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 Texas : Features : Preservation

PAPER CUTS & COUNTY LINES
or
You Just Bled on Upshur County!

Where The Maps Are
A Map of One's Own
Adopt-A-Map

Kent County map

Kent County map as drawn
by Sidney Porter,
aka O. Henry.

Courtesy of Texas General Land Office

Where The Maps Are

"We had to draw the line somewhere," is a phrase often heard around the Surveying Division of the Texas General Land Office. (Usually by Doug Howard, Research Assistant.) We decided to get the cheap joke over with so we can get on with the serious business of reporting on this fascinating and under-appreciated bureau of our state government.

We were once hitchhiking through West Texas, when our driver/ host swept his hand parallel to the horizon and said: "You know, there's snakes out there that have never seen civilization." This wise and profound observation comes to mind whenever we think of how many people go to sleep every night, secure in knowing their neighboring county is where it should be.

Operating on the seventh floor of the Stephen F. Austin Building, the Surveying Division is a cartographer's dream. While the staff conducts their duties in tiny cubicles, the map room has filing cabinets the size of Somervell County. They must have built the building around them. These horizontal drawers contain the hand-drawn, penciled, and pen and inked masterworks of generations of draftsmen, cartographers and scribes. The map room is usually a beehive of activity, if only because of the staff wanting a break from the aforementioned cubicles.


Maps and Draftsmen

Filed alphabetically, each county has several versions of its territorial record. Many date to when they were part of a different county, district, or country. Many offer artistic embellishments. Oak and Laurel leaves may frame a cartouche, or flags may drape over the county name, replete with exaggerated serifs. The styles are so distinctive that when the map is shown, the staff member opening the file will usually comment on the artist. "This of course, is a Bettendorf." Of course it is.

Our guide for our last visit was Joan Kilpatrick, Program Specialist, who informed us that many of the draftsmen in the late 19th Century were Germans and Prussians. Not only were they precise (and punctual), but they could correct misspellings of European names. Joan has been interested in maps since childhood, when she would work puzzle maps until their panhandles wore down to nubs.

Some maps were drawn "in the field" by the surveyors, but clearing brush calluses the hands and the fine detail was better left to city-dwelling, lotion-handed draftsmen.


O. Henry; he was more than stories, embezzlement, and candy bars

Besides the maps, there are other artifacts from the 19th Century, including a pencil sharpener that O. Henry might have used when he was employed there (1887-1891). In O. Henry's Texas stories, his knowledge of Texas geography is immediately apparent. It should be remembered it was he who gave us "The Cisco Kid."

Two of O. Henry's stories are set in the land office offices: Georgia's Ruling and Bexar Script 2692. O. Henry was a draftsman and obtained the position through his friendship with the Land Commissioner.

Visit the beautiful General Land Office Building (now the State Capitol Visitor's Center just off the Capitol grounds) and see the room where he worked and where most of these paper treasures were drawn.

A Map of One's Own
The wonderful part of this state agency is that one can purchase a color copy of any county map. You can pick it up the next day, or they will send it to you. Some maps require copies to be made in 6 or 8 sheets and you'll be amazed what you'll learn during the assembly process. Generous margins are allowed. The fifteen-dollar fee barely pays for the color copies. The staff member's salary doesn't factor into the equation, because they, the Commissioner, and the General Land Office want you to have the map.
Adopt-A-Map

Some maps are in pretty good shape, but many are in some need of restoration. As each generation came up with a solution, it was applied and then became part of the overall problem. Lacquer, "scotch" tape and lamination all seemed like a good idea at the time.

Now thanks to a brilliant variation of the successful Adopt-A-Highway program, institutions, corporations, individuals and communities can sponsor a map. Contributions and funds raised will be spent on the painstaking and tedious restoration work. Here is where "second cities" can compete with county seats on level ground (even if the land is mountainous) and rival companies can vie for the honor of restoring a tangible symbol of that county's terra firma.

The new Texas General Land Office Commissioner, David Dewhurst, is to be credited with the Adopt-A-Map program. Without prompting his name came up three times during our visit and whatever he's doing, other state officials would do well to take note. Now, Mr. Dewhurst resembles neither Jimmy Stewart nor Henry Fonda (although he has the height), nevertheless, if he was described by his actions to a police artist by GLO personnel, a likeness of Jimmy or Hank would be the result.

Visit the Texas General Land Office at www.glo.state.tx.us. Clicking here on Adopt-A-Map will take you directly to their handsome website detailing their program. Although there are over 400 maps on the most endangered list, they are far too fragile to be scanned. Ten maps are available for viewing and will give you an idea of the rich shades of amber and brown that age has given these paper treasures.

In the future the Land Office wants to have their entire cartographic inventory online, so visitors to their website can download images instantaneously.

May, 2000
John Troesser

 
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