PENOBSCOT — If you’ve ever met Jane Crosen, it makes a kind of sense that she wound up here: at the end of a dirt road off a dead-end road, in a house she built with her husband, with a burgeoning orchard near the driveway, next to a stand of woods known as BlissWood forest.
“My whole life has been serendipity,” said Crosen, wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat with a ribbon that matched her shirt. “I go with the flow.”
It was a slightly sticky June afternoon and Crosen had taken a break from her studio to show a visitor her latest project, in a life that is full of them: an updated edition of S.F. Colby & Co.’s 1881 “Atlas of Hancock County Maine.” Her updated version is slated for publication and should be available for purchase by July.
As is fitting, this copy of the atlas came to the Penobscot mapmaker serendipitously: “Along the way, about probably 10 years ago, I was at Downeast Graphics [an Ellsworth graphic design/print shop],” she said. She was talking with owner Charles Ferden. The two had been working together since Crosen had the first of her iconic Maine maps printed there in 1983. Ferden pulled out a slightly weathered but relatively well-preserved bound volume: a facsimile of the original Colby atlas.
“He just gave me this,” said Crosen, still a tad incredulous.
Crosen became interested in mapmaking while under the tutelage of David DeLorme, founder of Yarmouth-based map and satellite company DeLorme, where she worked from 1979 to 1981. She was editing guides for DeLorme, who had started the company several years earlier.
“At the time, Delorme was a very small company,” said Crosen. “He was a real mentor and a real teacher. I had to get good at map reading to do my job.”
(The company, publisher of the large-format Maine Atlas and Gazetteer, has since greatly expanded and its Yarmouth officers are home to Eartha, reportedly the world’s largest revolving globe, displayed in a glass atrium.)
Crosen had first seen the atlas, which is dotted with long-forgotten sawmills, steamboat wharfs, ferry routes, mines and granite quarries, in the early 1990s, when she came across a copy at the Hancock County Registry of Deeds.
Roughly 350 copies were originally engraved and printed lithographically in Philadelphia in 1881, said Crosen. They were hand-shaded with pale pinks, yellows and blues; those that survived are now collectors’ items worth thousands of dollars.
“I’ve loved it for 10 years,” she said, fingering the pages.
There are fish markets and foundries in Ellsworth, mining companies in East Blue Hill and undertakers in Penobscot, along with plenty of shipbuilders, sailmakers, farmers, blacksmith and lumbermen.
“Colby’s Atlas serves as a time capsule of a vibrant 19th-century coastal economy in its last glow,” Crosen writes in a publisher’s note, as the market shifted with expanding steam and railroads and recession-shuttered shipyards and mines.
But as Crosen is quick to point out, while many names and places are unfamiliar, many are not. Much of the “cultural landscape,” as Crosen calls it, “is still authentic and recognizable. Our villages and town centers have not been overtaken by modern development, and our open spaces and unorganized territories remain relatively untouched by sprawl and infrastructure. We still have glacial eskers and moraines, old bridge and sawmill abutments, stone walls and witness posts, benchmarks and cellar holes in our landscape, the ‘bones and stone’ of our geographic history.”
Once Crosen realized that the maps in the atlas were in the public domain, she set about figuring how to create an upd
ated version, one that would preserve the feeling and beauty of the original but be affordable to produce and more accessible to a modern reader.
“What I’m doing is a new edition that’s more interpretive and updated,” she said. She’s changed the original order, for instance, arranging the maps “as schooners would sail coastwise Downeast with the prevailing winds.” There’s a new, detailed geographic index that correlates historic and modern place names, if they differ.
Crosen also had added photographs and captions, like the one of the wooden scow ferry that carried passengers, animals and vehicles across the Taunton River until the Hancock-Sullivan (Singing) Bridge was built above the Tidal Falls.
Crosen combed through hundreds of photographs at local historical societies to find appropriate ones. She was forced to forgo many that were missing dates or other identifiable information.
There also are new quotes tucked in among the maps, many from Samuel C. Wasson, whose 1878 “Survey of Hancock County” Crosen stumbled upon while doing her research. Wasson worked as a secretary for the East Surry Mining Co. as well as a director of the Ellsworth Woollen Factory, she notes, and his survey captured “the flavor of the cultural landscape.” She quotes Wasson’s description of Deer Isle, for instance, which may still hold true today: “Nearly one-half of the township is salt water covered. If the people are not amphibious nearly every citizen can ‘hand, reef and steer’ with clever expertness.”
“I really loved his writing style, his voice,” she said. “The more I read it, the more I thought ‘These are really quotable quotes.’”
The atlas’s interior pages will be printed in black and white (color would have made the volumes far too expensive, said Crosen) with an updated color cover she shaded herself, and will be hand-bound by Ferden.
“It’s a timeless documentation,” said Crosen.
For more information or to order an atlas, visit mainemapmaker.com or email Crosen at [email protected]