Maps tell us more than just where we are or how best to get where we want to go. Maps—and particularly a series from different eras—can be important historical documents that show how a place like Jaffrey developed over time and the role played by topography, rivers and lakes, as well as such technological innovations as the railroad and the automobile.
The first printed map to depict Jaffrey exclusively was compiled and drawn by J. D. Gibbs. It is a large map and was printed in Boston in 1850. Gibbs was not a cartographer or surveyor by trade; rather he was a local boot and shoemaker who had antiquarian interests. The map was the result of his own research undertaken over many years and is noteworthy in the almost primitive manner in which Gibbs depicted the town's farmhouses and buildings, not to mention Mt. Monadnock. Gibbs was born in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, in 1796 and came to Jaffrey in 1821. He built the brick house on Main Street that still stands, two doors west of the Monadnock Inn. He died in 1882.
Gibbs' effort was preceded by numerous statewide maps which showed Jaffrey along with its neighbors but usually with little detail. The best of the early ones, shown opposite, was compiled in 1774—but not published until 1784—by Samuel Holland, British Surveyor General of the northern colonies. It includes natural features such as Mt. Monadnock, Gilmore and Thorndike Ponds and the Contoocook River. The Meetinghouse appears, shown as having a tower, a pictorial license as it wasn't until 1822 that it was added. Two roads are delineated, little more than rough paths at this time: one from Peterborough and one from Rindge, intersecting each other west of the Meetinghouse and continuing on to Marlborough, then called Oxford. Farmsteads, represented by dots, stretch along these two roads and only occasionally appear elsewhere within the town. There is no sign at all of downtown Jaffrey which started out about this time as Borland's Mills; neither does Squantum appear which certainly had been settled by this date.
The next map of importance to include Jaffrey was issued by Philip Carrigain in 1816. David Allen, in his published collection of early Cheshire County maps, described it as
The first accurate map made after New Hampshire became a state. Carrigain was New Hampshire's Secretary of State, and his map was based on mandated town surveys conducted in the early 1800s. The map shows three grades of roads, each with different symbols. The key describes them as: turnpikes, principal roads, and roads. The turnpikes are the most interesting. They were privately-built toll roads whose relatively straight courses and superior roadbeds greatly improved travel and commerce. Eight are labeled on this map, six in Cheshire County. Most of the turnpikes were branches of two important routes, the Second and Third New Hampshire Turnpikes. The Second New Hampshire Turnpike connected Claremont and the Connecticut River to Nashua on the Merrimack. . . . The Third New Hampshire Turnpike originated in Walpole.
Less than ten years after Gibbs' Jaffrey map appeared, a map of Cheshire County was published that was to serve for many years as the standard reference for both the county and the individual towns. It was the work of Lawrence Fagan, an employee of the Philadelphia publishers Smith — Morley. According to David Allen, who has reissued a number of historic New Hampshire maps, "nineteenth century mapmaking was a private commercial enterprise dominated by firms in Boston, New York and Philadelphia. Most of the populous counties in the United States were documented on maps and atlases in the latter half of the century. During the 1850s, these companies produced hundreds of large wall maps which plotted—in many cases for the first time—all the roads and homesteads in the various counties." Fagan came to Keene in February of 1857 and set up at the Eagle Hotel. He undertook the necessary field work and surveying and completed the map in time for publication in March of 1859. "The map depicts Cheshire County at a turning point, though the residents of the time surely lacked our perspective. The railroad, which had come to Keene ten years earlier, was accelerating the trend away from self-sufficiency and toward specialized agriculture and industry. The outbreak of war between North and South in 1861 would further wrench the local economy by rewarding the production of beef and wool, and by creating boom conditions at the large woolen mills of Troy, Swanzey, Harrisville, and Keene." Among the border illustrations on the map are Jaffrey's Schoolhouse No. 2 (Union Hall) and what is believed to be the first published depiction of Mt. Monadnock.
In 1877, an atlas of Cheshire County was issued which was in many ways an updated version of the Fagan map of nearly twenty years before. By this time, map publishers were favoring the atlas format over the large wall map. David Allen has noted that "the atlases were more compact, and allowed inclusion of more data. They were usually sold in advance by agents who would ride house-to-house by horse and buggy recording the names of current homeowners, as well as soliciting subscriptions. The publishers often augmented their subscription revenue by selling space in atlases for business advertisements, personal portraits and biographies. . . . Published at the time of the nation's centennial, [the 1877 atlas] captures our region in transition. The traditional farm economy . . . was declining before the powerful new forces of railroads and industry."
In 1881, Daniel Cutter's History of the Town of Jaffrey appeared. The accompanying map, whose maker is not known, displays far less detail than the 1877 atlas map and is less accurate in many ways. Nonetheless it conveys two related facts about the life in Jaffrey a hundred years ago. The settlement pattern was very dispersed, reflecting the agricultural economy which, although past its peak, was still strong in Jaffrey in 1881. And, very much associated with this, there are shown on the map thirteen schools, again dispersed throughout the town, in contrast to the two centralized school facilities of today.
The last of the major atlases to include Jaffrey was published by G. H. Hurd in Boston in 1892. This was the last map of the town to label buildings with the names of their owners, a great convenience then and, for historians and genealogists, even more so today.
The maps of the present, such as those issued by the U. S. Geological Survey, have the great advantage of including contour lines to indicate accurately the topography of the land, which explains so much about the historical patterns of Jaffrey's growth. On the other hand, they give no information about ownership, say almost nothing about what activities occur where, and lack the artistic charm and quirkiness of the Gibbs map or the decorative beauty of the 1858 wall map. What modern maps dramatically show is the concentration of development, not only in existing population centers (Downtown and the Center) and in the town's relatively few subdivisions, but especially along existing roads. The geographically dispersed settlement pattern of Jaffrey's agricultural age has given way to the strip development of the automobile age.