Perspectives: The Story of Bennington Through Maps

June 11 through December 31

This collection presents changing roles of maps from those made by European colonists, showcasing their American conquests, to later maps celebrating civic progress and historic events.

Maps tell us where we are and help us get where we want to go, but they are more than a tool for travelers. Abenaki and Mohican people lived in the Bennington area for centuries before the first colonists arrived, but their mapping was largely oral. The first printed maps were used by colonial powers to negate Indigenous presence, and then to divide their land among new owners for commercial gain. Victorian Vermonters wanted maps that showed off their thriving industry and cleared farmland. Tourism boomed in the 1900s and maps became important promotional tools to bring people from cities to enjoy the newly paved roads, natural beauty, and historic attractions. Whether seen as art, guides, or marketing tools, maps in all forms help us examine the changing history and anthro-geography of the region.

Critical questions to ask when viewing any map:

Who is making the map and why?
What appears on the map and what is left out?
How did the decisions reflected in these maps affect the lives of people who lived here?
How do those past decisions still affect us today?

Beautiful Bennington County, Vermont, 1960 & Greetings from Vermont, 1960
Paintings by Lucy Doane
Printed by Frank Forward
Gifts of Charles E. Marchant and Shrewsbury Historical Society, 2016.19.73 and 2014.28.2

Frank Forward used two paintings by local artist Lucy Doane to create these postcards. Doane was the director of art in the Rutland public school system until 1971 after which she moved to North Bennington and was active with various arts organizations including Southern Vermont Art Center and the Bennington Museum.

Gulf Info-log Albany, New York to Concord, New Hampshire, ca. 1940
Gift of Charles E. Marchant, 2016.19.49

Tourists came to Vermont by train in the 1800s, but automobile traffic steadily increased throughout the 1900s. The other side of this promotional card has an advertisement for Gulf gasoline and recommends that divers “Ask the Gulf man” for reliable information. Gulf Gasoline was one of the first oil companies to use maps to promote its pump attendants as helpful, courteous, and reliable sources of local tourist information.

Plan of the township of Bennington granted by Benning Wentworth, 1749
Gift of Mr. Hall Park McCullough, A5492

New Hampshire governor Benning Wentworth’s neat plan for the town of Bennington was created for commercial purposes, and Wentworth (who was deep in debt) collected a fee for every plot sold. The original purchasers had no intention of moving to the frontier. In 1749  white settlements in Massachusetts and New Hampshire were under constant threat from Native people allied with the French, but speculators reaped rich profits after the English won the French and Indian War. The town of Bennington asserted New Hampshire’s claim on land west of the Connecticut River, also claimed by the colony of New York.

Samuel Robinson (plot 36 near the center) was among the original white settlers and was retroactively granted the share originally granted to Sir William Pepperell. Plots of land were reserved for the minister to settle as well as for a school.

Bennington & Bennington Centre, Bennington Co., Vermont, 1877
J.J. Stoner
Lithographed by Shober & Carqueville Litho. Co.
Gift of Mrs. John Baker, 1978.39

By the late 1800s, fully 80 percent of Vermont forests had been cut, including the hills surrounding Bennington. As natural resources were depleted, young Vermonters moved to cities where they could find factory work. They competed with immigrants from Canada, Ireland, and Italy. The billowing factory smokestacks and clearcut hills caused problems with erosion and air pollution, but in 1877, they illustrated Bennington’s commercial success.

An Accurate Map of His Majesty’s Province of New Hampshire in New England…, 1761
Col. Blanchard, and the Rev. Mr. Langdon
Engraved by Thomas Jefferys
Museum Purchase, A1727

Conflicts between the Abenaki and the Iroquois and the English and the French made the Green Mountain region dangerous to white settlements until the end of the French and Indian War. Mapmakers knew that the area was inhabited by Indigenous people, but depicted it as unoccupied wilderness, ripe for colonization and exploitation.

This map shows the western limit of New Hampshire twenty miles east of the Hudson River, based on the 1740 decree by King George II. That border would later be contested by the 1764 decree of George III describing New York as extending east to the Connecticut River. The controversy delayed the entrance of Vermont to the United States until 1791.

Map, Survey and History in Brief of the Town of Bennington, 1835
Joseph N. Hinsdill (1804-1864)
Lithographed by Miller & Co.
Gift of Miss Caroline Craig Darlington, 1973.208

Bennington in the 1830s was still a relatively small community. Three quarters of the town’s residents were involved in agriculture and the few mills were generally small and produced materials for nearby markets. The ironworks depicted in the lower right was one of the largest employers in town, employing 200 men with three large blast furnaces. Hinsdill also included engravings of the Vermont State House, constructed 1833-1838, and three private schools in town.

“Bennington Centre” in the middle of this map is now called “Old Bennington” but in 1835 it was still the thriving hub of the community. In the 1830s its dominance was starting to be threatened by the “East Village” (currently downtown) where the rivers powered mills.

Map of the Village of Bennington, Vermont, 1852
Presdee and Edwards
Lithographed by Sarony & Major
Gift of St. Francis de Sales Parish, 1968.214

Downtown Bennington had grown exponentially by 1852, and this map illustrates how the center of town had shifted down the hill where the river powered factories. 1852 also marked the arrival of the railroad in Bennington, which would support continued growth.

Presdee & Edwards were based in New York and Jersey City. Between 1852 and 1854 they produced at least 13 maps of Vermont towns. Their business model relied on the sale of advance subscriptions, overseen by an agent. Subscribers’ names were included in the final product.

Wonderland Map of Bennington, Vermont, 1927
Edna M. Way (1891-1974)
Gift of Londonderry Arts and Historical Society, 2016.25.2

This playful map created for the Sesquicentennial celebration was the work of local prodigy Edna Way. In 1927 she had just earned her MA at Columbia and settled at Ohio University, where she eventually became the head of the Art Department. She taught classes in interior design, a field deemed appropriate for women.

This map includes the future site of Bennington College in the center of Old Bennington. The college ended up being built a few years later at its present home in North Bennington.

Official map of Bennington County Vermont, ca. 1940
Bennington Chamber of Commerce
Printed by Mid-West Map Company, Aurora, MO
Gift of Townsend Wellington, 2004.561.100

Tourism boomed in Vermont in the mid-1900s, as manufacturing declined. Maps like this helped advertisers guide tourists to their shops and attractions while also helping motorists get from one attraction to the next while enjoying scenic views along the way. The back of this map is filled with advertisements for tourist cabins, service stations, and restaurants. The Chamber of Commerce distributed these maps at its information booth on South Street.

Bennington, Vt., 1887
Lucien R. Burleigh (1853-1923)
Gift of Kendall Adams, 1958.150

In November 1887 L.R. Burleigh came to Bennington and sketched the town in preparation for a bird’s eye view map. January 19, 1888 The Bennington Banner reported: “Mr. Burleigh, the artist who got up the lithograph, ‘Bennington Village in 1887.’ and whose work for its correctness in details as well as general effect has never been excelled here and is hard to equal, disposed of about 250 in town…For a short time we can fill orders for these bird’s-eye views, price $3.00 after which it will be impossible to obtain them.”

Construction on the Bennington Battle Monument had just begun in 1887, and it appears in the map surrounded by buildings. This map was reprinted in 1891 with the landscaped circle as it now exists.

United States, 1821
Amanda M. Armstrong (1808-1855)
Gift of her great-great-niece, Mrs. Hazel Wilson, 1958.263.1

United States, 1822
Harriet Armstrong
Gift of her great-great-niece, Mrs. Hazel Wilson, 1958.263.2

While boys in early America were frequently taught the practical execution of surveys and charts, maps like this were primarily made by girls to show off the maker’s artistic skill and penmanship. Geography lessons helped to cultivate a growing sense of American identity in a young nation.

These opportunities were not available to everyone. Most towns in the northeast provided public education that included reading, writing, and arithmetic (the three “R”s), but higher education including geography, drawing, and penmanship was only available for wealthy Americans. Amanda and Harriet Armstrong probably made these maps at the Union Academy in downtown Bennington or a small private school operated out of a teacher’s house. If you look at each one carefully, you will notice that one sister did a better job.