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The Coordinates of Bygone Days

In addition to recording precise topographical details in Cape towns, like the triangles that mark hill summits, the map pays careful attention to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. “In many Cape Cod publications, the islands are sort of tossed in as an afterthought,” Gamble says. “[In our book] the mapmaker gives every square mile of the islands the same attention, so they are represented just as they were, and the book can be enjoyed just as much by a Nantucket historian as one from the Outer Cape.”


The map book was the idea of Mary Sicchio, archivist of the William Brewster Nickerson Cape Cod History Archives at the college. An original copy of the five-by-five-foot map has hung on a wall in dim light just outside the archives room for years. She suggested turning the map into the book for a very practical reason. “Then I wouldn’t have to send people out with a flashlight and a magnifying glass,” Sicchio says.

Sicchio and Gamble, a 1989 graduate of the college and writer who often used the archives for research, had been brainstorming ways the college could raise money to expand and update the collection while increasing awareness of the wealth of local lore it contains.


The result was the publication last October of the map book, which sold out in two months, raising $40,000, according to Gamble. A second printing was issued in July. The goal of the project, managed by the Cape Cod Community College Educational Foundation, is to raise $1 million to pay for digitizing the archives, tripling the space, and adding temperature and humidity controls.

The map book is a fitting fundraising vehicle for the archives, considering that both shine a light on the remarkable history of the area. The archives contain more than 10,000 books, manuscripts, and special collections, including maritime logs and diaries, like those of Lorenzo Dow Baker, a Wellfleet sea captain and entrepreneur, who was the first to bring bananas to the United States, says Sicchio. Author Nathaniel Philbrick sought genealogical information on the Nickerson family of Nantucket for his bestseller In the Heart of Sea from the archives, she says, and author Sally Gunning of Brewster has researched her historical novels here.

The college bought its original copy of the map in the 1970s from Ben Muse at Parnassus bookstore in Yarmouthport, according to Sicchio. Previously, she believed there were eight to a dozen original copies of the map, but now she thinks there are two or three dozen around the re- gion, including one each at Harvard, the Boston Public Library, and the Cape Cod Five bank operations cen- ter in Orleans, because of the large number of map owners who have come forward after learning about the book’s publication.


The public has been particularly interested in the book, especially Cape Codders with older homes, she says. “It shows the houses that existed in 1858 and a lot of those houses still exist and the map shows who owned them,” she says. “So it shows where your ancestors might have lived.”

As for the rest of us, the book offers a fascinating glimpse back at a long ago world, providing coordinates for today’s life on the Cape and Islands.

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