Back on the Map

Video: Northwestern University Library conservators restore and digitize the oldest known map of Evanston. See more videos from Northwestern magazine.

When conservator Susan Russick first set to work on a late 19th-century map of Evanston, the relic had nearly disintegrated into hundreds of tiny pieces.

Forty years of storage in an Evanston resident's basement had taken a toll. The map was covered with grime and animal droppings. The scroll for the map, which had been intended for wall-hanging, had been crushed. Pieces of the map clung to the original cloth mounting.

It took more than 100 hours of work, but Russick, a special collections conservator at Northwestern, and her team repaired and stabilized the map (see a video of the process). Now the oldest printed map of Evanston, published circa 1876 by local surveyor and mapmaker Theodore Reese, is vibrantly restored and available online.

Russell Maylone, former curator of Northwestern University Library's special collections, bought the map from George Ritzlin, who owns an antiquarian map business in Evanston. Ritzlin had acquired the map from an Evanston resident in 2006.

Maylone gave the map to University Archives, partly "because it was obvious that unless it received immediate attention from some highly skilled conservation professionals, it was just going to fall apart and be lost to everyone."

The map, which details the blocks, streets and alleys of north, south and central Evanston, is particularly helpful for those interested in Evanston real estate.

"It's valuable as a relic of Evanston's past," said University archivist Kevin Leonard (WCAS77, G82), "but it also continues to be of use to anyone researching the history of their own or other Evanston real estate, because these were some of the earliest legal property boundaries."

The next step is to determine how to extend the map's life. Repeatedly unrolling the map or even hanging it in a public place might shorten its lifespan. However, a digital version of the map is available online.