Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Earl Gurney Mead, Cleveland map maker

A dozen years ago, while working on a historic Cleveland maps project at the Western Reserve Historical Society Library, I encountered the name Earl Gurney Mead on a series of interesting, large blueprint maps from the early 1960s. These maps showed the Western Reserve region at four different periods: 1) "The Ohio Western Reserve, 1800-1850, in the Log Cabin and Canal Days," 2) "The Ohio Western Reserve, 1800-1850, in the Railroad and Horse-and-Buggy Days," 3) "The Ohio Western Reserve, 1900-1850, in the Interurban, Movie, Radio and Auto Times, and 4) "The Ohio Western Reserve, 1950-2000, in the TV, Nuclear, Jet and Space Age." They varied slightly in size around 36 inches by 50 inches and were drawn to a scale of 1 inch equaling 2-1/2 miles. Besides being created by a blueprint process, what is notable about these maps is how Mr. Mead characterized the Western Reserve in each of his half-century eras and how he covered large portions of the faces of the maps with blocks of text interpreting and explaining his views. The whole effect was rather quaint and the maps may have had more appeal as decorating curiosities than traditional maps, although he went to some trouble to portray what he did provide accurately. In addition to these four titles, he also created similar maps about Ohio, the U.S. and two areas in eastern Cleveland.

This morning I attended a meeting at the Shaker Historical Society and discovered that they have quite a bit of information about Mr. Mead. In addition to having many of his maps, they also have his papers, including a bound set of his handwritten letters. I have not yet read these letters, but just examining the bundle makes me eager to look more carefully, as he was on the drafting staff of the Van Sweringen companies and was actively associated with some real estate and railroad projects I care very much about. He was a young man during the early days of Shaker Heights and, according to the Cleveland Necrology File, died in 1970, but until today I've known very little about this memorable cartographer and his unusual maps. Here is a list of ten maps by him.

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