There’s a lot to be said for a detailed map of a place we know, or want to know. Unlike a painting or photo, a map paints a picture and provides an accurate depiction of life on the ground we walk upon. Old maps can be full of wonder as they take you back to another world that is familiar yet strange. At sixteen years old I already loved maps and Marin history. My father gave me a little book that had a reproduction of Aaron Van Dorn’s 1860 map of Marin County—what a revelation!
Then, when I was thirty, Marin historian Jack Mason showed me his full-sized reproduction of Hiram Austin’s 1873 wall map of Marin, and I was hooked. That map included the name of every landowner, the ranches and their acreage, the old roads, the seven townships and twenty-two school districts, the swamps and hills, all in a beautiful hand-drawn style. Mason also had an original copy of George M. Dodge’s 1892 map of Marin – another marvelous and graphic depiction of Marin County of great value to historians and researchers.
That was 35 years ago, and those three maps have played an indispensable role in my daily life as a Marin historian. Later, I discovered an even larger map, divided into twenty-two quadrangles, made by County Surveyor John C. Oglesby in 1925. My trio of iconic maps then became a quartet.
While in 1860 the county was sparsely populated, by 1925 most of our communities and infrastructure had begun to appear. The years around 1860 saw the landscape fragment as the large ranchos were broken up. In 1873 a major railroad line was under construction and new public roads crossed the county. By 1892, the pattern of Marin’s face was solidly in place. In 1925 the county stood on the cusp of major change, as the Golden Gate Bridge would soon open and postwar development would alter the landscape forever. While all of these maps depict an all-rural Marin, they also show the creation of the county’s foundation, which remains in place today.
On June 17, I will present an illustrated program entitled “Iconic Maps of Marin,” focusing on the 1860, 1873, 1892 and 1925 county maps. We will learn the history of the maps and mapmakers while also examining each map in detail. Together they portray the evolution of the Marin peninsula, its residents & its infrastructure.
“Iconic Maps of Marin: 1860-1925” will be presented at the Anne T. Kent California Room’s Map & Special Collections Annex, 1600 Los Gamos, Suite 182, San Rafael, in Lobby B of the Marin Commons building at Lucas Valley Road and Highway 101.
Longtime Marin historian Dewey Livingston is the Map Archivist at the Map Annex.