Early Drawings of American Cities Include Many from Texas


Library of Congress

About a century before GPS systems gave us digitized versions of maps and satellite or bird's-eye views of streets and neighborhoods, mapmakers created two-dimensional versions of maps that created the illusion of "being there." 

One such mapmaker helped capture the early days of towns in the Upper East Side of Texas. The famed American cartographer T.M. Fowler produced 411 hand-drawn two-dimensional panoramic images of cities in 21 states throughout the U.S. -- 13 of Texas cities. His creations depicting Texas cities include Wolfe City (Hunt County), Honey Grove (Fannin), Greenville (Hunt), Denison (Grayson), and Ladonia (Fannin). Austin, Fort Worth, Galveston, and San Antonio were also subjects of Fowler's.These and others are now archived in the Library of Congress. They are greatly prized by the communities which they depict.

Fowler was born December 21, 1842, in Massachusetts. After serving in the Civil War, he worked for his uncle, a photographer. That was the beginning of Fowler's lifelong interest in capturing images. While photography was obviously a technological advancement, it had its limitations. Photographic images were initially not sharp and detail was lost. Also, photography was limited to one-dimensional shots like a portrait of a famous person standing up against a wall.

Fowler realized that professional drawing could create an image that early photography could not match. He started a cartography business in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, in 1885. The business moved to Madison, Wisconsin, shortly after that. 

Approximately 5,000 panoramic maps of American cities were made during this time by numerous artists like Fowler. The special geographical projects made money for the creators. A cartographer would travel to numerous cities, gain newspaper publicity and sell printed panoramic "maps" to the general public living there who would buy them. Once the drawing was completed, the artist would send it to a lithographic plant and move on to the next city. Sometimes merchants would buy extra copies to either resell or use as free advertisements.

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