Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute: 1915

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University is, geographically speaking, a large entity. We have campuses in multiple locations, research centers throughout the state, and Virginia Cooperative Extension (which includes 107 county and city offices, 11 agricultural research and Extension centers, and six 4-H educational centers). Here in Blacksburg, there are more than 135 buildings, an airport, acres of land, and a LOT of people. But, of course, it didn’t always used to be this way. In 1872, Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College started with one building (the former Preston and Olin Institute) and around 250 acres of land purchased from “Solitude” owner, Robert Taylor Preston. By March of 1915, a little over 100 years ago, Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute had grown…

Map of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, 1915
Map of Main Campus of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, March 5, 1915 (click on the image for a larger version)

By then, it had 5 dormitories, 2 generic “academic” buildings and several identified academic buildings (Mining Hall, Science Hall, and Agricultural Hall), a library, a mess hall, machine and wood shops, a hot house, an administration building, a field house/track, and several utility buildings. This map, however, is also dotted with 19 private residences of faculty members, employees, and administrators. [Joseph Eggleston, then president of the university, lived in the Grove, which was completed in 1902, but it doesn’t appear on this map. It would be just off the south/south-east edge.] Most of these houses were on either side of the current Drillfield and this area was called “faculty row.”

If you look at this map in the modern age, some things may seem a little familiar: the old dormitory buildings are pretty much in the same location as the current Upper Quad (which has some neat history of its own); the current library building is on the site of the old one (#35 on the map); and the Agricultural Hall is the approximate site of the current Ag Quad. At the same time, there have certainly been some major changes: “Faculty row” houses have been replaced by academic buildings on one side of the Drillfield and dorms on the other; Miles Field is gone, replaced by a much larger athletics region a little further out; and the old Infirmary (#34) would be somewhere under Squires today. It’s all a matter of give and take over time, as our campus has continued to make way for what’s new.

Given the change of the last 100 years (and in the 43 years before that), it’s hard not to ask: What will happen in the next 100 years at Virginia Tech? Whatever happens, it’s bound to be exciting!

Exploring Virginia and America Through Time (with Maps!)

When determining a topic for this week’s blog post, I discovered very little has been written about Special Collections’ historical maps. We have over 800 individual maps along with special map collections, such as the Robert Holman Map Collection and the Pocahontas Mines Collection. (We are currently working on the Pocahontas Mines Collection of over 7,000 maps and will have posts devoted to it in the future, so keep an eye out!) The maps primarily document Virginia and the Appalachian region from the 18th to 20th centuries. But the maps I’d like to share with you date to the days of European colonization and American independence.

The above map, “Virginiæ partis australis, et Floridæ partis orientalis, interjacentiumque regionum Nova Descriptio”, is a reproduction of Dutch cartographer Joan Blaeu’s 1640 map of the North American coast from Florida to Virginia. Marked in the upper right corner is “Chesapeak” or Chesapeake Bay and towards center left are the “Apalatcy” or Appalachian Mountains. The map also identifies different American Indian tribes, such as the Houstaqua – probably the Yustaga people of the Florida Panhandle – and the Powhatans of Virginia. The back of the map discusses Florida, showing that the map was once part of a Latin language atlas.

This map, “Virginiæ Partis australis, et Floridæ partis orientalis, interjacentiumque regionum Nova Descriptio”, is a reproduction of a map in Arnoldus Montanus’ De Nieuwe en onbekend Weereld, published in 1671 by Jacob Meurs. When compared against Blaeu’s map, very little has changed in the description of the land, although the visual depictions are fuller and more colorful.

Jump forward to 1784, and you get this more detailed, albeit less visually arresting, depiction of North America east of the Mississippi River. This reproduction identifies the boundaries of the United States as defined by the Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolutionary War. Like the other maps above, this one identifies American Indian tribes, but it includes new landmarks, cities, and states, showing how the changing political and cultural landscapes affect cartographic description.

As I mentioned, these are just a few out of hundreds of maps held by Special Collections. If you’d like to peruse more, check out those we’ve digitized and put up online or come in to the reading room and take a look at them yourself!

Montgomery County (Virginia): A 1784 Land Survey

Montgomery County, Virginia, wasn’t always what it is today. It used to be much, much, MUCH larger. A 1784 land survey in our collections show a portion of it that reached as far as Ohio, at one time.

Ms2011-023, Land Survey, Montgomery County, Virginia, 1784
Ms2011-023, Land Survey, Montgomery County, Virginia, 1784

The text at the top reads as follows:

I certifee that this is a Draught of thirty two thousand acres of Land Surveyed for M. Levi Hollingsworth merchant of Philadelphia in the year 1784, situate on Guyandotte river which falls into the ohio river between the great Ranhaway river, and the Caintucky river, on warrants and orders of Survey  (?) from the Land office of Virginia, which warrants with a draught of each thousand acres, and numbered as set down in this draught are returned to the Register Generals office for the said State of Virginia, that the said thirty two thousand acres are surveyed in thirty two Tracts of one thousand acres each in the manner herein delineated, that the whole of the titles are Indisputable. This Land is situated in a most agreeable Climate about thirty nine degrees north Latitude, is fertil well Timbered and waters, and produces many kind of grove(?). Tobaco, Hemp Peas. The river that passes through the Land is navagable into the Ohio, from which all produce can be taken to the best marketts by water, this Country abounds in fish and fowl, and is situated near that (?) and fertile settlement of Caintucky. that Tract of Land is well Timbered with Oak, Hickory, Walnut ash yew, is covered with under growth with Cain and pappaw, and is well watered with (?) (?) Springs.

In actuality, this land covers part of what we would now consider West Virginia. The Guyandotte River breaks away from the Ohio River at the border near Huntington, WV, not far from the Kentucky border. It’s not all that close to our modern Montgomery County, but it does show us how the name, location, and identity of a place can change dramatically with the growth of a nation.

You can read more about this land survey and then-owner of the property, Levi Hollingsworth, in the finding aid online. And if you’d like to see and learn more about historic Montgomery County, we have maps, books, and manuscripts that just might interest you. Feel free to stop by!