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[Detail] Bird's eye view of Anniston, Ala. 1888.

6) Water Ways

Notice that nearly all the cities depicted in panoramic maps lay along a river, a lake or an ocean. Access to waterways was just one element of the infrastructure that made a city viable. This access ensured not only potable water but also a power supply for industrial development, and a corridor for the shipment of goods and produce. Remember that sailing craft were central to the transport of agricultural supplies, industrial goods, and the U.S. mail until the early twentieth century.

Perspective map of Columbus, Ga., county seat [of Muscogee Cou]nty, 188[6].

Columbus, Georgia, H. Wellge, mapmaker, Beck & Pauli Lith. Co., 1886.

Towns that had a harbor depended on them for growth and development and the panoramic mapmaker obligingly depicted their ports as busy and industrious places. Among the busy port cities of the Great Lakes region, there are panoramic maps of Duluth, Minnesotta, Erie, Pennsylvania, and Saginaw, Michigan. Along the Mississippi River, there were other busy ports for the mapmakers to record, such as New Orleans, Louisiana, and St. Louis, Missouri.

Examining these maps and complementing them with other items from American Memory affords a better understanding of the roles and significance of waterways. For example, what does this map and citation pertaining to Columbus, Georgia, suggest about the role of the Chattahoochee River in this city?

As the Chattahoochee crosses the fall line at Columbus, Georgia, it falls 125 feet within 2 1/2 miles producing a potential energy of between 66,000 and 99,000 horsepower. That water power made Columbus one of the leading industrial centers within the South, attracting investors and entrepreneurs. As early as 1828 the river powered a grist mill and by the 1840s it supplied power for several textile mills. By 1880 Muscogee h. p. per sq. mile was greater than any other county south of New York. Conversion of that power to electricity began with arc lighting in 1880.

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Water Power Development at the Falls of the Chattahoochee,
Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey.

  • What is located along the waterways that are depicted in these maps? Businesses, warehouses, factories, mills, churches, schools, residences?
  • What is the relationship between the waterways and the roads and railways of these towns?
  • What do these maps suggest about the purposes that waterways served in these places?
  • What aspects of the cities' lives were dependent upon the waterways? Would cities have been viable in these locations if it were not for the waterways? What else might have made the cities viable?
  • How might the addition of a railroad have changed the uses and importance of water ways in these cities?
  • How vital was water to the industrial and transportation needs of cities such as Pawtucket and Central Falls, Rhode Island, Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1871, Sandusky, Ohio, in about 1898, or San Francisco, California, about 1860? How vital were the industry and transportation capabilities of these cities to their existence?