About the Historic USGS Maps

Images & Access

The image map showing the state of New Hampshire includes a grid marked off in 15 minute increments. Each rectangle links to a page that lists the available images for this quadrangle.

An image map exists for each New England state. In addition, there are alphabetic listings by quadrangle name and by town name for each state. For any particular date, there will most often be four images because the maps were scanned as four sections.

The images are presented in this collection as JPEGs so that they may be easily viewed or downloaded. Each image is typically 1.5 megabytes. The size was chosen to maintain an acceptable level of detail when viewed online. The original (and much larger) TIFF images are available upon request. Contact the Government Information Librarian.

Getting Copies of the Maps

Paper Copies

We do not have copies of these maps available for sale. They are long out of print, but can sometimes be found at antiquarian book stores or through map dealers.

Printing Copies

Be aware that printing these maps at full scale may be expensive.

  1. Download the map to your hard drive and use an image processing program, such as Photoshop or a free alternative, to select a small portion of the map to print.
  2. Export the image and take it to a copy shop to have it printed.
  3. Have the copy shop print the image for you.

About Historic Topographic Maps

The United States Geological Survey began its topographic atlas of the United States in 1882. The UNH Library Government Information Department holds a working collection of over 55,000 paper USGS maps. This online collection of over 1500 USGS topographic maps includes nearly complete geographical coverage of New England and New York from the 1890s to 1950s.

When we began this project in the mid-1990’s, historic topographic maps were not readily available online. This collection is now complemented by maps digitized by the USGS: Historical Topographic Map Collection.

Quadrangles

U.S. Geological Survey maps are published in increments of longitude and latitude, which is measured in degrees, minutes and seconds. An individual 15 Minute Series map covers a rectangular area of 15 minutes. For example, the Concord quadrangle has a southern boundary of 43 degrees 0 minutes and a northern boundary of 43 degrees 15 minutes.

This can be confusing since most other maps focus on a particular geographic feature, such as a city, state, or metropolitan area. For example, see the Manchester, New Hampshire quadrangle map. Manchester is located in the northwest corner of the map, and while most of the city is located on one map, there are parts on three other adjacent maps. The center of Manchester is just south of 43 degrees north and just west of 71 degrees 30 minutes east.

Map Scales

Topographic map scales are typically expressed as ratios. A map at a scale of 1:24,000 means one inch on the map measures 24,000 inches on the ground or one inch is 2000 feet in real life. Since the 1950s, the USGS topographic maps have been published in scales of 1:24000 and 1:25000. 1:24,000 maps of Northern New England began publication in the 1960s and have not been scanned as a part of this collection but are available from the USGS website.

7.5 Minute Series Maps, Scale 1:31680

With the exception of a few areas of Vermont, all the 7.5 minute series maps at 1:31,680 in the collection are of southern New England. Maps in this series were first published in the late 1930s and had a scale of 1:31680 until the mid 1950s.

This collection is complete in its geographic coverage of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Some of the earlier maps in this series covering the northern border of Massachusetts cover areas in Vermont and New Hampshire that were not surveyed. For these maps the area north of the Massachusetts border is not covered and appears as all white.

15 Minute Series Maps, Scale 1:62500

This series includes the first maps published by the USGS of New England. There was complete geographic coverage of southern New England by about 1900. Vermont and New Hampshire have areas where the oldest maps date from the 1920s and there are areas in Maine that were mapped much later. The USGS stopped publishing new 15 minute series maps of southern New England in about 1920 so we have no newer maps in this series for Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island unless they overlap the border with New Hampshire or Vermont.

In some cases it is clear that the areas south of the Massachusetts border were not revised. The Groton 1935 quadrangle stands out in this respect as a rail line was built after the original edition was surveyed. The rail line exists on the map in New Hampshire but not south of the border even though it continued on south to Ayer, Massachusetts.

30 Minute Series Maps, Scale 1:125000

Very few of these maps appear to exist. We have six covering parts of Connecticut and Massachusetts. They were created from the surveys for the 15 minute series maps that were done before 1900.

Quadrangle Names

Each quadrangle is named by the USGS. The names generally come from a significant geographic feature within the quadrangle. In southern New Hampshire, this is almost always a town or a city. For maps covering the White Mountains, the names are mountains or other geologic features such as Crawford Notch.

This may cause confusion as quadrangle names are often unexpected. For example, in the 15 Minute Series there is no quadrangle called Nashua. The city of Nashua occupies parts of four quadrangles, including one named Groton, a town in Massachusetts.

Names are not necessarily unique. The names are only unique within state and series. For example there are Salem, Massachusetts quadrangles in both the 7.5 minute and 15 minute series. Both Vermont and Massachusetts have a Barre quadrangle in the 15 minute series.

Edition, Survey, and Revision Dates

Nearly all of the maps have an edition date and one or more survey and revision dates. The survey and revision dates are listed for each map when available, along with the edition date. For more recent maps the type of survey (aerial photographs, etc.) is also listed. The survey and revision dates can typically be found in the lower left corner of the maps and are the best gauge of the age of the content of the map but not the map itself.

Edition dates (in the lower right hand corner) can be confusing because the USGS has changed how these are assigned over time. For the earliest maps in the 1890s new edition dates were assigned nearly every time the map was reprinted. We have not collected each edition when this is the case and have relied on the survey dates to distinguish between maps. Later this date was kept for reprintings and the date was roughly the year the map was first published. Some list a "reprinted" date as well.

As best we can tell sometime in 1951 the policy for edition dates was changed and the date of the last survey has been used. This can lead to some confusion as to whether the content of one map is different from another. For example, in the collection, we have Fryeburg, Maine 15 minute series quadrangles with edition dates of 1909 and 1911. On the 1909 map there is a small line with the date 1964. The two maps are really the same with the earlier one actually being a reprint made much later.

Acknowledgements

This collection of map images was started by Christopher Marshall of Amherst, New Hampshire. Chris is an avid map enthusiast with an interest in railroads, and this map collection started as an effort to locate the abandoned railroad right of ways in New Hampshire. Chris generously gave copies of his images to be used in the construction of this site, and gave even more generously his time and programming expertise.

No New Hampshire library has a complete collection of paper topographic maps. The map images scanned from our own collection were supplemented from the collections of a number of different libraries and a bookstore. The map images were collected by taking a laptop computer and scanner to each library. We gratefully acknowledge their generous contributions.

  • Amherst Public Library, Amherst, New Hampshire
  • Baker Library, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire
  • Dover Public Library, Dover, New Hampshire
  • Guy H. Burnham Map and Aerial Photography Library, Clark University
  • Harvard Map Collection, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Keene Public Library, Keene, New Hampshire
  • Mori Books, Amherst Book Center, Amherst, New Hampshire
  • Nashua Public Library, Nashua, New Hampshire
  • New Hampshire State Archives, Concord, New Hampshire
  • New Hampshire State Library, Concord, New Hampshire
  • Peterborough Town Library, Peterborough, New Hampshire
  • Wadleigh Memorial Library, Milford, New Hampshire

The images are presented in this collection in JPEG format so that they may be easily viewed or downloaded. The original (and much larger) TIFF images are available upon request. Meredith Ricker, Digital Collections Manager at the University of New Hampshire, collaborated with Chris to turn this collection of images into The Historic USGS Maps of New England & New York archive.