Burleigh and His Lithographs

by Don Rittner


During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a type of map making called ‘Birds-Eye Views,’ or ‘Panoramics’ became widely popular in the U.S. Often thought of as 'Balloon' shots, these maps showed a village, city, or urban area from an oblique view with individual buildings,streets and landforms in perspective.

Perspectives were not an American invention,though they were used in pre Civil War times here. They were being used in Europe in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. In both areas they were often depicted at low angles and not very detailed. Most of these early forms were small and published in atlases or geography books.

The views of American cities during the Victorian Era were more accurate and detailed than earlier ones. Some were even used as promotional gimmicks by real estate agents or chambers of commerce as an enticement for development.

With advances in lithography it became economically feasible to make multiple copies of an "Aero" map. This lead to the popularity of panoramics since most people could afford to own one and proudly point to their home or business on a map as it hung on their wall. Panoramics continued their popularity right into the 1920’s.

Preparing a panoramic map wasn’t easy.The artist or artists walked down every street sketching every building, tree, or other feature such as hills or streams to present a complete and accurate view as though seen from an elevation up to 3,000 feet. American panoramics appeared in state and county atlases, though often the artist was not credited.Most were printed and sold separately either by the individual artist or a publisher.

The Library of Congress has over 1,500 panoramic maps, Five Artists are credited with creating more than half of them:Albert Ruger, Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler, Lucien R. Burleigh, Henry Wellge, and Oakley H. Bailey.

Our interest is Lucien P. Burleigh (1853-1923) from Troy.

Burleigh lived in Lansingburgh, but had his office at 361 River Street in Franklin Square. Originally listed as a civil engineer, by 1886 he was promoting himself as a lithographer under the Burleigh Lithographing Company. His most productive years were between 1886 to 1890 but was still producing as late as 1892.

During the 1880s, Burleigh's views of New York and New England were very popular. The Library of Congress has 163 Burleigh panoramic city plans although Troy or Lansingburgh are not listed. Burleigh prepared three large size lithographs of Lansingburgh, parts of which can be seen in my "Image of America: Lansingburgh" book.

We are fortunate to obtain a more detailed account of what it was like for Burleigh to produce these lithographs in the old days.

Mal Hormats, 81 years young, and a retired air force pilot (with his own remarkable history - a future column) has given me a great amount of information about the Burleigh establishment. He knows it well since his father, Joseph Hormats, bought the lithographing company ("stones," accounts, and equipment) from Burleigh the year he died (1923). Mal worked for his dad for a short time.

According to Mal, who lives in Maryland but grew up on First Street, The Burleigh Lithographing Company occupied the top three stories of 361 River Street, a four story building (See top page of 101 in my Troy book). Mal gives the following account.

The first floor of the Burleigh shop was the business office with many shelves for the boxes of job envelopes. The rear of the floor was one long room with a Mergenthaler linotype machine that his dad installed.

Behind that were the type cases where jobs were setup. The walls were shelved to hold reams of all sorts of different paper. An electric motor ran a belt system which drove a small stapling machine, three small hand fed job presses and a very large paper cutter.

This floor handled most of the job printing of Burleigh and Hormats. One small stove heated it -- burning paper scraps.

The second floor was for stone lithography. At the front was a room used for stone preparation. There was a small flatbed press used to transfer print or drawings to a stone.

Bavarian limestone slabs, 3 inches thick, and as much as 3 feet by three feet, made up the basic stone. They were very heavy. A full sized stone, such as one of Burleigh's maps, might weigh 200-300 pounds. Bavarian limestone weighs about 1 pound for 12.6 cubic inches. It’s used because it's density makes it very fined grain for high resolution.This is interesting since the Capital District region abounds in limestone but obviously not of the necessary quality.

Stones were ground perfectly flat since the slightest imperfection would affect the printing process. They were finished off with nitric acid and then covered by a tin wash of gum arabic.

The map was meticulously engraved onto the Bavarian limestone block using wax crayons, pens, or brushes.

In back of this first room was the paper drying room. Clamps on the ceiling held paper from the big flatbed press until the ink dried. The walls were lined with thousands of storage areas for printing stones.

Behind the drying room was the big flatbed press driven by the same belt system as the downstairs presses. The pressman stood on a platform where he could feed the large sheets of paper into the press, Each sheet nestled into a preset series of guides which insured that the paper was exactly aligned. The stone was inked each time by large rollers. Completed sheets were piled in the rear or a small stack was hung up in the drying room.

The old lithography press men chewed tobacco. The ink they used in those days had a lot of wax or grease. When it built up too much, the pressman would let fly at the stone. The natural detergent in the tobacco would clear the blurs then they threw away the sheet with spittle on it and continue the run. (In the same way, many people kept a sack of Bull Durham in their cars to clear their windshields.)

The third floor was mostly stone storage and a small room where an artist prepared transfers or worked directly on small stones, either using special crayons or directly etching small stones.

Some of Burleigh’s and Hormats’ clients included Cluett and Peabody, Ludlow Valve, Proctors, the City, and countless other Troy industries. Joseph Hormats sold the business in 1968-69 but the new owner moved the location a few doors and shortly after went out of business. A couple of years later Franklin Square was demolished.

What happened to all those limestone panoramic "plates?" Mal’s Dad gave them to his friends, probably fellow Troy Rotarians, for use as patio blocks!

So, if your dad happened to be a Troy Rotary member, you might want to turn up those large limestone blocks in your backyard or walkway - and give me a call if you find one that has etchings!

Got history? Send it to Don at drittner@aol.com or 251 River Street.

©1999 Don Rittner