University of Rochester Library Bulletin: Valentine Gill's 1832 Map of Rochester

Volume XXVIII · Number 1 · Summer 1974
Valentine Gill's 1832 Map of Rochester

Dimensions: Overall 34 inches x 26 ¼ inches
Margins of map: 32 inches x 24 ½ inches
Weight: 25 ¼ pounds

The text as it would appear in print:

Lower right corner: EXPLANATION / Rochester contains thirteen hundred houses besides / public buildings. Population twelve thousand eight hundred. / Nine churches, three Presbyterian, two Episcopal, two / Methodist, one Catholic, one Baptist, also a Friends M. H. / Wood houses designated thus [a shape shown] / Brick or stone ditto thus [a different shape shown]

Upper right corner: REFERENCE [calligraphic decoration] / ROCHESTER situated in north latitude 42° 56′ / Longitude west from the meridian of the city of Washington 40′ / The inhabited part which is shewn by this MAP occupies 680 acres. / Twelve flouring mills, that manufacture three hundred and fifty thousand / barrels of Flour annually. / Exports to New York, Canada &c / About 300,000 barrels of Flour, 6,168 barrels of Pork & Beef.

Lower left corner: MAP / of / ROCHESTER / from / a correct survey / [calligraphic decoration] / To Jonathan Child Esq. / Of this village / Most humbly and respectfully inscribed by / Valentine Gill / Published in 1832. Copyright secured / Engraved by J. F. Morin N.-Y. Scale of feet [scale follows]

Seal (Upper right, near Reference): "Rochester Seal" (Oval shape encircling a sheaf of wheat and sickle, the margin bearing the wording: Heavens Bounteous Gift) It is interesting to note that this seal was not then, nor did it ever become, the official seal of Rochester; see: Edward R. Foreman, "The Official Seal of Rochester," Rochester Historical Society, Publication Fund Series, XI (1932), pp. 341-343.

On verso of plate: approximately one inch square, stamped: Stout & Co. / Card engravers / & Printers / 3 Wall St. N. Y.

The Department of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Archives of the University of Rochester Rush Rhees Library has recently come into possession of a valuable copper plate, beautifully engraved, of a map of Rochester in 1832, the gift of Mrs. Sanford Slocum.

In 1832, Rochester had an estimated population of 12,800 and contained 1300 houses. Its rapid growth from a small settlement of twelve families in 1814, due to several flour mills which served the surrounding pioneer country, has prompted historians to call it America's first boom town. The Erie Canal, finished in 1825, aided and stimulated this growth, and by the early 1830s the village radiated from the point where the Erie Canal crossed the Genesee River. Near the canal and river was the business district, with flour mills stretching along the riverbanks. Around this hub was a growing residential area.

This rapid expansion strained the functioning abilities of the village government, and John C. Spencer, a Canandaigua attorney, was engaged to draw up a city charter, which was submitted to the state legislature in 1832. It was unexpectedly defeated when it became entangled in partisan politics. But when resubmitted in much the same form in 1834, the charter was passed and Rochester was a city.1

Certainly a growing village on the threshhold of becoming a city would want and need a current and accurate map. In 1832, possibly in connection with this movement for a city charter, Valentine Gill, a local surveyor, drew a map of the village, carefully detailing the buildings, streets, Genesee River, and Erie Canal.

Gill was variously called an engineer, a surveyor, and a draftsman. Before coming to Rochester, presumably in the mid-1820s, he had been an engineer for the Erie Canal. The earliest record of him in Rochester is as a surveyor and "experienced draftsman" in the office of E. Johnson in March 1827. Thus it is possible that he worked on a previous map of Rochester, that of Elisha Johnson, which appears in the 1827 city directory.2

It is also possible that the map engraved on the copper plate is the one for which the village treasurer's book contains an entry on 13 November 1833 stating that $35 was paid to Gill for making a map of Rochester. And some thirteen months later, on 23 December 1834, it was proposed in Common Council that $25 be paid to Gill from the highway fund to aid him in completing his city map. The Local History Division of the Rochester Public Library has a manuscript map of Rochester credited to Gill. It is not the one from which the copper plate was engraved, although of the same period.3

This 1832 map is dedicated to Jonathan Child, an early and prominent citizen of Rochester, who was to become the first mayor of Rochester when it became a city in 1834. Child's beautiful home, designed by Hugh Hastings in Greek Revival style, still stands on South Washington Street.4

Apparently Gill's map was printed from the copper plate in New York City by Stout & Company, engravers and printers at 3 Wall Street. J. F. Morin's name is shown as engraver. Although stated on the plate that the map was copyrighted, no record of this has been uncovered to date.5

Family tradition supplies additional historical data on the copper plate. Mrs. Slocum's great grandfather, Christopher Columbus Hyde, came to Rochester from Newark, N. Y., as a young man. Though descending from a family of doctors and himself educated as a doctor, he was employed as an engraver in the office of Valentine Gill in the early thirties. Records show that in 1834 he had an engraving establishment of his own in Reynolds Arcade. In discussing this copper plate during the 1934 Centennial with Mrs. Slocum's mother, Edward R. Foreman, then city historian, informed her that it was customary to give an engraved plate to the man who had done the work. Though the plate in question is not signed by Christopher Hyde, and whoever did the actual engraving will probably never be known, for certain, it is a fact that the plate was preserved and handed down in the Hyde family.

Grieved by the sudden tragic death of his young wife, Christopher Hyde turned to the profession for which he had been earlier trained and in 1849 went to California as a practicing physician. He died in the west not too long afterward. His small daughter Maria he had left with his mother and brother Ovid and Ovid's wife. Maria, married to George Henry King, became her father's and uncle's heir. The copper plate was passed to her daughter Viola King Edson, and from her to her daughter Helen Edson Slocum.6

For some reason, perhaps because Rochester did not become a city in 1832, the year of the map, maps printed from this copper plate are exceedingly rare, only one being located and that in the Local History Division of the Rochester Public Library.7 The copper plate, though found stored on the third floor of the Hyde homestead, has been preserved in good condition and now is a valued addition to the university's Rare Book Department.


  1. The standard source for this period of Rochester's history is: Blake McKelvey, Rochester; the Water-Power City, 1812-1854. (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1945.)
  2. Gill's work on the Erie Canal is noted in: New York (State) Laws, Statutes, etc., Laws of the State of New York, in Relation to the Erie and Champlain Canals, Together with the Annual Reports of the Canal Commissioners, and Other Documents. . . (Albany: Published by Authority of the State, E. and E. Hosford, Printers 1825). volume 1, pp. 452-453, discusses Gill's survey in 1819 to ascertain a route for the canal from Palmyra westward to Buffalo Creek. Gill's proposed route, which ran south of Rochester, was not accepted because it was feared the altitude would cause problems in the water supply. See also Noble E. Whitford, History of the Canal System of the State of New York. . . vol. 1 (Albany: Brandow Printing Company, 1906), p. 93. It is interesting to speculate what Rochester's history would have been had this more southerly route been accepted, rather than Mr. Geddes' route of 1816, which took the canal through Rochester.

    In volume 2, p. 413 and p. 427, of Laws. . . are two reports of Gill's expenses as an engineer on the canal. The first is dated 3 March 1820; the second, 21 February 1821.

    E. Johnson's advertisement for his "Surveyor's Office" dated March 1827 in the first city directory mentions Valentine Gill as being one of the "two practical men" Johnson "has in his employment."

  3. Amy Hanmer-Croughton, "High Finance of Village Days," Rochester Historical Society, Publication Fund Series, VII (1928), p. 155. Rochester Daily Democrat, 1 January 1835, p. 3.
  4. Brief biographical sketches of Child are found in Blake McKelvey, "Civic Medals Awarded Posthumously," Rochester History, vol. 22, no. 2 (April 1960), pp. 2-3 and Blake McKelvey, "Rochester Mayors Before the Civil War," Rochester History, vol. 26, no. 1 (January 1964), pp. 3-4.
  5. That no copyright record now exists is stated in the 25 March 1974 letter of William Matheson, chief of the Rare Book Division of the Library of Congress, to Karl Kabelac.
  6. Conversations with Mrs. Sanford Slocum 5 April and 17 May 1974. Hyde appears in the second (1834) Rochester city directory as an engraver with a shop in the Reynolds Arcade.
  7. Repositories checked for other copies were: Rochester Museum and Science Center, the Rochester Historical Society, the Landmark Society of Western New York, the New York Public Library, the New York Historical Society, the American Geographical Society, the New York State Library, the Library of Congress, the William L. Clements Library, and the American Antiquarian Society.


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