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T.M. Fowler’s Pennsylvania Bird’s-Eye Views

January 2, 2018

Filed under Changing Exhibits, Exhibits

‘Every Thing of Interest Shown’: T.M. Fowler’s Bird’s-Eye Views of Pennsylvania, 1885-1905, on exhibit now through May 6 on the first floor of The State Museum, showcases a series of bird’s-eye views, or panoramic maps, of Pennsylvania communities as they appeared during the late 19th century.

This exhibit features 32 original lithographic prints from a collection of about 170 views created by artist T.M.Fowler and preserved in the permanent collections of The State Museum and the Pennsylvania State Archives.

Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler – who signed as “T.M. Fowler” — was part of a small group of itinerant artists who made their living by sketching and publishing panoramic views of American cities and towns in the decades after the Civil War. During a career that began in 1869 and continued for another 53 years, Fowler published well over 400 views, more than that of any other American viewmaker. Of that total, more than half were of towns and cities in Pennsylvania – then the second largest state in the nation and a bustling center for steel, coal, glass, lumber, railroads and other industries. Thanks to Fowler – who came to make his home in Morrisville, Bucks County — the commonwealth boasts more bird’s eye views than any other state.

The examples showcased in the exhibit are presented in much the same sequence as they were originally drawn and published. Working in tandem with his business partner, James Moyer, Fowler canvased the state, region by region, beginning in 1888. Visitors to the exhibit will get a strong feel for the varied and often surprisingly landscapes that the pair encountered and depicted as they worked their way across the state.

We invite you to tour this exhibit, which includes a touch-screen interactive allowing visitors to explore more than 200 additional digitized views of Pennsylvania towns and cities.

Fowler views at The Pennsylvania State Archives

The State Archives has digitized its collection of nearly 170 Pennsylvania bird’s-eye views drawn by T.M. Fowler.

A view of Pottsvile as drawn by T.M. Fowler in 1889.

A view of Pottsville, Schuylkill County, as drawn by T.M. Fowler in 1889.

The Art and Technique of Bird’s-Eye Viewmaking

John Reps is professor emeritus at Cornell University and the foremost expert on the history of town views and the artists who created them. Hear Professor Reps as he discusses the art and technique of viewmaking and T.M. Fowler’s work in Pennsylvania towns and cities:

Upcoming Fowler Events at The State Museum

Bird’s Eye Views in Historic Preservation – The State Museum of Pennsylvania – April 13

Historic preservation specialists from the State Historic Preservation Office, Bryan Van Sweden and Shelby Splain, will discuss the uses of Fowler’s views in historic preservation at 12:15 p.m. on Friday, April 13 at the State Museum of Pennsylvania. When combined with other resources, these views can offer architects, planners, and preservation advocates clues about how these communities grew and developed and how the townscapes, residential and commercial buildings, and regional industries have changed over time. Program participants will explore such topics as historic architecture and African American community building in late 19th-century Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania’s Past, Present and Future – The State Museum of Pennsylvania – April 20

John Hayden, an engineer with Reynolds Energy Services in Harrisburg, will discuss the past, present and future of Pennsylvania’s industrial communities at 12:15 p.m. on Friday, April 20 at The State Museum of Pennsylvania. Fowler’s views were highly regarded for their accurate depiction of not just buildings but also infrastructure – the industries and transportation systems that allowed these towns and cities to grow and prosper in the decades after the Civil War. By drawing on satellite imagery and other resources, Hayden will discuss some of the ways that Fowler’s views can be used to guide municipalities as they look to modernize their local economies and build on their past.

Fowler views and Pennsylvania’s railroads – The State Museum of Pennsylvania – April 27

Join Kurt Bell, archivist from the Pennsylvania State Archives, as he explores how Fowler’s views can be used to document and interpret the history of Pennsylvania’s vast railroad network in the late 19th century. The presentation, which will take place at 12:15 p.m. on Friday, April 27 at The State Museum of Pennsylvania, will look at a few case studies of Fowler maps from Pittsburgh, Scranton, Altoona, Columbia and elsewhere to illustrate the details of yards, tunnels, depots, bridges, track rights-of-way, and parallel transport systems such as canals, turnpikes, and stagecoach routes. Bell’s presentation will also look at the broader geography of railroads in Pennsylvania and their relationship to the many communities that they served and helped shape.