Historic map saved from oblivion at old Voluntown church

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Voluntown - posted Tue., Jul. 23, 2013
'A correct copy' of the original 18th-century landowners' map of Voluntown was discovered in the former Voluntown Methodist Church building. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
'A correct copy' of the original 18th-century landowners' map of Voluntown was discovered in the former Voluntown Methodist Church building. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

A crumpled cardboard tube destined for the dump proved to contain an unexpected treasure and a glimpse into Voluntown’s past. Volunteers cleaning out the former Voluntown Methodist Church this spring came across a 19th-century, hand-lettered map rolled up in the tube and stuck in a trash barrel. “It was destined to be put on a truck, [but] it’s a major find,” said Ty Cool of the Voluntown Historical Society. “Kudos to the two guys [David Hobbes and Jim Lavoie] who recognized it for what it was and rescued it from the trash.”

The map, created in 1843 by local surveyor William Stanton, is labeled “The Old Parchment: A Correct Copy.” According to Town Clerk Cheryl Sadowski, it’s a handmade copy of a 1737 map of landholdings, which currently resides in the state library in Hartford. Voluntown Town Hall boasts a framed color photocopy of the original parchment document. Stanton’s copy is drawn in pen and ink on a skin-like substance backed by cloth, and was rolled on a turned wooden rod like a parchment.

The plots described on the map were given to soldiers who fought in King Philip’s War, the "volunteers” who gave the town its name. Boundary lines are marked on the map by trees (“walnut” or “dead white oak,” for example), as they were in those days.

Sadowski said that Stanton was active as a surveyor in the area during the mid-1800s. Town Hall’s vault contains a preserved folio of his hand-drawn maps dated 1834-45, each of which is decorated with a hand-colored “compass rose” establishing northward orientation. No two of Stanton’s folk art compass roses are alike.

Cool said that, unlike the hard-to-read original parchment, most of the landowners’ names on the 1847 map are still legible and recognizable as local families. “Think of the resource this would be for genealogists,” he said. “All the more reason it should be displayed.”

The historical society is working to save the old church building where the map was found, but it’s a race against time, said Cool. The town recently acquired the building from its previous owner and removed its bell tower for safety reasons. A hoped-for grant from the state to fund exterior preservation fell through, so now town officials must decide how to deal with the rapidly-deteriorating structure.

Town officials have set a tentative Aug. 21 date for a town meeting to discuss the fate of the church building.

 


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