The Mapless Map of Tompkins County, New York

By Jim Rolfe

Mapless MapThe background for my involvement in The Mapless Map project goes all the way back to my childhood. The creator of the pocket-sized Mapless Map book was Robert Eastman (1919-2006),[1] who lived over on Central Chapel Road in Brooktondale and owned Ithaca-based Eastman Advertising Company.[2] His brother Don was my childhood neighbor on Bostwick Road, where I grew up.

I’ve been with the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office for almost 30 years, first in the jail as corrections staff and since 1995 on the road patrol. Back when I started on the road patrol we didn’t have computers with maps loaded onto them the way we do now, and if officers needed to confirm a road location, the original 1990s-era version of Eastman’s Mapless Map was sometimes used. By the early 2000s that edition was getting very out of date, as you can imagine.

In early 2004, I had some medical issues that ultimately required surgery, with a month-long convalescence period where I was literally stuck at home, unable to drive myself anywhere.

With nothing to do, and not a huge fan of daytime TV, I thought I would spend my convalescence on an update of The Mapless Map book. I reached out to Robert Eastman, who gave me his blessings on taking over the project, but he couldn’t otherwise support my updates by giving me his old Microsoft Word files for his original print run. Those had been lost with the passage of time.

Mapless Map PageSo I spent my month reviewing a bunch of different paper maps, going from memory, using a copy of the original version of The Mapless Map as a guide, and recreated the base document from scratch. I expanded from Mr. Eastman’s original focus, which was mainly roads and a few major buildings, to include things like references to various “corners” and many more buildings and locations that I thought might be of interest to potential users. I spent a fair amount of time at The History Center and local historical societies, bugging town historians for input. My ex-wife would get me out of the house and I’d sit in the balcony of Wegmans typing away. I never liked going to the grocery store, but when you’re stuck at home involuntarily for a prolonged period of time, the simple things in life can take on new meaning.

My original version of the project was a limited-edition, law-enforcement-only printing that had a section of cheat sheets and reference pages at the end of the book for police officers. That edition sold pretty well and I had enough positive feedback that shortly afterwards I came out with a general-circulation version that I sold in bulk to various taxi drivers, FedEx drivers, utilities, ambulances, etc. I sold individual copies to the general public through Mayer’s newsstand and smoke shop in downtown Ithaca. I did a handful of annual updates to my original version of the book until 2007.

In 2008 I was deployed with my Army National Guard brigade to Afghanistan. I extended for a second year and came home at the end of 2009. It was a bit of a culture shock for me, coming home. I hadn’t even heard of Twitter while I was overseas, and the smart phone with its built-in maps had come onto the market in large numbers while I was gone. Sales of the Map book tanked.

Over the past five or six years I was pretty sure that the smart phone, tablets, etc. had killed off any interest in updates to the book. I did continue to get the occasional request for an updated version, but I wasn’t sure there was adequate interest to support the costs of another print run and the associated work that goes into updating the book. The closure of Mayer’s in 2014[3] cost me my only retail outlet.

Finally, this year, I decided that as the requests had continued to come in, I would consider doing an update. After a decade there have certainly been a lot of road changes, and I’ve spent the last month going over the last edition of the book, making updates, and reaching out to my past bulk purchase customers to gauge their interest in purchasing an updated version of the book. So far there’s been enough of a positive response from past customers that I have continued my efforts to update the book to current conditions. My intentions are to continue working on updates through the 2017 summer construction season, finalize any changes in the fall, and come out with a new book in early 2018.

Jim Rolfe is a life-long resident of Tompkins County. He’s worked for the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office for almost 30 years and has deployed stateside and in Afghanistan as part of the Army National Guard. In February 2015, the Ithaca-Cayuga Kiwanis Club presented Deputy Rolfe and two other sheriff deputies with the Frank G. Hammer Officer of the Month Award for their role in the investigation and arrest of a murder and robbery suspect.



[1] “Obituary: Robert Eastman,” Ithaca Journal, March 22, 2006,

[2] Tompkins County Clerk’s Office, Deed Book 877, Page 256, Brampton to Eastman, June 19, 2000.

[3] Bill Chaisson, “Mayer’s Closing After 117 Years of Business in Ithaca,” Ithaca Times, May 8, 2014,

One thought on “The Mapless Map of Tompkins County, New York

  1. Sounds great! I haven’t seen an original or your past updated versions, but i would buy a new one if you’re doing them. Also consider: If you have all the text and images, It sounds like something that could easily become an App. Rather than losing sales to the technology age, you could roll with the changes and publish the new one FOR that technology age. If you need help with doing so, i’m certain there are folks that could help.

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