Mapping Texas

Collections from the Texas General Land Office

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Map-making (cartography) has existed for thousands of years. Each map, whether simply drawn or complex, illustrates how people have viewed the world and their surroundings.

Mapping Texas is a rotating selection of maps on view from the Texas General Land Office (GLO). The maps show the thoughtfully plotted political boundaries, mountains, waterways, and cultures drawn by cartographers and shared by governments with the public. Though sometimes imprecise, the maps show how knowledge and accuracy of the world improved with each exploration or survey. Ultimately, the rise or fall of new communities, states, and empires can be traced in this selection of maps.

With a collection of over 36 million documents, the GLO was established by the Republic of Texas in 1836 and is the state’s oldest agency. Formed to distribute and manage the transfer of public lands (public domain), the GLO contains one of the most unique collections in the nation — over 45,000 maps, sketches, and drawings documenting the surveying and mapping of boundaries and land ownership dating back to the 16th century.

An active agency overseeing state lands, mineral rights, veterans, and coastal issues, as well as managing the Alamo, the GLO funds public education, and continues to collect and preserve archival materials from Texas’s rich history. Over the years, its surveyors and draftsmen have mapped and drawn thousands of acres of Texas soil and waterways, continuing to update existing maps as boundaries, transportation routes, and ownership changes.

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Current Installation

Texan Land For Rail: September 25, 2017 to May 31, 2018

Railroads were the iron and steel backbone of American industry during the late 1800s, encouraging immigration and accelerating the movement of goods in and out of Texas. The state’s extensive railroad network was made possible by allocating 32,153,878 acres for a land-for-rail incentive program. Started in 1854 by the Texas Legislature and facilitated by the GLO, 10,240 acres of land were given to railway companies for each completed mile of rail. The companies then sold the land for about $1.34 an acre.

Railroad construction in Texas flourished after the Civil War. Laying of the tracks was backbreaking work and required a large labor force, many of whom were Irish and Chinese immigrants. By 1882, workers had laid more than 6,000 miles of track in Texas. Thirty years later, Texas had the most railroad mileage in the United States, a position it still holds. Currently there are approximately 10,500 miles of track in Texas.

Select Artifacts On View in the Exhibition

Past Installations

Texas County Maps by Eltea Armstrong: March 18, 2017 to September 24, 2017

Eltea Armstong, the most prolific draftsman of the 20th century at the Texas General Land Office, created over 71 distinct county maps in her almost 40 year career. Each map took approximately 900 work hours to complete as Armstrong patiently drew, inked, and lettered every survey by hand. Her beautiful hand-lettering of each map's title remains a hallmark of her work. Armstrong embellished many of the maps with scenes inspired by the county's history, geography, or special features. Her artistic style is easily recognizable among GLO maps — she favored a drawing method known as pointillism, a technique where dots of ink are applied overlapping or close to each other to achieve tone and texture.

The Gulf Coast: June 20, 2016 to March 12, 2017

With 367 miles of Gulf beaches and more than 3,300 miles of bays and estuaries, the Gulf Coast of Texas has been a historic mainstay of commerce, industry, and tourism. Critical for exploration and immigration, and rich in natural resources, the coastline's impact on the people of Texas continues into the 21st century. The Gulf Coast collection of original maps from the archives of the Texas General Land Office highlighted the entirety of Texas's coast from 1790 during the days of American Indian settlement and European exploration to modern land surveys and navigational charts of the 20th century.

Centuries of Texas Maps: September 28, 2015 to June 18, 2016

Maps detailing European discovery and settlement of Texas, the American Southwest, and Mexico were produced as early as the 1500s. Beginning with the formation of the Spanish Province of Tejas on the far reaches of the Empire, the Centuries of Texas Maps installation showed the progression of European exploration during the creation of the Republic and on through the mid-20th century, where maps traced the growth of Texas at the city and county level.

Support for the Bullock Museum's exhibitions and education programs is provided by the Texas State History Museum Foundation.