Recently, on a perfectly beautiful Saturday afternoon in mid-June, I was leaving the Garden Center behind Buxton’s on Lower Ferry Road when my eye caught what appeared to be a framed map on an easel at a yard sale being held on the premises.
I circled back around to get a closer look, and was excited to see what appeared to be a very old, framed, ready-to-hang original map of Mercer County. I asked the attendant if he knew anything about the map, or specifically the date of its printing, and he said that they could not find a date on the map.
Observing some of the landmarks included on the map, and noticing others not yet present, I estimated the map to date to the mid-1800s. As an advisor and former trustee of the Township Historic Preservation Society, I thought that the society might be interested in having a copy of this map depicting not only Ewing, but the entire county, if only for their research archives. Since the map was very reasonably priced, I purchased it.
A quick Google search when I arrived home put my guess-timate to within one year of its publication. The map, by J.W. Otley and J.Keily, surveyors, was published in 1849 by Lloyd Van Der Veer of Camden.
At approximately 30” x 40” in size, it depicts all nine townships that comprised Mercer County at the time (Trenton, Ewing, Hamilton, Hopewell, Lawrence, Nottingham, Princeton and East and West Windsor), including the names of major land-holders and landmarks.
The hand-coloring that once helped to distinguish the different townships has largely faded on this particular copy, and age has not made reading the text on the map any easier, but it is still brimming with information about our township and our county, and is indeed a fascinating snapshot from 1849.
So, this treasure was at a yard sale. In 2020: 171 years after its release! And not even a very big yard sale, nor one being held to clean out the contents of some old home, or museum or anything. It was just there, sitting among the hand-painted bird houses, country-style furnishings, and a small variety of other things for sale.
Unfortunately the attendant knew nothing about it—where it came from, when it dated from—nothing. I can’t help but to wonder where it has been for 171 years. Who originally purchased it? Who else owned it over those 17 decades? Who framed it, and hung it on their wall? What stories could this map tell? What was Ewing—and Mercer County—like when this map was brand new?
I’m fascinated by some of the places. I want to know more about the several “poor houses,” and the taverns, the race courses and so much more. The place names undoubtedly have stories associated with them, of people who once lived and loved and contributed to their communities. You, too, can see this map online, in any of several places, including in the digital map collections of Princeton and Rutgers universities, and the State Archives; search for the 1849 Mercer County map published by Lloyd Van Der Veer.
So, my friends: two things to keep in mind:
One: that cool, amazing treasures from the past can still be found, ones of significance and use to others. Maybe you have taken some time in the past few months to clean out your attic or closet, and found an old collection of photos from decades past, or “Trentoniana” or even “Ewing-iana” (?) that might shed light on a township person, location, or time past.
If so, don’t hesitate to contact the Ewing Historical Society to let them know, if you are willing to donate such items. Email, firstname.lastname@example.org, phone: (609) 883-2455.
Second: now, too, is a significant time. Consider keeping notes, thoughts and/or photos related to your day-to-day experiences in these unusual times. At some point they may help folks 50, 100 years from now have yet another informative “snapshot” of Ewing and Mercer County.
Here’s to treasures, past, present and future!
Helen Kull is an advisor to the Ewing Township Historic Preservation Society.