Cartographers have been depicting the built environment for hundreds of years. The built environment, starting with towns, present numerous challenges not the least of which is how to convey massive amounts of information in an understandable way. Over time, three types of plan were created to address this need: the profile, the bird’s-eye view, and the planimetric plan. The bird’s-eye view, as seen in the majority of views here, show the area on the oblique as if from an aerial view. Note that in the bird’s-eye view the street grid is shown. Major attractions, buildings, and monuments are often readily identifiable. It was not unusual to present a view surrounded by buildings and houses in the town (Placerville, Virginia City) often paid for by those interested in showcasing their properties.
County atlases have a special place in America’s cartographic history. These atlases were produced almost entirely by private enterprises. They are unique in showing the ownership of every land parcel in rural parts of a county. Planimetric view of the towns were included as well as natural features such as rivers and hills. Man-made features were included such as railways, roads, schools, and administrative boundaries. Drawings of the important buildings of a town, individual houses, and farms were included for a fee paid by the subscriber to the publication. Taken as a whole, these provide a detailed snapshot of much of the United States from about 1814 to the Great Depression with the “golden age” spanning the period from 1850 to 1880. The view of the New Almaden Mine region was printed in just such an atlas.
Placerville, CA was originally known as Dry Diggin's followed by Hangtown. Placerville was incorporated with that name in 1854. The town was such an important hub during the Gold Rush that it swelled in size to be the third largest city in California. The first gold mine and saw mill were built in Nevada City in 1850 so named with "City" to distinguish it from the territory and then state of Nevada.
Two views are shown of the New Almaden Mine complex located south of San Jose. Both show the smelting works but from different angles. The first is a drawing of area looking towards the southwest (1876) and the second a photograph viewing the northwest (1863). The New Almaden Mine produced mercury used to extract gold from soil and sediments.
Aspen was founded as a mining camp to support the silver boom in the surrounding area. In 1893, the year this view was published, the boom went bust as the price of silver collapsed due to the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, which lead the price of silver to plummet. In this view we see a prosperous town with active business, churches, a press, and places for entertainment, such as the racetrack. Life was about to change and not for the better. Nevada, Colorado was most commonly known as Nevadaville was a gold mining town. This view, completed in 1866, shows the town 5 years after most of it was burned in a fire. It is now a ghost town.
Two views of Georgetown are presented. Georgetown was founded during the Pike's Peak gold rush, but grew rapidly after discovery of silver nearby. The view shown here was published in 1874, a decade after the first discovery of silver in the district. The photograph was taken in 1870. The contrast between the two images could not be more stark. The photograph shows a small town with few defined roads and a smattering of buildings. The romanticized view from 1874 shows a bustling town with 5 hotels and the same number of churches. Large mills sit at the outskirts of town belching soot while pack animals wend their way out of town and to the mines.
Mining in Butte changed over the years going from gold to silver and then to copper. According to Western Mining History, Butte was producing over 25% of the world's copper in 1896. Butte was the site of early labor union activity and the Butte Miners' Union became Local Number One of the Western Federation of Miners. Disputes between the miners and the owners were common leading to strikes, protests, and civil unrest. Small mining operations continue to this day.
Helena was a gold mining town starting in 1864. Over the next two decades, over $3.6 billion of gold (by today's prices) was mined making millionaires of many in the town. During the boom years, Helena was named the capital of the Montana Territory and would later become the state's capital in 1889. The bird's eye view is from 1890, the year after Montana became a state. It shows a prosperous city scaling the hills and spreading into the next valley. Numerous railroads operated brought people to this prosperous town to enjoy time in the area. The town boasted two business colleges: Helena and Montana. The photograph of Helena is from five years before - 1884 - and was taken by famed photographer of the west, Carleton Watkins. Taken at dusk, one sees a view of the town from atop one of the hills allowing an overview of this prosperous town.
Virginia City, the central hub for the mines making up the Comstock Lode, quickly expanded between 1859 and the height of the boom in around 1880 when there were thought to be upwards of 20,000 people living in the area. The drawing dates from 1864. The photograph was taken in 1875, 11 years later. Eliot Lord authored a full account of the area in 1883 for the US Geological Survey. He noted at the time there were the following in Virginia City and Gold Hill: 100 saloons, 22 restaurants, 39 groceries, 15 butcher shops, 7 blacksmith shops, 4 ice dealers, 3 undertakers, 1 county jail, and 1 sewing machine agency, among a host of other business. Virginia City had 2,200 buildings, 92 of which were brick.