USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer

This has to be one of the best tools I have seen for finding old maps. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) recently launched a GIS-based website that allows viewers access to more than 178,000 USGS maps, dating back to 1884. The maps can be searched by location by starting with current maps. If you like old maps as much as I do, you will want to check this out.

Click on the image to view a larger map of Los Angeles

I first looked at the online map for the place where I spend summers in Massachusetts. I was able to find the exact location. I then clicked on the location and a list of old maps appeared. I selected the oldest, a map from 1889. The 1889 map was downloaded to my computer as a PDF file within a few seconds. Clicking on the newly-downloaded file resulted in the entire map being displayed in my PDF viewer software.

I zoomed in and in and was soon able to see a very detailed map of my neighborhood as it existed in 1889.

The available maps will vary. The map I looked at, a USGS map created in 1889, did not show houses. (My house wasn’t built until many years later.) However, it was interesting to see the nearby railroad tracks, a nearby pond, and several streams haven’t moved in the last 125 years. However, the name of the railroad has changed. It was shown on the map as the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad. A quick search on Wikipedia shows that the railroad line, founded by J.P. Morgan, went bankrupt in 1935. That was news to me! Other railroads purchased bits and pieces of track from the bankruptcy court and the railroad line is still in operation today by another railroad company but it only carries freight.

The USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer may be found at http://historicalmaps.arcgis.com/usgs. An article at http://goo.gl/PMzI74 provides more information about the project.

My thanks to newsletter reader Brent Tarter for telling me about this new online resource.

3 Comments

“Go to a location to the location you want to explore, then Click on a place to see its historical maps. Click timeline maps to view in main window.” I did this and no map of the area appeared. I clicked the timeline maps and they were not of the area that I selected. How do I use this website?

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This is a fantastic resource! My family has had so much fun using it. The transparency feature is very helpful. I love how some of the maps indicate houses, barns, and other structures – very useful for genealogy. I’m amazed at how little some roads have changed in over a century… and also at how much urban sprawl can take place in a mere decade! Thanks so much for sharing this link.

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