Divide & Conquer

Photo by JESSIE SALISBURY This is a detail of the Lyndeborough map, with Route 31 at the center and the railroad to its right, showing the stone walls and types of trees. It isn't drawn to scale.

A fungal blight known as white pine blister rust was discovered in New Hampshire in 1909 and was soon recognized as a serious threat to one of the state’s main timber trees.

It arrived in the state with a reforestation effort, an attempt to restore abandoned farms. Seedlings brought in from New York were infected by some previously brought from Europe.

By 1922, the blight had spread to almost half of the pines in the state. It killed young trees and disfigured older ones.

It was found that the rust’s lifecycle required an alternate host – currants and gooseberries – and an eradication effort was begun about 1917 that lasted into the late 1970s. That effort resulted in detailed maps of the state, drawn by the men in the field looking for the offending bushes.

As often as I’d heard about the maps, I never saw one until recently. They are all preserved at the state archives, a file box or two for each town, mostly as 8.5 by 11 sheets, and available for copying at 25 cents per sheet (on a coin-operated copier). A friend said she wanted copies of her property, and I went along to make copies for the Lyndeborough Heritage Commission. It was an enlightening trip.

Photo by JESSIE SALISBURY This is the base map of Lyndeborough showing its 47 zones.

The town was divided into work zones – Lyndebrorough has 47 – and each zone has a file containing several years of mapping by several workers, mostly in the 1930s.

NPR humanities reporter Kevin Gardner produced a program in which he and several other people discussed the maps and the disease. An undated transcript is available at info.nhpr.org/node/4452.

As early as 1917, the state outlawed the sale of currants and gooseberries.

“They started mobilizing people that would actually go out and pull these things out,” said Ray Boivin, a pest control specialist with the Department of Forests and Lands.

I recall my mother-in-law’s annoyance at that.

“They just came and pulled out my gooseberries,” she said. “Didn’t even ask.”

The work was funded by individual towns as a regular line in the operating budget.

During the Depression, the work was taken over by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and that’s when they began creating the maps.

Gardner also interviewed Bob Woodward, who was in the CCC in 1933 and worked on the program, pulling up thousands of the plants. The maps were drawn after the eradication season, Woodward said.

“All winter long, I mapped,” he said. “I mapped about 300,000 acres, I think.”

Woodward said he lived in Tamworth and was familiar with the forests, where many of the city-born members “didn’t know a pine from a spruce.”

“They would go out and pace and do compass work,” Boivin said, “and identify all the monument features, the stone walls, cellar holes, streams and forest types.”

Over the years, the mappers created an irreplaceable record of what the landscape looked like in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.

Because they aren’t drawn to scale, there are no road names and most of those stone walls are no longer visible (if they still exist), finding an individual property can be daunting. I was able to locate mine from the railroad, the brook and the South Cemetery.

Land surveyors and historians now use the maps in their research.

They are an important record of our lost landscape and worth a visit to look at.

The only maps not available to the general public are those that show the location of archaeological sites.