Recently cataloged:
cover of Mapa de la Isla de Cuba y Plano de la Habana
Mapa de la Isla de Cuba y plano de la Habana published in 1853 by B. May y Ca.
The original brown cloth binding holds two maps, one of the entire island and one of the city of Havana. The maps themselves are quite brittle, with tears along the folds, so I used extra care when cataloging them. While this is a published item, and therefore not unique¹, the library’s fabulous Digital Programs department agreed that, for preservation purposes, this would be a good candidate for digitization. You can now explore all the details of the maps here on ACDC with no fear of causing further harm to the original.

The provenance of the maps is from the Hills-Skillings Family Papers, a collection which is still being processed, but which is related to the Hills Family Papers. I was curious how and why a mid-nineteenth century map of Cuba had arrived in Amherst, and a little investigating taught me something I hadn’t known about the history of the town. Did you know that Amherst was once the home of the largest straw hat manufacturing company in the United States?
I’ve always associated the Industrial Revolution in Massachusetts to “mill cities” like Lowell or Chicopee, but here’s a mid-nineteenth century view (towards the northeast, I believe) from the Amherst College campus:
Leonard Mariner Hills (1803-1872) started the L.M. Hills Company in Amherst in 1829, and by 1869 it was the largest hat making company in the U.S., making about 100,000 dozen hats per year. (Hats were apparently sold in dozens) So, where is the Cuba connection? Straw hats weren’t actually made from straw, but from palm-leaf…
…At that time Massachusetts was the only state in the Union were palm-leaf was manufactured into hats. The only factories for carrying on this work were located at Amherst, Barre, Palmer and Fitchburg. Of these, the factories at Amherst were the most important as regarded the size of buildings, the amount of business and the completeness of the work done. L.M. Hills & Sons were the largest operators in the business in America. All the leaf used in the work came from Cuba.²
Next puzzle to figure out: what’s that building (with four turrets) off in the distance behind the factory?
¹A google image search for “mapa isla cuba 1853” finds several instances of the maps.
²Carpenter, Edward Wilton, 1856-. and Charles Morehouse, The History of the Town of Amherst, Massachusetts. Amherst, Mass.: Press of Carpenter, 1896, page 292.

3 thoughts on “From Cuba to Amherst

  1. My family owns a house, also located on Main Street, built in 1840. In our research of the property we found out that L.M. Hills also built and owned our house. It was known as The Lewis Allen House, not to be mistook for The Allen Bed & Breakfast. Same family? Much smaller and less grand than the houses that L.M. Hills built next to the Dickinsons, we figure one of his managers or foremen must inhabited the home.

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