[A Plan of the Town of Esperanza Situated on the West Bank of the North River Opposite Hudson…]. Pierre Pharoux, draftsman, engraver Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin.

[A Plan of the Town of Esperanza Situated on the West Bank of the North River Opposite Hudson…]

[New York, 1794]. Engraving, 14.375 x 27 inches.

An extraordinarily rare and, until recently, little documented and often misattributed eighteenth century American town plan for a model community on the Hudson River, not known to Wheat & Brun or noted in any other carto-bibliography.

The brainchild and joint project of a group of New York investors, the planned town of Esperanza (also known as Speranza), located on the west bank of the Hudson, was intended to rival the thriving town of Hudson, on the east side of the River directly opposite. The founders were three cousins and prominent New Yorkers: Edward Livingston (future mayor of New York, congressman, U.S. senator from Louisiana, U. S. Secretary of State, and minister to France), Brockholst Livingston, and John R. Livingston, as well as Elihu Chauncey Goodrich and Ephraim Hart. The partners envisioned a city that would serve as a critical link between the Atlantic and central and northern New York, as well as the terminus of a canal connecting Lake Erie and the Hudson (later built further north, of course, as the Erie Canal). Their ultimate dream was to see their town become the state capital.

 

Purchasing lands along the river within the limits of present-day Athens, New York from Albertus Van Loon and his son-in-law, Shadrach Sill, the founders turned to French émigré and architect Pierre Pharoux to design a plan for their town, resulting in the map offered here, which was distributed to potential settlers. Lots were sold, some homes were built, and the town showed a certain degree of promise for a time, but was soon eclipsed by the nearby village of Athens, and the project failed.

Pharoux’ map is a beautiful, fascinating, and curious production, described by John Reps as an “early imitation of the Washington plan”—apparently a design the investors considered suitable for a town they hoped would become a capital city. Reps further notes that the circular and radial boulevards in the northwest portion of the town call to mind “the grand plan of a French hunting park or the grounds of a royal chateau.” This section consists of a courthouse square adjoining a semi-circular common ground surrounded by a ‘public grove.’ Three other squares are included in the plan as well: Albany, Church, and Market.

 

The street names lend a unique flavor to the town. Running from northeast to southwest are Liberty and Equality Streets (Reps notes here the influence of the French Revolution), as well as Bread Street, Meal Street, Cider Street, Beer Street, Happiness Street, Friendship Street and others. Running from northwest to southeast are Livingston Street and Goodrich Street, named for proprietors. Other street names include Agriculture, Commerce, Arts, and Sciences. Along the waterfront we find Esperanza Key, with adjoining perpendicular streets named Rice, Wheat, Corn, Barley, and Market, the latter leading from the Key to Market Square. A number of dwellings are shown nearby along Loonenburg and Hudson Streets, indicating settlement pre-dating Esperanza. The words ‘North River” appear in the water just off the Key, flanked by an arrow pointing downriver and Neptune’s trident, evoking the connection with the sea, and by implication, world trade. The copy of the plan offered here appears to have been used by one of the proprietors or some other party closely connected with the sale of land in town, as it bears a number of manuscript coordinate notations as well the names of the purchasers of several lots.

A considerable degree of mystery has surrounded the form and authorship of this map. The two recorded copies (one institutional and one in the map trade) are identical to ours, bearing neither a title, nor credits for the draftsman and engraver. These three identical examples strongly suggest that the map was issued thus. However, it should be noted that in the History of Greene County, New York (1884) William Peletreau provides a detailed account of the map (the earliest description we’ve been able to find), stating that it bears a title reading: “A PLAN—of the Town of Esperanza, situated on the West Bank of the North River, opposite Hudson, laid down in lots, 25 feet in front, and 100 deep... P. Pharmix.” Moreover, Peletreau notes that “upon the margins of the map were pictures of the grand court house, the market, the church and the ‘city tavern’.”

 

This same information is repeated in Andrew Peloubet’s revised account of Esperanza in History of Greene County, 1651-1800 (1927). Peloubet further states that when the proprietors were planning their town “there happened to be a celebrated French engineer and surveyor by the name of Pharmix, who was making a tour of the Hudson River valley.” In this he was only half right, following Peletreau’s mistaken attribution of the map to the curiously-named ‘Pharmix.’ Over the years others have followed suit, as the cataloging in OCLC for the one recorded institutional copy indicates.

 

The mystery of the map’s authorship was finally resolved in 1990 by map scholar Mary Pedley and architectural historian Roger Kennedy as a result of their study of a volume of drawings held by the Huntington Library, mistakenly cataloged at the time as the work of one “Fortranes” or “de Fortrain.” The volume includes a manuscript plan of Esperanza and drawings for the buildings referenced by Peletreau. As it turns out, individual engravings (possibly proofs?) based on the drawings of the buildings are held by the National Gallery of Art, the record crediting them to Saint-Mémin. The final key to the resolution of the mystery lies in Pierre Pharoux’ journal, in which he mentions giving drawings of ‘Speranza’ to St. Memin to engrave. Thus, the printed plan, the volume of drawings, the St. Memin engravings, and Pharoux’s journal restore credit to Pharoux for the map as well as the volume of drawings. The name ‘Pharmix’ was simply a misreading that occurred somewhere along the way.

 

The evidence of the engravings at the National Gallery suggests a possible explanation for the absence of the title and vignettes on the now three known copies of the plan. Each engraving is separately mounted on a sheet with other engravings by Saint-Mémin, indicating that the vignettes were engraved on separate plates, and it seems likely that the title Peletreau notes was separately engraved as well. Impressions of each would have been applied to the margins of the separately printed plan—a not uncommon practice in map publication—to create the map that Peletreau describes. Given the survival of three copies lacking the title and vignettes, it seems quite likely that copies of the plan alone were struck off—to which the title and vignettes simply were not added—perhaps for the use of those involved in the sale and promotion of lots, for whom the views and title would have been superfluous. The copy offered here, with its manuscript annotations, suggests just such a practical—as opposed to promotional—use.

 

Regarding other possibly extant copies, Peloubet states: “These maps are now very rare. I have seen but two copies; one, Mr. Charles W. Stranahan presented to the county, and is now in the Green County Clerk’s Office, and the other is in the possession of Counselor O. Gates Porter.” The Green County Clerk’s office was unable to tell us whether a copy of the map remains in their collections. While the version of the map with a title and vignettes may exist, there are no library or carto-bibliographic records for it, and at present it remains a ghost.

The Mapmakers

Pierre Pharoux (d. 1795), was a Neoclassicist architect and engineer trained in France who came to the United States as a shareholder and agent of the Compagnie de New York, a land speculation company based in Paris and chartered in 1793 to settle 220,500 acres of land on the north side of the Black River in present-day Lewis and Jefferson Counties. Rich in beaver, the region became known as Castorland.

 

Pharoux was one of the first professionally trained architects to practice in the United States, taking time away from his duties in Castorland to work for the Livingstons and other members of the Hudson River gentry. As Roger Kennedy has noted “the friends and clients of Pharoux included members of the Van Rensselaer clan, Philip Schuyler, and John Porteus.” Although active in the region for less than two years, Pharoux succeeded in introducing his clients to the new cosmopolitan style, designing “city plans and country house plans and townhouse plans, market entries like triumphal arches, cruciform courthouses and temple-form churches, and a statehouse…” (Kennedy). In addition to his work for the Hudson River grandees, Pharoux also designed an estate plan for Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, the Prussian drillmaster of Revolutionary War fame, who was living on land in Oneida County granted to him by the New York Legislature for his services in the War.

 

Pharoux’ injection of the French vocabulary into American architecture marks a transition from the more staid British models prevailing at the time. Had he come to America strictly to work as an architect, Pharoux likely would have lived much longer and exercised even greater influence. However, his responsibilities in the wilderness proved his undoing. On Sept. 20, 1795, while attempting a dangerous crossing of the recently flooded Black River to gather information on the needs of a settlement in Kingstown, Pharoux and two others were drowned when their raft was swallowed up in a raging waterfall.

  

A journal kept by Pharoux and his fellow agents Simon and Geoffroy Desjardins, known as the Castorland Journal (owned by the Massachusetts Historical Society and first published in a scholarly edition in 2010) is the primary source of information on Pharoux’s activities in New York.

Engraver and watercolorist Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin (1770-1852) was among the most celebrated portrait artists to work in Federal-period America, creating portraits of Thomas Jefferson, Chief Justice John Marshall, Paul Revere, Meriwether Lewis, and other luminaries, as well as nearly a thousand other Americans. A member of the hereditary nobility and an officer in the military, Saint-Mémin left France during the French Revolution, arriving in New York with his parents and sister in 1793 at the age of twenty-three, with some training in drawing and a gift for unusual precision. Among the first friends he made was Esperanza proprietor John R. Livingston. Regarding this friendship, Livingston noted:

[The] Mm. de St.-Mémin did not delay in associating themselves intimately with my family. They had come to stay with us in a charming house, situated outside New York, dominating the town, and from which one enjoyed a superb view which on one side included the entire Harbour. Charmed by the beauty of the landscape, M. de Saint-Mémin made a very exact drawing of it. [As] there existed no other [on the market], we suggested to him the idea of engraving and circulating it. I introduced him myself to the public library, where he learned from the encyclopaedia the first principles of engraving. He soon made himself a master of this art. 

Thus, it was through Livingston’s assistance that Saint-Mémin launched his American career and secured the commission to engrave the plan of Esperanza.

 

After engraving a few landscapes and maps, Saint-Mémin turned to portraiture for the more regular work he needed to support his family, forming a partnership with fellow French exile Thomas Bluget de Valdenuit (1763-1846). Using a physionotrace, Valdenuit made profile drawings, which Saint-Mémin then engraved. The sitter received the drawing, the engraved plate, and twelve engravings. The partnership continued until 1797. Thereafter, Saint-Mémin continued on his own, in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Richmond and Charleston, benefiting greatly from the popularity of profile portraits and leaving behind some of the most indelible depictions of Federal- period Americans.

An exceptionally rare and fascinating 18th century American town plan, designed and engraved by a gifted pair of French émigrés.

REFERENCES: Peletreau, William S. “Athens” in History of Greene County, New York : With Biographical Sketches of Its Prominent Men. New York: J. B. Beers, 1884, pp. 164-166; Peloubet, Andrew D. “Town of Athens” in History of Greene County, 1651-1800 at www.tracingyourrootsgcny.com; Reps, John. The Making of Urban America, p. 263 and p. 352; Kennedy, Roger G. “A New Discovery Enhances the Architectural Legacy of Pierre Pharoux,” Architectural Digest, February, 1991, pp. 27, 30, 34, 38, 40; Kennedy, Roger G. “Preface, Some Thoughts About Philip Hooker” in Douglas G. Bucher and Mary R. Tomlan. Philip Hooker and his Contemporaries : 1796-1836, a Neat Plain Modern Stile. Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993, p. 15; Morgan, John Hill. “The Work of M. Fevret de Saint-Mémin,” The Brooklyn Museum Quarterly, Vols. 5-6, 1918, pp. 7-8; Saint-Mémin Collection, Group 57, 1794-1796, nine etchings and engravings mounted to brown wove paper, Corcoran Collection (Gift of William Wilson Corcoran) 2015.19.1584.57.1-9, National Gallery of Art.

CONDITION: Good, areas of reinforcement with paper pulp on verso repairing a few breaks and tears, expert reinstatement of loss to lines in second plot to the left in lower right corner, a few minor stains, trimmed to neatline.

Item #6040

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