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View, Illinois, Aurora, Mason and Richards, Antique Print, 1875


George L. Richards (after)
Aurora, Ill. 1875 from Jennings Seminary
Mason & Richards, c. late 1870s
National Lithographic Institute, Chicago (printer)
Lithograph, in colors
14.5 x 29.75 inches, image
18.75 x 31.75 inches, overall

Panoramic bird’s-eye view of Aurora, Illinois, a town in far northeastern Illinois, about 36 miles southwest of Chicago. Major buildings are identified in the lower margin of the detailed view: Jennings Seminary in the foreground, along with schools, churches, the post office, businesses, and houses. Horse drawn carriages and pedestrians move along the main thoroughfare leading through the town, and a train approaches from the left. Smoke rises from factory chimneys. At the time this view was published, Aurora had only been incorporated for 30 years and had a population of 16,000. Given the inclusion of the train and the factories, it seems plausible that the map was intended at least in part to promote the town as a good location for business. It has grown considerably since then; today its population is over 200,000. Apparently this print is quite rare; it is not in Deak or on Rumsey; and only one institutional holding (and in poor condition) has been located online.

View description continues below.


The period from after the Civil War to about 1910 was the heyday of promotional bird’s-eye views of American towns. Historians estimate that approximately 4,500 different ones were produced nationwide during this period. In an era before aviation, the creation of these panoramic maps was an act of imagination, combining information from city maps, ground-level sketches of buildings and the rules of Renaissance perspective into a convincing aerial view. Some were commissioned to promote settlement and development of towns, especially as part of the Westward Expansion of the United States. The prints were also purchased by residents as souvenirs of civic pride. American bird’s-eye views created from drawings were largely supplanted by aerial photographs in the 20th century. Few records remain of the size of the press runs for panoramic maps, but it has been surmised that they were perhaps as few as 100 for a small town, though a typical edition was about 500 copies. Given these small editions and their ephemeral nature, many are now quite scarce.

George L. Richards was a draftsman and publisher of panoramic views active in the 1870s. A scholarly catalog of town and city views lists four views drawn by Richards, including three towns in Minnesota published by various publishers: Faribault, Red Wing, and Rochester. He was apparently a partner in Mason & Richards, which published this map.

The National Lithographic Institute in Chicago published other bird’s-eye views, including one of Batavia, New York (1873).


Reps, John William. Views and Viewmakers of Urban America: Lithographs of Towns and Cities in the United States and Canada. University of Missouri Press, 1984. 778, 1909, 1938, 1941.

Wise, Donald A. “Bird’s-Eye Views of Oklahoma Towns.” Originally published in The Chronicles of Oklahoma, vol. 67, no. 3 (Fall 1989): 228- 247. Online Compilation of Historical Documents by Don Wise. 4 June 1998. (7 December 2004).

Additional information


19th Century