America's Founding Fathers required that schoolchildren learn the alphabet and geography practically in the same breath because they felt that geographic literacy was crucial in helping the young country form an identity.
Who knew? But, that was one of the gems uncovered by University of Delaware scholar Dr. Martin Brückner as he conducted the scholarly research for his 2006 book, "The Geographic Revolution in Early America: Maps, Literacy, and National Identity."
"Jefferson and Madison were among those who advocated map literacy as a way to bring us together," Brückner said, a UD professor of English and American literature. "America took pride in building unity out of diversity, and maps helped a fledgling nation forge common bonds and foster good citizenship."
Brückner told officials at Winterthur that they should consider an exhibit of early American maps. They said that was a good idea and asked him to be the visiting curator for the exhibit that would be dubbed "Common Destinations: Maps in The American Experience."
On Thursday evening, Winterthur held a private viewing and cocktail reception to finally unveil "Common Destinations." The V.I.P. affair drew about 300 people, Winterthur Communications Director Liz Farrell said.
Brückner was present with his wife, fellow UD English Professor Dr. Kristen Poole.
The concept of geography's tie to national identify even influenced the Founding Fathers when they drafted America's Declaration of Independence from England.
"We're all familiar with that document, right?" Brückner said. "When you look at the signatures, they signed that document geographically, going from North to South."
Again, who knew?
The "Common Destinations" exhibit features more than 100 items from the 18th Century to the 19th Century, including traditional maps and images of maps on such objects as ceramics, playing cards, globes, puzzles, powder horns, handkerchiefs and more.
The exhibit opens to the public on Saturday, April 20 and is scheduled to run until Jan. 5, 2014.
Tom Savage, Winterthur's director of museum affairs, said the exhibit had something for everyone in it.
"A 100-year-old or a 5-year-old can access the information contained in this exhibit," he said. "There's something for all ages.
Among those at the exclusive private viewing on Thursday evening were Winterthur member Ellen Dannaway, of Hockessin, and her daughter, Lindley Dannaway, visiting from Vermont. For the Dannways, Thursday evening was not just about getting a sneak preview of Winterthur's interesting, new exhibit but also about taking in the splendid scenery of Winterthur Country Garden Estates, with its rolling meadows in the midst of Chateau Country.
Winterthur members John and Debby Bradley, of Unionville, Pa., also were enjoying the splendid scenery and the exhibit.
Page 2 of 2 - "We love it," said Debby Bradley, whose That's Hats boutique is just over the border in Chadds Ford, Pa. "It's a great place to meet people."