Off the shelf – Mapping Maps

Map of Downtown Charlotte 1954, Map by Dolph Map Co., picture via flickr by davecitoThings have been kinda quiet around here lately. I’ve just about gotten the database updated. Only have about 100 or so digital photographs to rename. We’ve started processing some of the 2000 acquisitions, and we’re almost up to date on the ones that have come in during 2003 1. The problem is, though, that when interesting things come across our tables, it’s impossible just to write them up, slap numbers on them, and stick them on a shelf. You get involved with them. Lately, it’s been maps. Kelly, one of our oh-so-wonderful interns, and I were looking at a bound set of blueprint real estate maps of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County that date from the 1930s. They outline the lots downtown – excuse me, UPtown – and list property owners and assessed values. Property values have changed a bit since then, but Trade and Tryon was the place to be! This sort of documentation is of inestimable value to anyone researching the histories of buildings and businesses in the city. We were given in the same accession a fine Official Lot and Block Atlas of Charlotte, N. C. that is dated 1928. It is printed on heavily coated linen from hand-drawn originals and shows, among other reminders of a vanished past, the trolley lines that used to serve as mass transit for the city.

It is also instructive – and fascinating – to go back forty more years to 1888. The map, donated this year, is of Mecklenburg county. The center city is not detailed, but the names of property owners are written in for outlying areas. Sure enough, there are “our” Alexanders (see for details). On many of these properties, we can see names that are now given to streets, to parks, to buildings and businesses and neighborhoods in the area. Along with this map, we received as museum property an indenture of lease from England, dated 1696. It used to hang in a Charlotte law office and will hang in our library before long. It is hand written on calfskin vellum and hung with three red wax seals at the bottom, and I challenge you to try to read it! Not only is the script archaic, but the language is an opaque legalese that would put any modern writer of fine print to shame. Lee, another collections intern, started trying to transcribe it for me. Fortunately, the donor found a transcription done by another lawyer in 1975. We’ll probably make this available in the library for those who are curious, or are looking for lessons in obfuscatory verbiage!

Well, I better go update the database. And slap on a few numbers.


  1. The article was written 2003.

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