PERRIS, William (Active mid-19th century)
Map of the City of New York
New York: Published by the Surveyor William Perris 93 William Street [copyright registered in 1850 by Perris & Hutchinson], 1850-51. Wall map on two sheets joined, lithographed by Mayer & Korffs, contemporary hand-colouring. Large inset view of the city from Governor's Island, 8 lists of references, ornamental border. (Backed onto archival linen and edged with burgundy silk). Sheet size: 36 x 49 inches.
A very rare mid-19th century large-scale map of New York published to be hung in the city's fire stations.
The map extends from the tip of Manhattan as far north as 42nd Street. The general key lists 24 different symbols used to identify churches, schools, hotels, places of amusement, public buildings, newspaper offices, parks, cemeteries, etc. The New York and Harlem Railroad runs down Fourth Avenue while the Hudson River Railroad approaches via Tenth Avenue and West Street. Numerous individual sites are marked and indexed under various lists of references: "Places of Amusement" (American Museum, Broadway Theatre, Chinese Museum, etc.); "Public Buildings etc." (City Hall, Hall of Records, Croton Aqueduct department, Prison, etc.); "Colleges, Universities and Literary, Scientific and Benevolent Institutions" (Columbia College, American Art Union, Home for the Friendless, etc); "Banks" (American Exchange, Bank of New York, Bank of America, etc.); "Markets" (Washington, Fulton, etc.); "Hotels (Delmonicos', Tammany Hall, Carlton House, etc); "Churches" (Reformed Dutch, Friends, Jews, Unitarian, etc.) and "Public Grounds" (The Battery, Union Square, Madison Square, etc). Of particular interest is a hachured line marking in the river adjacent to the Battery depicting the boundary of the 'Proposed Enlargement' - i.e. present-day Battery Park.
However, the most important element of this map is its association with fire fighting in New York. The locations of each of the city's engine, hose and hook-and-ladder houses are shown and the city is clearly divided into eight numbered fire districts via bold red lines.
By the end of the first half of the 19th century, as the city of New York entered a time of industrial development and rapid population growth, the frequency of devastating fires had escalated. "The rivalry which had always existed between the crews of the various engines had, year by year, grown more intense, and when the fire alarm brought them out, it was almost certain that there would be a collision, ending in blows, and often in a free fight" (Stokes, III:p. 559). The many volunteer companies in the city all responded to the same alarm, regardless of the location of the fire. Concurrently, the more frequent use of horse-drawn steam engines (as opposed to hand pumps pulled by a team of men) racing through the city yielded numerous accidents, with several fatalities. These two factors prompted the Common Council in 1850 to propose dividing the city into eight fire districts, with specific alarm bells indicating the district location of the fire, and with only the fire companies in those and the neighboring districts allowed to respond. This ordinance was passed and approved by the Mayor on 25 November 1850, with the ordinance to take effect on the 1st of January 1851.
That very same year engineer and surveyor William Perris began working on a comprehensive series of fire insurance maps of New York. "George T. Hope is generally credited with having fostered the idea of specialized and detailed fire insurance maps in the United States. Around 1850 Hope, who was at the time secretary of the Jefferson Insurance Company, began to compile a large-scale map of a portion of New York City for use in calculating fire risks. He engaged William Perris, an engineer trained in England, to make the surveys. To ensure that the proposed map would include all essential information, Hope formed a committee of fire insurance officials to direct the project" (Ristow). Perris's series of maps would be published between 1852 and 1855 in seven volumes, and have the distinction of being the first fire insurance maps of the city.
The present wall map, however, precedes the publication of those maps. While the exact publication history of this map is unknown, it seems likely given Hope and Perris's association with the city's fire officials, that when the ordinance to divide the city into fire districts was passed, this map of the city which clearly depicts those divisions was proposed. The only contemporary reference to this map is in the minutes of the Common Council for 10 December 1850, wherein it is ordered that 150 copies of Perris's map be purchased and that a copy "be furnished to each engine, hose, and hook-and-ladder company" (quoted in Stokes). It is unlikely that many more copies of this wall map were published, and given the seal of the city in the cartouche, the dedication to the Mayor and Common Council, and the date of 1850-51 (spanning the time between the passage of the ordinance and its taking effect), that this map was effectively underwritten by the Common Council for use in the city's fire stations.
This map is a significant rarity. It is unrecorded in any of the usual references on the mapping of New York and OCLC locates only a single example in the New York Public Library.