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Jacques Kelly: Baltimore maps that will get you lost in time

Prepare to spend some time under the spell of the ancient Maryland and Baltimore maps, prints and other bits of delightful esoterica on display at the George Peabody Library on Mount Vernon Place.

“Maryland: From the Willard Hackerman Map Collection,” is a blend of the substantial holdings of Hackermman, president of Whiting Turner construction and a Johns Hopkins University alumnus.

The free exhibit, which continues through mid-March, is complemented with printed treasures from other sources. The result is a banquet of Maryland history from its days as an infant colony through the remaking of the Baltimore harbor in the 1970s.

This exhibition reveals printed treasures not often grouped in one spot, and rarely displayed with such precision and care. Though these maps and lithographs are frequently reproduced in local history books, how often do you get the opportunity to view the originals in such splendid condition, as if they just came off the press?

The setting is pretty special too, one of Baltimore’s grand exhibition spaces overlooking Mount Vernon Place.

On a tour of the exhibit this past week with George Peabody Library curator Paul Espinosa, he noted how he had paired a pristine copy of Frederick Douglass’ 1845 work, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” — from the Hopkins Evergreen Library — and an early printed copy of one of Douglass’ speeches.

Accompanying them is an boldly colored 1870 lithograph, a printed picture that celebrates the passage of the 15th Amendment affirming voting rights regardless of “race, color or previous condition of servitude.” The print depicts young African-Americans being educated in a schoolhouse, a professor leading them in a geography lesson.

The streets that Douglass walked in Fells Point are clearly marked on many maps showing this neighborhood in old Baltimore. A large Maryland-Delaware-Chesapeake Bay chart, produced by mapmaker and fancy engraver Fielding Lucas, shows the region in 1862. Attached to it is a tag noting that it was sold by Hagger & Brother, the Fells Point “nautical and mathematical goods” dealer on Thames Street.

Espinosa notes that a young Douglass bought his first book at the Hagger store, which at the time was located around the corner from his home.

With so much history on display in the exhibit, it’s difficult to have a preference here. Are the lavishly engraved and delicately colored early Chesapeake images any more interesting that the fantastically detailed ward maps of Baltimore City?

Not often is a fine copy of the 1801 Warner & Hanna map of Baltimore available to settle disputes about Baltimore history and place names. It reveals all the storied summer houses and estates — such as Bolton, which lent its name to Bolton Hill, and Belvidere, which gave its name — changing the “i” for an “e” — to the Chase Street hotel.

Retrieved from the rich Peabody Library holdings is a vivid color depiction of a diamondback terrapin from a “cabinet of curiosities” folio printed in Amsterdam in 1734.

And there’s a fanciful print of Baltimore that shows the city about 1835, when it was experiencing some of its most rapid growth. It’s known as the Constantinople view, because the artist took some liberties and made the Basilica of the Assumption appear as a mosque sitting atop the Mulberry Street hill.

The exhibit sends another message: That some of these treasures really truly are accessible to the masses. The rich holdings of the Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries, for instance — including its map collection related to Maryland and Baltimore — are available free online. They contains some amazing resources, not all on them displayed on Peabody Library’s walls.

One of the online items is a 1926-27 photo aerial map for Baltimore and its suburbs, made by the Chesapeake Aircraft Co., that reveals Rodgers Forge as a cornfield and shows how the streams of Rosedale flow. Railroads are depicted as the interstate highways of the day.

These maps also disclose elemental changes to the city. One example: Johns Hopkins map curator Jim Gillispie took a pre-1970s map, then projected changes onto it that were in place a dozen years later. Some are subtle, others profound, such as the way some of the harbor’s contours had been filled in, expanded and altered.

Such changes shaped the landscape we know today. Without them, Gillispie said, “Harborplace would have been in the water.”

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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