Thursday, July 22, 2010

Drawing Attention: Birds-eye Views of Upstate New York

By Doug Kendall, Curator of Collections

Bird's-eye views of burgeoning American cities and towns became a popular promotional tool for town development and an expression of local pride during the mid-19th century. Lithography made it possible for local boosters—and printers—to quickly and inexpensively disseminate views intended to impress citizens, prospective citizens and others with the prosperity and beauty of nearly every town and city.

Upstate New York towns had begun vying for influence from the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. Some places, such as Rochester and Oswego, became major shipping and milling centers because of their locations on canals, lakes, and—later—railroads. Others, such as Cooperstown, lacked a place on the major transportation routes; the lithographers still managed to sell images of these towns and villages to local residents and tourists.

Bird’s-eye views emphasize the most widely known advantages of each locale. By the mid-19th century, Cooperstown had been bypassed by canals and railroads. The village was best known as the home of the novelist James Fenimore Cooper.

A Civil War era image of Cooperstown depicts a quaint village hugging the picturesque Otsego Lake, renowned as the “Glimmerglass” in Cooper’s works. The settled village is seen beyond from a partially forested hillside with a hardy farmer plowing a steeply-sloped field, echoing the transition from frontier to settled farmland found in Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales. Points of interest are noted along the lower margin of the image; many of these refer to James Fenimore Cooper and his novels.

Cooperstown, New York
Lithograph on paper, 1862. M. Dev. Martin, artist and lithographer.
Lewis & Goodwin, Albany, NY, publishers.
Gift of Mrs. Morgan Henry.

In contrast, Oswego was an important port on Lake Ontario. Flour, grain, lumber, iron, salt, and cornstarch passed through the port between the lake and the Oswego Canal, which linked the city with the Erie Canal in 1829. By 1853, the Oswego and Syracuse Railroad had provided another transportation link from the port to the interior. Bradley sketched Oswego from a vantage point off shore, a position which allowed him to emphasize the importance of the city’s harbor. Sailing vessels are congregated inside the breakwater. Steamboats, grain elevators, the lighthouse and the canal entrance beyond the first bridge all testify to the bustling business of Oswego. On the left, Fort Ontario looms over the lake front, recalling the former strategic importance of the location.

Oswego, N.Y.
Lithograph on paper, 1853.
Lewis Bradley, artist. David William Moody, lithographer.
N0345.1955. Gift of Stephen C. Clark.

Of all canal boom towns, Rochester experienced the most explosive growth, from a population of 331 in 1815 to nearly 10,000 in 1830. One of the most celebrated engineering feats of the Erie Canal, the crossing of the Genesee River on an impressive stone aqueduct, can be seen in this view slightly to the right of center. Although railroad trains can be seen on the left in this view, the canal takes center stage. In addition to the prominent canal and the main thoroughfare visible at center, Hill chose a vantage point that allowed him to show in some detail many of the city's fine Italianate residences. Many industrial buildings along the canal and the river testify to Rochester’s economic vitality in the middle of the 19th century.

Rochester from the West, 1853
Lithograph on paper, 1853. John William Hill (1812-1879), artist. David William Moody, lithographer. Smith Brothers and Company, New York, NY, publisher.
N0348.1955. Gift of Stephen C. Clark.

1 comment:


I like your post from your heart, very interesting and Informative
Monica Sharma

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