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Early Washington Maps

Index for the San Juan Island T-Sheets

These are a series of maps of the San Juan Islands in the years 1888-97. All are photocopies of black ink drawings, with the exception of red contour lines. Originals are housed at the National Archives and Records Administration Cartographic Division in College Park, Maryland. As far as can be known these are manuscript maps, never printed, and probably never copied. The text in the title block is hand written, not printed. The surveyor, noted on the maps as "J.J. Gilbert, Assistant," was responsible for the field work as well as the final graphic product.These maps show much more extensive landcover than comparable U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey topographic maps of other areas. It could be that they were intended as navigational guides in the waters of the archipelago, above and beyond what nautical charts would provide. Another possibility concerns the perceived strategic relevance of the islands in the boundary dispute with Great Britain, the "Pig War" which was settled nearly 20 years earlier. Landcover, including farms and structures, may have been regarded as useful reference markers for sea and land maneuvers, if necessary.

Each map has a distinctive geographic title, register number (added after execution as an addendum) that corresponds to an index at NARA, a completion date (1888-1897), and descriptive note regarding the topography lines (the text for these varies). No applicable legend has been found, although a contemporaneous one identifies most of the features (see: Report of the Superintendent of the United States Coast and Geodedic Survey, 1897/1898.

Washington : Government Printing Office, 1899; Appendix No. 8. "Topographic Symbols," Nos. 15-18). The legend shown here, developed by Tom Schroeder in 2000, was based on this work, though the symbol for "cultivated field" was inferred.

The coverage of these maps, while extremely thorough, is not absolutely complete. As the index reveals, two portions of Orcas Island were not mapped-- the Mountain Lake area and a small piece nearby. Topographic sheets of other nearby islands not in San Juan County exist but have not been reproduced.

Some coordinate corrections were superimposed in the 20th century. Intersects based on the North American Datum 1927 were added in that year, and there are at least two addenda from the 1930s. These maps remain an invaluable source of accurate information that otherwise would have gone unrecorded.

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