County maps and atlases that showed the holdings of individual landowners were extremely popular in the Midwest in the decades following the Civil War. Published commercially by firms situated in Chicago and other large cities specializing in the trade, they reflected and exploited citizens’ pride in their communities and their own personal achievements. The atlases were sold mainly through advance subscriptions marketed by travelling salesmen. For a little extra money, subscribers could also pay for the inclusion of biographical sketches of themselves that complemented the self-congratulatory tone of the imagery and optimistic view of the county’s history and future prospects. These images, prepared by company artists, depicted such individuals, their farm or business, or perhaps even their prize pig. The resulting lithographic views presented a charming, if sugarcoated, picture of rural and small-town life in late nineteenth-century America.
Introductory text in this atlas notes that an “unbroken and almost impenetrable woodland” greeted the first Euro-American settlers of Shelby County. “But the men who had come here went to work with a dauntless and unconquerable energy…. And to-day we behold the result…and we reap the fruits of their toil in the possession of one of the richest, most productive and best watered counties of the State.” According to the sketch of a Dr. Gordon, he “attends closely to his practice, and finds it sufficient to support him in comfortable circumstances. He is honest and straightforward in every transaction, and holds a fair place among the community in which he resides and practices medicine.” Saloon-keeper Silas Metzger, we learn, immigrated to the United States from Germany as a teenager. “Beginning life a poor man,” the atlas text observes, “Mr. Metzger has amassed a handsome fortune…. He is a man of enterprise and public spirit.” Like Dr. Gordon, he is “honest and straightforward in all his dealings,” as well as “kind and obliging toward all he meets… a fine representative of the successful German-American citizen to whom this country owes much of its present wealth and enterprise.”
Conzen, Michael P.. “Maps for the Masses: Alfred T. Andreas and the Midwestern County Atlas Trade.” In Michael P. Conzen, ed. Chicago Mapmakers: Essays on the Rise of the City’s Map Trade. Chicago: Chicago Historical Society for the Chicago Map Society, 1984.
Conzen,, Michael P.. "The County Landownership Map in America: Its Commercial Development and Social Transformation, 1814-1939." Imago Mundi 36 (1984): 9-31.
Conzen, Michael P.. “The All-American County Atlas: Styles of Commercial Landownership Mapping and American Culture.” In Images of the World: The Atlas through History, ed. John A. Wolter and Ronald E. Grim. Washington: Library of Congress, 1997.
“Residence of Silas Metzger, Washington St., Shelbyville, Ind.,” from Atlas of Shelby Co., Indiana (Chicago: J.H. Beers & Co., 1880), p. 82. The Newberry Library, Map 6C 84