Authored by Matthew R.M. Cassidy
The Trees of Washington Park is one of many maps that can be found in the Pruyn Collection of Albany History, the local history collection of the Albany Public Library (“Local History,” n.d.). The maps in this collection have never before been catalogued, and in the Vincentian spirit of service I have volunteered my time to catalog and photograph these maps so that others may benefit from this wealth of information.
As the maps in the Pruyn Collection have never been catalogued, there is not an accurate count of how many maps are in the collection, though a rough estimate would put the total number of items between 50-100 maps, not including duplicates. The collection is composed of many rolled and folded maps in various states of condition – for example, one recently catalogued city directory map from 1881 was found in a manila folder in seven separate pieces. The deteriorating condition of many of the maps in the Pruyn Collection makes the cataloguing of these objects necessary in order to facilitate their preservation for future generations.
Maps are an important source of primary information useful for historic investigation (Stephens, 2002) and are perhaps as fundamental to society as language and the written word (Foote & Crum, 1995). Maps are produced and used worldwide by scientists, scholars, governments, and businesses to meet environmental, economic, political, and social needs (Foote & Crum, 1995).
The map of the Trees of Washington Park is unique as it depicts environmental features of a historic park as they existed over half a century ago. Ground was broken for Albany, New York’s Washington Park in 1870 (Egerton & Albany, 1892) and has been the focus of conservation and restoration efforts throughout its history (Benjamin, 1999). The importance and care of our public spaces cannot be understated, and that importance was beautifully stated in The Public Parks of the City of Albany, N.Y over one hundred and twenty years ago:
Cleanliness, fresh air, [and] the presence of vegetation are essential to health; that private enterprise, even when aided by intelligence and wealth, cannot always in large cities obtain these; that it requires the interference of public authority to provide open and accessible grounds for the enjoyment of these luxuries; that a beautiful park in any city is a great moral power, and does more than criminal courts or policemen to repress crime. Men are wiser, better, more temperate and loving, when they have wandered amid trees and by waterfalls, and heard birds sing and children laugh and play (Egerton & Albany, 1892).
The Trees of Washington Park map is just one of many maps within the Pruyn Collection that has not been catalogued, or even handled in many years. My exploration of the collection has just begun, and my work may result in the discovery of more valuable pieces of Albany history. I’m excited and privileged to be a part of this collaboration between St. John’s University and Albany Public Library, and hope that my efforts will benefit the people of Albany, N.Y.
Benjamin, E., Plans to Restore Park’s Historic Look Take Root, Times Union, 1999, Retrieved from http://albarchive.merlinone.net/mweb/wmsql.wm.request?oneimage&imageid=6004943.
Egerton, W. S., & Albany (N.Y.), The Public Parks of the City of Albany, N.Y: An Illustrated Pamphlet, Containing a Brief Outline of the History of Development of these Pleasure Grounds, and Statistical Information Relative Thereto, Albany, N.Y: Weed, Parsons, 1892
Foote K. E., & Crum S., The Geographer’s Craft Project, University of Colorado at Boulder, 1995, Retrieved from http://www.colorado.edu/geography/gcraft/notes/cartocom/cartocom.html
Local history, Retrieved from the Albany Public Library, n.d. retrieved from: http://www.albanypubliclibrary.org/research/history/local/
Stephens, D., “Making Sense of Maps,” History Matters, 2002.Retrieved from http://historymatters.gmu.edu/mse/maps/map.pdf