I must have seen this map of Skaneateles a hundred times, but for some reason I wasn’t curious about where it came from until the other day when I began to wonder who did it, and how. The answer to the first question was easy: Lucien R. Burleigh (1853-1923) of Troy, New York, drew more than 120 such bird’s-eye views, and as a publisher printed more than 200. He worked primarily in New York and New England, and was most prolific between 1885 and 1890. In 1885 alone, he created bird’s-eye views of East Syracuse, Weedsport, Canastota, Pulaski and Moravia, as well as Skaneateles.
But where did he stand to sketch this view of Skaneateles? There is no hill nearby that’s high enough for this perspective. Hot air balloon? No, Burleigh made his drawings from the ground. He came to a town and spent two or three weeks sketching every building, house, tree and landform. He chose the best point-of-view for showing the town and kept to it as he worked. Before he left, he hired a local resident to line up subscribers to purchase the print. To break even, Burleigh had to sell about 100 copies at $2.50-$3.00 each.
Back in his studio with his sketches, he drew the bird’s-eye view, replicating how each house would look from the point of view he’d chosen. He often based the view on a local map, which gave him a grid, and matched each of his preliminary sketches to its place in the village or town. The final view was then engraved onto a stone block and printed by lithography.
Burleigh had the Skaneateles panoramic printed by Beck & Pauli of Milwaukee. On August 8, 1885, this news ran in the Skaneateles Press: “A card from L.R. Burleigh announces that the lithograph views of Skaneateles are nearly ready and the agent will be in town from August 13th to August 18th for the purpose of delivering copies.” In February 1886, E.N. Leslie donated a framed copy to the Skaneateles Library.
The Library of Congress has 163 Burleigh panoramic views in its collection. A printed reproduction of Burleigh’s Skaneateles view is available for $5 in the gift shop of the Creamery Museum, 28 Hannum Street, in Skaneateles.