THE 1858 MAP OF CAPE COD, MARTHA’S VINEYARD AND NANTUCKET. By Henry F. Walling, with contributions from Robert Finch, Theresa Mitchell Barbo, Elliott Carr, Jim Coogan, Charles Fields, Gail Fields, Adam Gamble, Joseph Garver, Kathleen Schatzberg. On Cape Publications Inc., 2009. 122 pages. $50, hardcover.

This is a beautiful book. It is large (one foot by one foot) but not unwieldy. It is a map, page by page, a high quality reproduction of an 1858 Cape and Islands map. In this age of digital everything, it is somehow soothing to physically run one’s hand across a page that looks like the original, now antique, map.

This book is more than a book and more than a map. It is a slice of history. Fascinating local history. It is more than a street map, it is map of life, a window in time of the Cape and Islands a century and a half ago when living by and surviving by the sea meant connecting with the sea.

As contributor Robert Finch notes, 1858 is “the high watermark of the Cape’s maritime prosperity, represented by the abundance of shipyards, wharves, and the number of maritime businesses listed for its major harbors.”

The solid pages share the deep golden hue of an old map. Yet each town has a distinct warm color of its own. This, writes Mr. Finch, suggests “a strong and even passionate identification with particular communities, a kind of local xenophobia whose remnants we still cling to today and which still dog us at town meetings in our attempts to deal with regional issues on a local basis.”

Turning the pages is like removing a piece of history from a wall and holding it in your hand. The level of details is stunning. The name of each and every head-of-household is inked in elegant script next to the small, black squares representing houses.

Old Island family names dot the landscape like friendly punctuation marks. Place names changed over time as quietly as the shoreline contours. The town of Bourne did not exist in 1858, nor did the town of Oak Bluffs. A well-known portion of the West Tisbury shore is inked in as Lumards Cove and Menemsha Pond is spelled “Menamsha.” A large swath of Gay Head is identified as “Indian Lands.”

The village of Edgartown housed a marble shop and a candle maker, an oil factory, a windmill, an engine shop and a printing office. The courthouse is there, with the jail next door. In 1858 the area now known as the Oak Bluffs harbor and Sunset Lake was called Squash Meadow Pond, and it was on this shore that the Wesleyan Grove Camp Meeting Ground was established.

In 1858 Vineyard Haven was known as Holmes Hole and the pond off Holmes Hole harbor is identified on the map as “Waquataua or Lagoon Pond.”

The book is based on cartographer Henry F. Walling’s five-foot-by-five-foot 1858 Map of the Counties of Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket, and it shows every county, town and village, and the major water bodies that connect them. According to Joseph Carver, the map was typical of those produced by Walling: “comprehensive in scope, encyclopedic in range, highly decorative, and dense with information about topographical features, local industries, public institutions, and landowners.”

The book was published to raise awareness and funds for the William Brewster Nickerson Cape Cod History Archives at Cape Cod Community College. Although Barnstable County takes up the bulk of the map, the Dukes County portions are full of information. The contributors’ essays add depth to the to physical images and perspective to the era of 1858.

The maps were created, writes Adam Gamble, “two years before Abraham Lincoln was elected president, three years before the American Civil War began. The wall map was published at a time when windmills and whaling, saltmaking and steamships were prominent throughout the region. In contrast, the book . . . was printed in the early years of the twenty-first century. This book is actually going to press at a time when a U.S. President, Barack Obama, and his family are vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard, a fact that speaks volumes both about our time and about our place.”

And that’s the beauty of maps and their historic value. This book is a user-friendly version of Walling’s map; like a computer it allows us to zoom in and out, to zero in on a certain image and enjoy it up close, with clarity and precision. And for those with an aversion to the shield-like quality of a computer screen, it allows one to hold and touch and feel a physical image of the world the way it was back then. As a new version of old, digitized and hardbound, it has something for everyone.