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Early Washington Maps

United States Geological Survey Topos Index

Washington 1:125,000 topographic quadrangles

This set of maps represents some of the earliest attempts to map Washington by the United States Geological Survey. Created by an act of Congress in 1879, the USGS set out to create a set of topographic maps of the entire United States beginning in 1882. One sheet of this set, is referred to as a quadrangle. The standard quadrangle consists of 30' of latitude and 30' of longitude at a scale of 1:125,000. Many people are familiar with modern USGS topographic maps that cover 7 1/2' x 7 1/2'. These modern maps are four times more detailed than the maps featured on this site.


While the USGS created most of these maps in the late 19th and early 20th century, they continued to reprint the sheets into the 1960s. When a sheet was reprinted, it remained largely unchanged.


The exceptions to this would be new boundaries of, for instance, a national forest. Also, the names of features, including mountains, towns, rivers, etc. would be corrected or added, if there had been some change. Finally, many maps, beginning in the 1930s, feature information in red ink concerning the highway system. This information was simply printed on top of maps that were sometimes decades old. For instance, on the Sultan sheet the red lines depict the highway system as it existed in 1952, the year the map was reprinted, but the rest of the map: elevations, buildings, streams, are all from the 1921 edition. Be careful to observe when a particular sheet was printed and what year is next to the title.


The USGS prioritized which areas of the United States should be mapped. The result is that many areas in Washington with little population density or natural resources were not mapped for 60 or 70 years. That is why there are no sheets for much of the Olympic Peninsula and parts of central Washington. Maps were simply never produced for many of these areas until the 1960s or later. The mapping of Washington often took on epic proportions. Nearly half of the quadrangles of Washington were surveyed by a certain R.U. (Richard Urquhart) Goode. Goode who was the only survivor of a party surveying for the failed attempt by the DeLesseps company to construct the Panama Canal. He then headed a party for the Northern Transcontinental Survey commissioned by the railroad of the same name. He joined the USGS in 1884, where he eventually became Chief Topographer, responsible for mapping large swaths of the western states and Alaska. Goode's letters and diaries are still with us today and tell of a Washington vast and unpredictable, but the urban easterner seemed to find as much joy in camping as modern northwesterners, "So far we have not put up any of our tents at all, but have slept and lived entirely in the open air, and I find it the most healthy kind of life I ever led." (Richard U. Goode Letters, C. W. Tazewell, Editor)

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