elmore at a location about 2 miles east of the older Woodbury site. This might be where Albert lived in his last years. He died in Elmore in 1888, and would have been 65 years old when the map was made. Urban was well into his business career by then, and it is quite possible that he had the finances to support his aging father.

A portion of the 1878 "Beers" atlas. The Wolcott - Elmore Town line is the heavy left-right line. This map shows "C.C. Stevens" at the old A.M. Woodbury site in Wolcott (top left) and the entry "U.A. Woodbury" on a farm site across the town line in Elmore (lower right).

Where is the A.M. Woodbury house site on the ground?

Now, back to the A.M. Woodbury site on the 1859 map – the place where Urban may have lived as a child. Is the house still there at the intersection of two roads? I had driven by the old site 6 months ago and it did not look like the old house was standing, but it was a bit hard to be certain. Since it was unclear I decided that before my next site visit I should do more careful analysis of the old maps. First I took all 3 old maps and some modern ones and made them all the same size.

It is difficult to do this perfectly as the older maps tend to be less accurate but I matched them as best as I could. By overlaying one old map on the other I can get a good sense of whether a given road is still in use, and where an old house site might be. The 1859 map shows a north-south road and two roads leading off at right angles within the Town of Wolcott. At the second road is the AM Woodbury site.

The 1859 map shows the A.M. Woodbury site which I want to find. The search has proved difficult. This map shows a site at a different road intersection than that shown on more modern maps. See the "Beers" atlas and 1930 USGS maps.

The 1999 USGS topographic map shows the "old county road" heading off diagonally from the road intersection (top right). This road is a wet footpath now, not suitable for vehicles. Note that the north-south road shown on the 1859 map is no longer in use, except for a stub .

The first road intersection appears to be the current main road (based on the modern USGS map). The second right-angle road is not shown on the later maps, but it is shown on the Beers map. But on the Beers map this second road is shown as a diagonal road starting at the first intersection. It is not shown as a second intersecting road as it is on the 1859 map. I figured this was just a drafting error, and ignored this discrepancy on my first field trip. I now think the error was mine - not the old mapmaker’s (see end of article)

In late November I drove up to the Morrisville area with my girlfriend to try to find the old Woodbury site. We met two others from the area and together drove out to the main intersection. Using the 1930 USGS and the Beers map as our guides (disregarding the 1859 map) we went looking for the old road. It wasn’t obvious to begin with, but some distance away from our car we finally found it - a rutted, wet footpath in the woods. We expected to find it a little easier, as it is shown on the 1999 USGS topo map.

On the 1878 "Beers" map the north-south road seen on the 1859 map is gone. "CC Stevens" (probably the Woodbury site) is shown far off the road. You have to be careful scaling distances on old maps, but this location is unusual compared with other house sites shown.

The 1930 USGS topographic map shows a house off the old road at about the same location as shown on the Beers (1878) map. The USGS maps were much more accurate than the older maps, so it seems possible that there is a house site at that location. .

But there was no old house, and not even a cellarhole. Usually old farmhouses have dug foundations, perhaps 16-20 feet square. These are the best evidence of an old home site. All we found were some scattered stones and mounds of dirt. We speculated that the old "A.M. Woodbury" foundation had been filled in. I was quite disappointed, as I have found 100s of old house sites in hiking the woods over the years. Why couldn’t I find one belonging to an ancestor?

After I got home I looked more carefully at the maps, and came up with a new theory. Perhaps there really was a second road intersection as shown on the 1859 map. If so, we were not looking in the right location, as our search was limited to an area fairly near the road we found - the road shown on the Beers atlas and 1930 map. I noted that the "CC Stevens site" on the Beers map was some distance away from the road – not near the intersection, and not near the road’s sideline. This could be a drafting error, or it could be close to the truth. If the latter, then we had looked in the wrong place. If CC Stevens (1878) was AM Woodbury in 1859 – likely – then the actual house site might be 800’ away from the intersection. We were looking in an area no further than 400’ away. The 1930 USGS map shows an isolated building about 800’ away from the intersection. It is dangerous to scale distances off the old maps, but the fact that all three of these maps indicate about the same distance – and that all three show a site not near the intersection is compelling. I’ve got to go back to Wolcott for another look!

Next "Chapter" Page 3

Revised: 01/30/14
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