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234-Year-Old Map Donated to Isle a la Cache Museum

Photo for: 234-Year-Old Map Donated to Isle a la Cache Museum

Map enthusiast Joe Kubal of Naperville recently donated a 1783 French map of Canada and the Great Lakes area to the Forest Preserve's Isle a la Cache Museum in Romeoville.

The map shows the region where French fur traders were active in the 18th century, which is a topic celebrated at the museum with its fur trader motif and exhibits.

Kubal said his donation was prompted by his wife's desire to remodel the couple's dining room, where the prized map had hung for many years. Kubal said he was more than willing to part with the map once he got the idea to donate it to the museum.

"It's a somewhat rare, good quality map," he said. "And it does show a lot of the things around the Chicago area associated with early pioneer settlers and explorers. This is one of my favorite maps. It has a lot of historic value."

Kubal, who is a member of the Chicago Map Society, started collecting maps 30 years ago when he met George Ritzlin, owner of Evanston-based Antique Maps and Prints. At first, Kubal collected smaller less expensive maps. But ultimately, he decided to upgrade and buy fewer maps of higher quality, including the one he donated to the Forest Preserve District.

The hand-colored map is an updated version of a drawing originally created in 1703 by French cartographer Guillaume De L'Isle, Ritzlin said in an email.

"It went through a number of editions," he wrote. "J. Dezauche issued a revised version in 1783 which used the name 'Etats Unis" (United States) for the recently independent former British colonies."

Ritzlin added that De L'Isle was considered one of the finest mapmakers of his era because he was very skilled in evaluating information that came to him from explorers and others who had visited far away lands.

"This was at a time when much of the world was little known," Ritzlin added. "He was fortunate to have many sources on our region as the French controlled much of the northeastern North America. Reports came back from missionaries, traders, governmental officials and travelers to the area."

According to the Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc. website, the 1783 map is one of the first to use the name "United States" after the American Revolution and the first to show the city of Detroit. Some of the information on the original 1703 map came from explorer Louis Jolliet, and the map also is notable for its "great improvements" of its depiction of the five Great Lakes and "excellent detail" on the sources of the Mississippi River, according to the website.

Also of interest is an ornamental cartouche in the upper left corner that depicts a beaver, a Native American and Jesuit explorers.

Chris Gutmann, facility supervisor for Isle a la Cache, said the map is now on display and it's a wonderful addition to the museum.

"Ever since I met Joe, he has been a dedicated supporter of forest preserves. The map he donated shows many of the prime trading grounds for the fur trade era," Gutmann said. "And it's in remarkable shape for how old it is. It's neat to see how North America was thought to look back then."

The map can be viewed during Isle a la Cache Museum hours, which are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sunday noon-4 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays.


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