I cannot remember the last time I purchased a map. When I was younger there was one thing I made sure to do immediately upon moving or visiting someplace new, buy a map. Not just to figure out the basics of how to get from one place to the other but also to see the dimensions of the city as a whole, where things are in relation to each other, and if there might be some overarching concept to how the streets where laid out and named. I might find out that numbered streets run north to south on a grid, or that there are areas where the streets are named after flowers running in alphabetical order from a particular point. As opposed to using your phone or GPS device where the map is oriented around you, a traditional map forces you to orient yourself to it.
Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a nostalgic ode to everything that was right in the past. I certainly don’t want to try refolding any of those old maps after opening them again, and being able to call up instant directions with my phone has definitely made traveling much easier. I just got done reading the book On the Map, by Simon Garfield, so you will have to forgive my preoccupation.
On the Map is a history of maps and mapmaking. I can see your eyes glazing over from here, but it really is a fascinating subject with its own bits of intrigue and dastardly deeds. Just think for a minute on the base impulses that would compel a person to chart their surroundings and the potential reactions to such a thing. On the one hand is the desire to definitively place yourself in the world, on the other is looking at such a thing and wondering what is there beyond that which is described. I think these are two of humanities most basic desires, and they can make for some interesting stories when mixed with the human ego.
Local & Family History Services has a wide assortment of maps covering a variety of subjects and areas. Besides the expected street maps from various years there are voting district and school zone maps, drainage maps, maps showing coal fields and active coal mines, maps describing Native American settlements, and many more. If you felt like canoeing up the St. Joseph river to Michigan we have a very detailed map of the river to guide your way. Care to try to retrace the steps of Marquette and LaSalle along the St. Joseph-Kankakee portage? Feeling like going on a more mundane stroll? SJCPL has also recently added the Historic Map Works Library Edition to its list of databases available to anyone at home with an SJCPL card, just in case you can’t find your way here.