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Harvard Forest Data Archive


1830 Map of Land Cover and Cultural Features in Massachusetts

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  • Lead: David Foster, Glenn Motzkin
  • Investigators: John Burk, Brian Hall, Mindy Syfert
  • Contact: Information Manager
  • Start date: 1830
  • End date: 1831
  • Status: complete
  • Location: Massachusetts
  • Latitude: +41.3 to +42.9 degrees
  • Longitude: -73.5 to -69.9 degrees
  • Elevation:
  • Datum: WGS84
  • Taxa:
  • Release date: 2023
  • Language: English
  • EML file: knb-lter-hfr.122.18
  • DOI: digital object identifier
  • EDI: data package
  • DataONE: data package
  • Related links:
  • Study type: historical
  • Research topic: historical and retrospective studies; regional studies
  • LTER core area: disturbance patterns, human-environment interactions
  • Keywords: geographic information systems, history, land cover, land use, maps
  • Abstract:

    Background and Data Limitations

    The Massachusetts 1830 map series represents a unique data source that depicts land cover and cultural features during the historical period of widespread land clearing for agricultural. To our knowledge, Massachusetts is the only state in the US where detailed land cover information was comprehensively mapped at such an early date. As a result, these maps provide unusual insight into land cover and cultural patterns in 19th century New England. However, as with any historical data, the limitations and appropriate uses of these data must be recognized: (1) These maps were originally developed by many different surveyors across the state, with varying levels of effort and accuracy. (2) It is apparent that original mapping did not follow consistent surveying or drafting protocols; for instance, no consistent minimum mapping unit was identified or used by different surveyors; as a result, whereas some maps depict only large forest blocks, others also depict small wooded areas, suggesting that numerous smaller woodlands may have gone unmapped in many towns. Surveyors also were apparently not consistent in what they mapped as ‘woodlands’: comparison with independently collected tax valuation data from the same time period indicates substantial lack of consistency among towns in the relative amounts of ‘woodlands’, ‘unimproved’ lands, and ‘unimproveable’ lands that were mapped as ‘woodlands’ on the 1830 maps. In some instances, the lack of consistent mapping protocols resulted in substantially different patterns of forest cover being depicted on maps from adjoining towns that may in fact have had relatively similar forest patterns or in woodlands that ‘end’ at a town boundary. (3) The degree to which these maps represent approximations of ‘primary’ woodlands (i.e., areas that were never cleared for agriculture during the historical period, but were generally logged for wood products) varies considerably from town to town, depending on whether agricultural land clearing peaked prior to, during, or substantially after 1830. (4) Despite our efforts to accurately geo-reference and digitize these maps, a variety of additional sources of error were introduced in converting the mapped information to electronic data files (see detailed methods below). Thus, we urge considerable caution in interpreting these maps.

    Despite these limitations, the 1830 maps present an incredible wealth of information about land cover patterns and cultural features during the early 19th century, a period that continues to exert strong influence on the natural and cultural landscapes of the region.


    Financial support for this project was provided by the BioMap Project of the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, the National Science Foundation, and the Andrew Mellon Foundation. This project is a contribution of the Harvard Forest Long Term Ecological Research Program.

  • Methods:

    Please see the detailed metadata included with the GIS files (also available under "Related Links") for important information on the methodologies used and assumptions made when digitizing this dataset.

  • Organization: Harvard Forest. 324 North Main Street, Petersham, MA 01366, USA. Phone (978) 724-3302. Fax (978) 724-3595.

  • Project: The Harvard Forest Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) program examines ecological dynamics in the New England region resulting from natural disturbances, environmental change, and human impacts. (ROR).

  • Funding: National Science Foundation LTER grants: DEB-8811764, DEB-9411975, DEB-0080592, DEB-0620443, DEB-1237491, DEB-1832210.

  • Use: This dataset is released to the public under Creative Commons CC0 1.0 (No Rights Reserved). Please keep the dataset creators informed of any plans to use the dataset. Consultation with the original investigators is strongly encouraged. Publications and data products that make use of the dataset should include proper acknowledgement.

  • License: Creative Commons Zero v1.0 Universal (CC0-1.0)

  • Citation: Foster D, Motzkin G. 2023. 1830 Map of Land Cover and Cultural Features in Massachusetts. Harvard Forest Data Archive: HF122 (v.18). Environmental Data Initiative:

Detailed Metadata

hf122-01: 1830 map (pdf)

  • Compression: none
  • Format: pdf
  • Type: image

hf122-02: ArcGIS shape files for 1830 map

  • Compression: zip
  • Format: Esri shapefile
  • Type: vector GIS