Maine Atlas Showdown
Which road map would you buy to explore Maine?
We put the new Arrow gazetteer to the test against the venerable DeLorme.
My old college buddy Jim Grady, an affable bookseller at Books Etc. in Falmouth, was driving the River Road from Westbrook one day not long ago and wondered whether he could somehow cut across to Route 237 toward Sebago Lake. Jim hauled out the indispensable Maine Atlas and Gazetteer and determined that a left on Gambo Road would get him where he wanted to go. He was wrong. When he came to the Presumpscot River, he discovered the bridge was out.
I’m not sure what edition Jim was using, but if he’d had the new thirtieth edition of the ubiquitous Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (DeLorme, Yarmouth, Maine; paperback; 78 pages; $19.95) he’d have seen the tiny circle on Gambo Road that indicates “Bridge Out/Road Blocked (impassable).” Then again, he might not have; it’s pretty small. Still, when UPS delivered the first edition of the new Maine Street Atlas (Arrow Map, South Easton, Massachusetts; spiral-bound paperback; 220 pages; $24.95), the first thing I did was check to see whether it showed Gambo Road crossing the Presumpscot. It did, sort of. There was a small black square at the crossing indicating “Dam,” but it sure looked like you could cross the river there.
So I guess DeLorme wins the Battle of Gambo Road Dam, but, that said, there is really no comparison between the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer and the Maine Street Atlas. The former, which David DeLorme first assembled from Maine Department of Transportation maps back in 1976 in order to find good places to fish, is a road atlas that breaks Maine down into a grid of seventy quadrangles at a scale of 1:125,000 showing topographical features. The latter is a street atlas that breaks Maine up into 167 quads at scales ranging from 1:24,000 to 1:239,000, providing much greater driving detail but no topography. If you were using the Maine Street Atlas to navigate in the Unorganized Territories, you wouldn’t know whether you were headed for a swamp or a mountaintop.
In general, I don’t see the Maine Street Atlas giving the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer much of a run for its money. To begin with, the Maine Street Atlas itself is hard to find. The reason UPS delivered mine is that no bookstore in Greater Portland, including L.L. Bean and the DeLorme Map Store, carried it. I had to order it over the phone.
The main reason the Maine Street Atlas isn’t apt to provide much competition for the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer, however, is that it is confusing and hard to use. Granted, I may find the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer more logical because I have been conditioned by thirty-two years of use to see (or conceive of) Maine through DeLorme’s schematic eye, but, in its effort to provide far greater detail, the Maine Street Atlas creates some wildly disorienting juxtapositions — a Skowhegan insert in Casco Bay, Deer Isle inserted off Scarborough, Newry floating out to sea east of Peaks Island.
At first, I thought Arrow Map had just lost its bearings entirely, but then I realized that, purely for space reasons, the designers must have simply plunked down small-scale inserts wherever they found room, mostly in the baby blue expanses of open ocean. “See” references take you from the large-scale maps to the small-scale inserts of towns, wherever they may have been misplaced. Locating inserts at the back of the book, as the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer does, would have made more sense.
To give the Maine Street Atlas its due, its 220 pages certainly do provide a great deal more information than do the seventy-eight pages of the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer. My Yarmouth street on Map 5 of the DeLorme atlas, for example, shows up only as a nameless loop the size of the eye of a needle. On page 63 of the Maine Street Atlas it shows up as Newell Lane, though the correct name is actually Newell Road. The Yarmouth insert on page 67, where Yarmouth is located at the mouth of the Sheepscot between Georgetown and Southport, provides even finer detail of the village streets, though Newell Road is just off the map.
Despite its incredible depth of detail, the Maine Street Atlas is blessedly incomplete. While it shows the front driveway of Yarmouth High School, it does not show the rear access road we constructed a few years ago — a good thing, since too many locals already cut through the high school parking lot to get across town. We wouldn’t want tourists to know about the shortcut as well.
My guess is that if you are an experienced Maine traveler, you already own at least one copy of the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer. If you don’t, you may be the only person in Maine who doesn’t. But if you’re planning to canvas Maine, selling magazines door-to-door, say, or seeking elective office, by all means pick up the Maine Street Atlas as well — if you can find it.
- By: Edgar Allen Beem