In a digital age, when highly accurate topographical maps are accessible at the touch of a button, a recently discovered and considerably simpler hand-drawn map of Oxford Country is garnering appreciation.

Created by 12-year-old Bethel native Lydia Carter in 1835, the map is considered valuable as a rare form of folk art and is one of few such documents to detail Oxford County as it appeared nearly two centuries ago.

The map recently came to auction and now rests with the Bethel Historical Society thanks Joe Gaidis of Gaidis Antiques & Auction of Bryant Pond and an anonymous donor.

Gaidis believes Lydia made her own vegetable-based dyes and used a quill pen and to create the calligraphy and watercolor document that details town names, lakes, roads, rivers and mountains, using a rainbow of colors and intricate shading effects. “The colors on it are magnificent,” said Gaidis. “And to find it in such pristine condition was just totally amazing.”

The document will likely be on permanent display at the society’s 1813 Dr. Moses Mason House Museum that houses historical artifacts from 1813 to 1869.

Society Executive Director Randall Bennett said the original map will be archived in a climate-controlled area to preserve it and a reproduction of it will hang in the museum’s parlor. The original will be exhibited on special occasions.

“It is one of our top treasures,” said Bennett. “This map has so much going for it. It is so detailed and precise and is one of the earliest known maps in existence of Oxford County. And, not a lot of this type of school girl art has survived over time.”

That the map came into historical society hands at all was a bit of a miracle.

The society knew of the map’s existence and that it was to be auctioned but was not in a financial position to bid on what was expected to be a pricey acquisition.

Gaidis came across the map in July, while appraising for an auction from a home once owned by Lydia’s relatives.

The 15-room house was filled with many original artifacts. The property had been occupied by four or five successive families. Some sections of the house, including a summer kitchen, attic, basement and barn, served as repositories for items dating from the 1700s through the 1950s.

“The attic alone was filled with things that hadn’t been moved in probably a century,” said Gaidis.

“I’ve seen a lot of stuff (in 25 years of appraising), but items like Lydia’s map are rare,” said Gaidis. “Just to handle it was a privilege.”

In Gaidis’ line of work, it is not unusual to run across needlework samplers, created by children or a century or more ago.

“But you don’t find a lot of these maps,” said Gaidis. “The odds of my finding it were a million to one. Early maps like this, done freehand, often were done crudely and looked very primitive. This was really well done and colored and designed in a way that made it not only valuable as a map but as a wonderful piece of folk art — and the only one of its kind.”

The anonymous bidder who spotted the little map at auction thought so too. He quickly snapped it up to add to his collection of historic documents.

Valued at $2,500 to $3,000, it was bought for $500 and sold to the historical society for $600.

“The man basically made a $40 profit on it after taxes,” said Gaidis. “He really wanted to keep it for his collection, but understanding its rarity, local significance and what it meant to the historical society, he thought it best that it should be displayed in a public setting rather than in a private collection.”

Bennett agreed. “We’re certainly very appreciative of this. And, we are delighted to be viewed as a place where people can entrust their historical and family documents to us to be preserved and made available for others to enjoy. And, not knowing who the anonymous buyer was only provides more intrigue.”

 

Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 791-6308 or at [email protected]