Historic maps show changing state of Georgia

Milledgeville exhibit up until Dec. 9

jgaines@macon.comOctober 11, 2013 


Gordon Thomas, an archival associate at Georgia College & State University poses with one of the maps donated to the school.

WOODY MARSHALL — wmarshall@macon.com Buy Photo

  • Map exhibit

    The map exhibit is in Georgia’s Old Capital Museum, 201 E. Greene St., on the campus of Georgia Military College. Hours are 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday.
    Museum admission, which includes the map exhibit and a tour of the restored legislative chamber where secession was voted in 1861, is $5.50 for adults, $4.50 for seniors and $2.25 for children. Docents are provided for groups of 10 or more.
    The museum and associated Brown-Stetson-Sanford House at 601 W. Hancock St. host several other exhibits. The museum is featuring “From Broomstick to Musket: Women of the South, 1861-1865.” The house will demonstrate Civil War-era activities Oct. 15-18 in “The Stetson Family Prepares for Wartime Holidays;” hold an “Antiques, Collectibles, and Lots of Other Good Stuff” sale Nov. 8-9; and hold a public gingerbread-house contest Dec. 15 during the “It’s a Gingerbread Christmas at the Brown-Stetson-Sanford House” exhibit.
    The museum can be reached at 478-453-1803 or at sally@oldcapitalmuseum.org.
    Questions about the maps or exhibit can be directed to library Special Collections at 445-0988.

hanks to a pair of former Georgia College & State University professors, the Milledgeville school has a fine collection of antique maps featuring Georgia, and many of them are on public display until Dec. 9, giving a glimpse of politics and demographics long past.

Thomas and Janice Armstrong spent years collecting the maps, which range in scope from Georgia alone to all of North America. They donated most of their collection to Georgia College, where it will eventually be housed in the library’s Special Collections section for use by researchers and in occasional exhibits.

But for now, 17 of the 40 maps have been selected for the “Mapping Georgia History: A Personal Journey” display at Georgia’s Old Capital Museum, on the ground floor of the former statehouse, now part of the Georgia Military College campus in Milledgeville.

“Each one has a story to tell,” said Amy Wright, the museum’s executive director. Every map comes from a different perspective, she said: Some of them show the courses of newly explored rivers, some the progress of railroads.

Some highlight changing political boundaries, and some reveal the simple expansion of knowledge as more detail appears.

The maps date from the late 1700s until just after the Civil War. Many of them are in English, but some come from French or German sources.

“Most of these maps are just torn from pages of old geography books,” said Gordon Thomas, an archival associate at Georgia College. He particularly likes one from 1850, which shows the Mormon state of Deseret in what is now Utah.

“This one’s my favorite,” Wright said, stepping over to one gallery wall. “It shows Georgia extending all the way to the Mississippi.” Next to it, another shows locations of various Native American tribes, including the Creek in Middle Georgia, during the very early 19th century.

One of the earliest, from 1780, shows Georgia plainly, though the Pacific Northwest fades off into blank paper -- still unexplored. Even much later maps show intriguing gaps, such as one from 1884 that omits Atlanta.

“A lot of times maps were done by people who didn’t know anything about the geography,” Wright said. Some just copied earlier maps and added new, often dubious, information, she said.

Thomas and Janice Armstrong gave an Oct. 1 talk to open the exhibit, which drew about 45 people, Thomas said.

Thomas Armstrong said the maps vividly illustrate political debates and emphases at the time, as today’s Middle East border disputes play out in rival maps. Beyond politics, growing accuracy was important for both Colonial authorities and the new United States government, he said, according to a transcript of the talk.

Janice Armstrong said she and her husband started collecting years ago with a North American map from the 1840s, bought in Alexandria, Va., and another a few weeks later, which also showed Milledgeville as Georgia’s capital.

“I think that with that second purchase, we were hooked,” she said, according to the transcript. They focused on maps from the 1804 to 1868 period, when Milledgeville was the capital.

“Amazingly, we found a map that fit the collection in a shop in Lahaina on the island of Maui in Hawaii. In Christchurch, New Zealand, we found another,” Janice Armstrong said. More of them came from Colorado, New Orleans, Atlanta, and Taos, N.M.

They began using the maps for home decoration, but they didn’t have room to display them all, and they always intended that the collection should find a permanent home in Milledgeville, she said.

Eventually, they’ll add another 15 or 20 maps to their donation.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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