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This is the Place: The First Map of Salt Lake City, Utah

Celebrated as a state holiday in Utah, Pioneer Day commemorates the first members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints entering the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. Since the foundation of the Church in 1830, Latter-day Saints were faced with persecution and driven out of every community they started in New York, Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. In February 1846, under the direction of Brigham Young, these members became pioneers and started a 1,200 mile trek across the continent to create a brand new city in the west, far away from the persecution that had previously followed them.

Route of the Mormon pioneers from Nauvoo to Great Salt Lake, Feb'y 1846-July 1847. Map by Millroy & Hayes, 1899. Geography and Map Division.

Route of the Mormon pioneers from Nauvoo to Great Salt Lake, Feb’y 1846-July 1847. Map by Millroy & Hayes, 1899. Geography and Map Division.

It is unusual to be able to pinpoint the first map of a major city, but Salt Lake City was planned before a single street or building was constructed. Several days after entering the valley, on July 28, Brigham Young proclaimed the exact spot for the center of the new city, now called Temple Square, and instructed that the city be surveyed and laid out from that place. Throughout the last century and into this one, credit for the earliest map of Salt Lake City was given to Thomas Bullock, a Church historian and recorder, who sketched a plat map in his diary dated August 16, 1847.

However, in 2014, a forgotten map drawn by Henry G. Sherwood, the first surveyor of Utah, was brought back to the attention of the world with the claim that it was the very first map drawn of Salt Lake City, predating the Thomas Bullock sketch by only a couple of weeks. The map was acquired by the Library and has recently been scanned and made available online for everyone to view.

Plat of the Great City of the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. Map by Henry G. Sherwood, August 1847. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Plat of the Great City of the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. Map by Henry G. Sherwood, August 1847. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Today, on the southeast corner of Temple Square is a plaque which reads, “Fixed by Orson Pratt assisted by Henry G. Sherwood, August 3, 1847, when beginning the original survey of ‘Great Salt Lake City,’ around the ‘Mormon’ temple site designated by Brigham Young July 28, 1847.” On that same date, July 28, Thomas Bullock recorded in his journal that Brigham Young instructed Orson Pratt to “tell Father Sherwood how many degrees of variation of compass there is at this spot, so that the City may be laid out perfectly Square North & South, East & West.”Despite this evidence of Sherwood’s contribution to the original surveying of Salt Lake City, his name had been obscured in the shadows of history.

Measuring 20 x 15 inches, the map is inked onto a sheepskin which was wrapped around a wooden roller. The plat runs 15 blocks north to south and 9 blocks east to west and bears the signature on the top left corner of H.G. Sherwood. This original plan created each block as ten acres in size, subdivided into eight lots, each of which was a little more than an acre. The houses on each block were designed to alternate either an east-west orientation or a north-south orientation so that no house faced another. Several public squares for city buildings or parks are also included on the map. Though laid out, the fifteen northeastern blocks are left blank due to the mountainous terrain obstructing building on that land. The addition of blocks on the north end of the plat as well as the numbers written in on the right hand side indicate that the map continued to be used as a model to guide further surveys of the valley in subsequent years.

Deseret evening news. Great Salt Lake City, Utah, 23 March 1893. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress.

Deseret evening news.  23 March 1893. Chronicling America, Library of Congress.

So where has the map been for the last 150 years? When Utah became a United States territory in 1850, Henry Sherwood was appointed the territorial surveyor general where he remained in possession of the sheepskin map. In the ordinances governing the office, it was stipulated that any plat maps would be handed down to each succeeding surveyor general.

In 1852, Sherwood was replaced by Jesse W. Fox and possession of the map passed to him. When Jesse Fox’s service ended in 1884, the territorial office had ceased to exist, and there was no successor to inherit the plat. On March 23, 1893, an article in the Deseret Evening News verifies the map was still held by Fox as he brought it into the newspaper to show John Q. Cannon, the editor of the newspaper. For the next century, the map was held by Fox’s direct descendants until it was sold in 2014.

When an unknown historical document of such importance comes to light, it is essential to prove the authenticity of the object. Since its rediscovery, scholars have been analyzing and debating the validity of calling this map the first of Salt Lake City. While the evidence has convinced many of its legitimacy, including the Library, the lack of a date on the map and the suddenness of its appearance has left others skeptical. A recent volume of the Utah Historical Quarterly has devoted several articles to both sides of the argument.

Original manuscript maps of a city’s first moments are rare. The Library of Congress has one other such map in its collection, the first manuscript map drawn of Washington D.C. by Pierre L’Enfant. It is with pleasure the Library adds this first map of Salt Lake City to its collection to preserve for future generations.

 

 

Bird's eye view of Salt Lake City, Utah Territory 1870. Augustus Koch, 1870. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Bird’s eye view of Salt Lake City, Utah Territory 1870. Augustus Koch, 1870. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Learn More: 

Fan Maps of the Geography and Map Division

This post focuses on three decorative 19th century fans from the collections of the Geography and Map Division. The art of Asian fan making dates to ancient times. According to Gonglin Qian, author of Chinese Fans: Artistry and Aesthetics the earliest Chinese fan that has been found dates from 475 to 221 BC. It was […]

18th Century Maps of North America: Perception vs. Reality

Between 1755 and 1775, over the course of just twenty years, three seminal maps of North America were published in London, even though those responsible for the maps never left England! These three maps, discussed in more detail below, were prepared for a British audience in an attempt to reinforce opinions regarding British control of North America. A fourth map, also published in London, depicts the extent of the United States in 1802.

Mitchell, John, Thomas Kitchin, and Andrew Millar. A map of the British and French dominions in North America, with the roads, distances, limits, and extent of the settlements, humbly inscribed to the Right Honourable the Earl of Halifax, and the other Right Honourable the Lords Commissioners for Trade & Plantations. [London; Sold by And: Millar, 1755] Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

Mitchell, John, Thomas Kitchin, and Andrew Millar. A map of the British and French dominions in North America, with the roads, distances, limits, and extent of the settlements, humbly inscribed to the Right Honourable the Earl of Halifax, and the other Right Honourable the Lords Commissioners for Trade & Plantations. [London; Sold by And: Millar, 1755] Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

Arguably the most important of the first three pre-1800 maps addressed in this blog is John Mitchell’s iconic 1755 Map of the British and French Dominions in North America pictured above. At the request of the English Board of Trade and Plantations, the equivalent of the State Department, Mitchell was tasked with preparing a large map of North America based upon maps provided by each of the thirteen colonial governors. The intriguing story behind the map lies with its illustrated claim of English sovereignty extending from the Atlantic Ocean westward past the Mississippi and, eventually, to the Pacific Ocean. These claims are evidenced by the horizontal colonial boundaries extending into French territory.

Our second map, pictured below, was originally published in London by Emanuel Bowen in 1763. Unlike Mitchell’s map, which incorporated the territorial aspirations of the British colonies, the 1763 map by Bowen illustrated the political realities dictated by the 1763 Treaty of Paris ending the Seven Year’s War in North America.

Bowen, Emanuel, -1767, J Gibson, and Robert Sayer. An accurate map of North America. Describing and distinguishing the British and Spanish dominions on this great continent; according to the definitive treaty concluded at Paris 10th Feby. Also all the West India Islands belonging to, and possessed by the several European princes and states. London, Printed for Robert Sayer, 1763. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

Bowen, Emanuel, -1767, J Gibson, and Robert Sayer. An accurate map of North America. Describing and distinguishing the British and Spanish dominions on this great continent; according to the definitive treaty concluded at Paris 10th Feby. Also all the West India Islands belonging to, and possessed by the several European princes and states. London, Printed for Robert Sayer, 1763. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

The third revolutionary map in our saga was published in London by Carington Bowles in 1771. Like the Bowen map illustrated above, it, too, includes colonial territory lost in 1763, but also emphasizes unsettled colonial boundaries.  Of those, the most notable are the western boundary of Pennsylvania, the northeastern boundary of Virginia, and the western boundary of New York, as establishment of each defined those colonies’ access to Lake Erie.

Bowles, Carington. North America, and the West Indies; a new map, wherein the British Empire and its limits, according to the definitive treaty of peace, in , are accurately described, and the dominions possessed by the Spaniards, the French, & other European States. The whole compiled from all the new surveys, and authentic memoirs that have hitherto appeared. [London, 1774 ?, 1774]

Bowles, Carington. North America, and the West Indies; a new map, wherein the British Empire and its limits, according to the definitive treaty of peace, in , are accurately described, and the dominions possessed by the Spaniards, the French, & other European States. The whole compiled from all the new surveys, and authentic memoirs that have hitherto appeared. [London, 177?, 1771]. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

The final map of North America in our brief exploration of revolutionary maps was published in London in 1802. Aaron Arrowsmith (1750-1823) produced the most current and accurate cartographic representation of the American West up to that date. Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark carefully studied the map in 1803 and even carried a copy on the first leg of their landmark expedition. Arrowsmith’s map immediately pre-dates the 1803 Louisiana Purchase and subsequent 1804-06 expedition by Lewis & Clark.  Rather than fill in the American West with conjectural or inaccurate data, he has deliberately left large areas blank, allowing viewers to envision for themselves the nature of the vast territory recently acquired before the landscape could be recorded by scientific surveys.

Arrowsmith, Aaron, and J Puke. A map exhibiting all the new discoveries in the interior parts of North America. [London: A. Arrowsmith, 1802]. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division. 

So why are these maps significant? And how do they illustrate cartographic perception and geographic reality?  First, British control of North America is implied in Mitchell’s 1755 map which depicts British colonies extending from “sea to sea”.  Secondly, the geographic reality of British control of North America are all shown on the commercially produced 1763 Bowen map, the 1774 Bowles’ map, and Arrowsmith’s 1802 map which all relied on factual data. It all comes down to the intentions of each cartographer and those who employed the cartographers!

Learn more:

Creating the United States. A Library of Congress exhibit drawing heavily on items related to American Revolution from various parts of the Library. (April 2008 – May 2012).

Rivers, Edens, and Empires: Lewis and Clark and the Revealing of America. A Library of Congress exhibit showcasing items from various collections the related to Lewis and Clark expedition. (July 2003 – November 2003).

Read more »

Hy-Brasil: The Supernatural Island

Hy-Brasil never existed, however, it was often shown on maps as a very small island west of Ireland. The name Hy-Brasil originated from Celtic mythology. According to Irish folklore an island named Hy-Brasil was visible from the west coast of Ireland for only one day every seven years, the rest of the time it was […]

A Fascist Dystopia with Style on the Adriatic

The Croatian seaport of Rijeka commands a stunning view of Kvarner Bay (Golfo del Carnaro), nestled in an arm of the northern Adriatic between the Istrian Peninsula and the Croatian littoral.  Over the centuries its outstanding deep water port has attracted Celts, Greeks, Romans, Franks, Goths, Venetians, Byzantines, Hapsburgs, and Italians, most of whom have contested […]

Strategies for Planning and Selecting Maps for Exhibits, Displays and Workshops

This is a guest post by Kathy Hart, Head of the Research Access and Collection Development Section in the Geography and Map Division. Libraries and museums often feature maps and related geographic content in digital and analog, large or small exhibits, displays and workshops. When considering the variety of materials available, how does one select […]