One of the gems in the collection at the New Mexico History Museum’s Fray Angélico Chávez History Library is a map of the Southwest drawn in 1674 by Nicolas Sanson, royal geographer to King Louis XIII of France. It is a beauty, but is not entirely accurate. For example, it shows California as an island, and has the Río Grande beginning at a “great lake of the West” and emptying into the Gulf of California (named the “Vermillion Sea” on the map) rather than the Gulf of Mexico. That was corrected on a 1688 map by Vincenzo Coronelli, royal cartographer to King Louis XIV, but California is still an island. “Even after they did know more about the geography, they liked that idea,” said librarian Patricia Hewitt. “They thought California was sort of a mythical place with Amazonian women. It was out there.”

The interesting intricacies of the cartographer’s art are the focus of Map Mania, a free event co-sponsored by the History Museum and the Historical Society of New Mexico. The symposium takes place at the museum on Friday, June 24, and Saturday, June 25.

Map Mania is the final element of activities funded by a $179,000 grant the Fray Angélico Chávez History Library received in 2011. The main objective of the grant awarded by the Council on Library and Information Resources (funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation) was cataloguing the library’s collection of some 6,300 maps. Hewitt said most of the maps are of New Mexico, New Spain, and the Southwest. “Our maps provide rare insight into early explorations of the New World and the historic trade routes of the Southwest,” Hewitt writes in an article about the Chávez Library map collection in El Palacio published last autumn. More than 300 of the library’s maps depict Santa Fe’s history.

The maps range in size from a tiny specimen showing the Copernican universe to a railroad map that is 122 feet long. The library’s cold-storage facility holds approximately 1,200 right-of-way maps from 14 railroad companies that have operated in New Mexico.

The museum’s Sanson map is printed, but there are also manuscript maps. One is the Bernardo Miera y Pacheco map. “It’s an oil painting, so we consider it to be a manuscript map,” Hewitt said during a tour of the map collection. Miera y Pacheco settled in Santa Fe in 1756 with his family and a few years later was commissioned by the governor to draw a map. It takes in most of what would be New Mexico, showing mountain ranges and indicating all of the Spanish villages and Indian tribes that were known at the time.

Of course, it is amazing that early maps are as accurate as they are, given the fact that the cartographers had no aerial views available to them: Everything was done on foot. In her El Palacio story, Hewitt writes, “Some cartographers were forthright enough to acknowledge that they did not know what existed in some areas. Thomas Kitchin indicated a ‘Great space of land unknown’ on a 1777 map of what is now the Midwest.”

“The circa-1848 E. Gilman map is one of my favorites, because it has the border of Texas coming way up to include Santa Fe, and California has a horizontal shape,” Hewitt said. “I love the maps that show the world as it might have been if various legislations had gone through. I also love the old maps with drawings of New World animals in the cartouche — the scroll-like frame that has the name of the map and other information — as on the Sanson map. They had never seen these animals, so they are rather fantastical.”  She referred to American draftsman E. Gilman’s Table Showing the Estimated Surface of the Territories of the United States. The Texas “panhandle” is mistakenly drawn as bloated north and west, even including Santa Fe — as that state sought to define its borders after its independence from Mexico in 1836.

Hewitt pointed to “kind of a rare map,” which shows Leonard Wood County, which Guadalupe County, New Mexico, was known as for a short time. The collection holds a pair of Pageant of the Pacific maps by Miguel Covarrubias done for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, showing the peoples and the fauna and flora of the Pacific nations. Another geographically fascinating map is Johnson’s California, Territories of New Mexico and Utah, drawn in 1862. It shows new areas that were being considered as territories after the Mexican-American War and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Two of them stand out: long, horizontal New Mexico and Arizona territories that stretch from Texas to California, with New Mexico on the top and Arizona south of it. 

An interesting pictorial 1940s map of the Santa Fe Trail was produced by Irvin Shope for the American Pioneer Trail Association. At the location of Santa Fe, there are colored drawings of San Miguel Chapel and a Franciscan friar talking with an Indian on horseback. The library’s collection includes more than 1,100 colorful road and highway maps — the type once available free at gas stations across the continent. One from Roswell has a little cartoon of an alien reading a map.

As part of the grant, Hewitt worked with Judy Reinhartz and Dennis Reinhartz to produce a 30-page booklet, Historic Maps as Teaching Tools: A Curriculum Guide for Grades 5-8. At the beginning, they state that “maps have a demanding academic language of their own, including place names, dates, and events that may be hard to pronounce because of where and when the maps were made. Maps as visuals also may be difficult to comprehend.” The booklet examines several of the library’s wonderful maps and offers classroom activities, including map cube games, a map scavenger hunt, and the Last Standing Map Bee, along with a mural project. The cataloguing and curriculum guide won an Award of Merit for Leadership in History from the American Association for State and Local History; the award will be presented at the AASLH annual awards banquet on Sept. 16 in Detroit.

Now that the library’s maps are catalogued, people can search them out by topic — for example, tourism, water rights, commerce, land grants, and immigration. Web-searchable records of the library’s holdings are available in the library’s catalog and on the international database WorldCat. The library is able to scan maps up to 40 inches across and quite long. “One thing we can do now is give people a good-quality scan, including for publication,” according to Hewitt.

Hewitt said she and fellow librarian Tomas Jaehn help a great variety of people to find maps. “We get attorneys and other people doing research on water rights and land grants, and also people who are doing family history and want to see old buildings or the history of the town,” she said. “We have old Sanborn insurance maps, and we can sometimes help people identify when a house was built and the shape and type of construction that was used.” ◀

The Fray Angélico Chávez History Library is at 120 Washington Ave.; enter through the New Mexico History Museum’s Washington Avenue entrance.