Skip to content

Subscribe  |  Login  |  Account

The Coordinates of Bygone Days

Robert Finch’s commentary, “Two Windows,” which appears in The 1858 Map of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, & Nantucket, tells us about the two views the map presents. One is “a wide-angle or macroview of its time,” he writes, while the other is a closer look at the people who lived then, including their individual stories. The broader view gives us town borders and bodies of water, village centers and back roads. The deeper, more penetrating look reveals, for example, that many of the listed heads of household in Truro Village—no fewer than 17—begin with “Mrs.”, which denotes a widow. “The explanation lies in the tragic gale of October 3, 1841,” Finch writes in his commentary, “in which the lives of fifty-seven Truro men were lost at sea.”

A rare map of the Cape in its maritime prime has become a best selling tome.

Such fascinating glimpses of long ago Cape and Islands life are just part of The 1858 Map of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, & Nantucket, the centerpiece of which is a bound version of an important map by noted cartographer Henry F. Walling. The elegant coffee-table-size book offers readers glimpses of Cape Cod during its maritime heyday. In addition to the map, Walling includes tables of commerce statistics, business directories, and names of homeowners. “It shows a lot about the time, a lot about where we come from, and as such, it helps us better understand where we might choose to go,” says Adam Gamble, owner of On Cape Publications in Dennis, which co-published the coffee-table map book with Cape Cod Five bank.

The Coordinates of Bygone Days

Created in 1858, this historical map of Cape Cod and the islands provides a little more than just directions and coordinates, featuring great writers such as Gamble and Finch.

In addition to the commentary by Finch, the hardbound map includes essays from Gamble; writers Elliott Carr, Jim Coogan, and Theresa Mitchell Barbo; Kathleen Schatzberg, president of Cape Cod Community College; and Joseph Garver, reference librarian of the Harvard Map Collection of the Harvard College Library. Truro-based photographer and publisher Charles Fields photographed the map for the book; his wife, Gail, helped design the book with him.


The 1858 map marks a time in Cape history when the maritime industry was at its peak, but nearing its decline, Gamble notes. It was printed just three years before the start of the Civil War, which disrupted the shipping and fishing trades. “The Great Age of Sail” would soon give way to steam-powered vessels, and the demand for whale oil would be replaced by petroleum, with the first U.S. well drilled in Pennsylvania in 1859. The Cape Cod that Walling drew also is the Cape Cod Henry David Thoreau knew. The Concord philosopher’s Cape Cod, published in 1864, was written from journals he kept during visits to the area in 1849, 1850, 1855, and 1857.

You might also like: