County landownership atlases like this example published by the firm of Andreas, Lyter, & Co., were among the most popular forms of American cartography during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Hundreds were published, primarily of counties in the Northeast, Midwest, Plains states, and the Pacific Northwest. Similar, more modestly produced atlases, sometimes known as plat books, continued to be published throughout the twentieth century.
Maps of the usually square or rectangular townships in Midwestern examples were sufficiently large in scale (in this instance about one-half mile to the inch) to provide detailed portraits of local landscapes—that compare well with modern online satellite imagery—including individual land parcels; rivers and bodies of water; roads and railroads; the outlines of villages, towns, and administrative divisions; and, in some cases, vegetation and structures such as schools and farmsteads. C. E. Dunsworth’s farmstead is located at the far northeast corner of his property, in the only wooded part of his quarter-section; a small orchard lies just to the south of the house and the local school to its north. One of the mainlines of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad (CB&Q) runs on a southwesterly course linking Macomb, the county seat (off the northeastern edge of the map) with Colchester (off the western edge of the map). The railroad follows comparatively higher, level ground, clear of the forests of ravines lining nearby creeks. The CB&Q reached this vicinity in the late 1850s, well after the initial wave of settlement in the 1820s and 1830s. Clusters of houses extend from each town along the road that roughly parallels the railroad. The township was still almost entirely rural, though the northeast quarter of Section 1 is in the process of being subdivided into blocks that will accommodate the expansion of Macomb.
Andreas, Lyter & Co. gleaned much of this information from existing government plat maps and surveys, but nothing quite so comprehensive and on such a large scale was published for public distribution before the United States Geological Survey (founded in 1879) began its systematic mapping of the country. The widespread adoption of lithography by American map publishers in the middle of the nineteenth century gave American commercial publishers a relatively cheap and simple method of producing detailed maps. One particular advantage of this printing method over the engraved copperplate and woodcut techniques cartographers had favored since the fifteenth century was that it made it possible for a draftsman to directly transfer a freely drawn map image to a printing surface. Even a relatively unskilled mapmaker could produce clear (if not always elegant) printed maps from quickly sketched drafts. Hence it was possible to obtain serviceable maps of even obscure places at relatively low cost.
County atlas production also reflected the growing sophistication of American marketing techniques. Map publishers had learned that the costs of compiling and producing local maps could be recouped in part by lining up local advertisers and sponsors, who paid fees in return for prominent mentions of their businesses on published maps. After the Civil War the publishers of county atlases carried this principle to its logical extreme. When a new atlas was proposed for a county, representatives of the publishing firm approached local landowners and businessmen for subscriptions to the publication. Alfred T. Andreas, in partnership with his brother-in-law John M. Lyter, based in Davenport, Iowa, published with great business acumen a series of atlases of counties within the former Illinois Military Tract. Andreas enhanced the prestige of subscribing to his atlases by including lists of his patrons. For additional fees, some subscribers could have a sketch of their farm or business, personal portraits, and even pictures of prize livestock added to their county’s atlas. Local historical sketches and biographies of "prominent citizens" were also added to the mix. These additions had a special appeal in places like Illinois in the 1860s, 70s, and 80s, when the generation that had first settled the region in the 1820s, 30s, or 40s paused to look back on its achievements. Andreas and Lyter’s business model was widely emulated and ushered in the heyday of the county atlas in the Midwest. The survival of so many copies of these atlases to this day testifies to the sentimental value many families placed on these books, as well as the role personal and communal pride played in the success of these publications.
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, pp. 46-63. 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, pp. 331-65. Washington: Library of Congress, 1997.
Johnson, Hildegard Binder. Order upon the Land: The U.S. Rectangular Land Survey and the Upper Mississippi Country. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.
Shadwick, George W., Jr. History of McDonough County, Illinois: A Record of Events and Personalities in McDonough County History. Macomb: McDonough County Historical Society, 1968.
W. R. Brink & Co, “Pictorial Map of the 130 Acre Farm of Jonathan Miller, on West half of section 36, Township 18, Range 6, Northwest suburbs of Athens, Menard Co., Illinois [map].”(1874). “The Newberry Library.” http://publications.newberry.org/k12maps/ module_16/index.html
“Landownership Maps and Atlases.” “Geography and Map Division of The Library of Congress.” http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/awhhtml/awgmd7/landownership.html
“Map of Chalmers Township. Township 5 North, Range 3 West,” in Atlas Map of McDonough County, Illinois (Davenport, Iowa: Andreas, Lyter & Co., 1871), p 60. The Newberry Library, Oversize G 10896.04