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Seattle 1894 Story Map: A GIS Project

YouTube: A video tour of Seattle in 1894 (with buildings) Courtesy Lorn Fant.

At CHHS, we love seeing new faces and hearing their origin stories and special interests. We're all in this together! At society meetings, people may bring in special artifacts or updates on relevant projects they've completed or worked on (sometimes for the CHHS group or as passion projects or work assignments), a bit of show-and-tell is part of the fun of attending society meetings. In September, a new attendee Lorn Fant brought in a topographical map of Seattle from 1894 to help illustrate a fantastically intricate project he created on ARCGIS including interactive maps, historic views, and location mapping technology. CHHS looks forward to collaborating with him on this project in the near future. Read below to learn more about it and Lorn's passion for historic cartography.

Lorn Fant

I am the son of two career teachers. Consequently, our summers were spent traveling to historic places. I am a Navy veteran whose favorite duty was maintaining the chart (map) library. Before my service, I had started working on a degree in Computer Science. I quickly discovered that it was not a line of work for which I had much passion. I left school to join a start-up company producing disk drives for the early Atari and Apple computers. That was it, I was infected with the start-up disease. For the twenty years following my service, I worked for a number of start-ups in several different industries. Including several years of self-employed software consulting and development. Usually, I worked as a bridge between the I.T. department, administration, customer service and sales. In 2012 I had the opportunity to return to school to pursue an Associates of Applied Science in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) through a grant program offered by the Veterans Administration. During my studies, I became fascinated with the use of GIS in the pursuit of history. A melding of two things I love. I work a low-level job processing orders for a gift and accessories web-retailer. It pays the bills and allows me a lot of time to develop history projects in GIS.

Seattle 1894: A GIS Project

I served an internship with the Four Creeks Unincorporated Area Council who wanted to develop some maps showing historic uses of the land and development over time. It was during this time that I discovered a wealth of digitized topographic maps produced by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), of the entire Puget Sound area, in the 1890s. I developed methods and techniques to extract from these images of maps geographical data for use in a GIS. One of the USGS topo maps that I found was of Seattle in 1893 (USGS 1:62500-scale Quadrangle for Seattle, WA 1894) The actual surveying was done in 1893 with the map being published in 1894. This map showed Seattle's landscape prior to most of the regrades. Denny Hill was there in all its splendor. I decided that I want to re-create this map in a way that it could be interactively explored and searched. It was, still is, a monumental task.

I recreated the terrain from the contour lines on the map. I then layered this terrain (a DEM -Digital Elevation Model) on top of a modern basemap of Seattle. This allows locations to be searched with current street addresses and place names. Lastly, I draped the USGS map on top of this terrain and published it to the web. The map can be explored like you are flying around. Take in views from ground level. Find what existed in 1893 using a modern street address. And many other things. The buildings shown on this map are just cartographic representations of buildings. They are not accurate as to size, shape or even how buildings are situated in a location.

The next phase, which I am currently working on, was to put the 1893 buildings on the map. We are fortunate to have Sanborn Insurance Maps of Seattle from this time. The Sanborn Insurance Map Company produced detailed maps for insurance companies to determine risk when insuring a property. They show in great detail the size, shape, and construction of buildings as well as their use. At this point, I have only the most basic information about the buildings incorporated into the map: size, shape, height, location, as well as some use. Yet you can get an idea of the mass of a building or how it related to the surrounding structures. Another phase of the project will add more information about the building's construction, dates, tenants, and uses. A further phase will be to more accurately represent the building's architecture, appearance. Unfortunately, at this time searching this presentation with modern addresses and place names is not possible. But that is on the slate of things to achieve.

The last map presented here (link provided below) is a comparison of the terrain as it existed in 1893 and 2010. The 1893 terrain is the terrain I created from the USGS map. The 2010 terrain was created from LIDAR data obtained from the Puget Sound LIDAR Consortium. In short, LIDAR is like radar but uses laser light. It can present highly detailed, and precisely accurate, models of the land. The models I present are stripped of all built and natural environments. It shows only the land-form. Consequently, it can be a little tough to know where you are looking unless you know this landscape well. I have left one modern artifact. The Space Needle appears as a tall wedge on the 2010 layer. I find that the best way to experience this map is to turn the layers on and off while zoomed in on a particular location. I think most people would be surprised at how much material was removed in the Jackson Street Regrade. Zoom into the area at the north end of Beacon Hill. Turn layers on and off. Tilt, rotate and again turn layers on and off.

Another phase of the project will be to add information about people onto the maps. Using city directories I'll be able to show where a person lived and/or worked! That's a little ways off in the future.

A few instructions on using these maps:

With a left click and drag you can Pan the map, move it around laterally.

Right-clicking and dragging will rotate and tilt the map.

The wheel on your mouse will zoom in and out.

There are also Tool Icons you can use, click on, to do these same things. They appear in the upper or lower left of the screen.

Along the bottom, on two of the maps, are thumbnails of preset views of Points of Interest. Click on the thumbnail to be taken to that view. At the extreme left end of this thumbnail bar is a Play button. Clicking on that will give you an animated tour of all the preset views. This can also be activated, or paused, with the Spacebar.

The Seattle 1894 map is the only map that can be searched using modern addresses and place names (i.e. Space Needle, Seattle Central College, etc.) To do this click on the Magnifying Glass icon in the upper right. A search box will open where you can type in an address or place name. As you type a list of possibilities will appear below the box. Click on one of those or complete typing in your search term and hit Return. The map will pan, zoom and tilt until it is looking straight down on your location. Be sure to zoom and tilt to get a better perspective.

On the Seattle 1894 with Buildings map, you can click on the buildings to get information about the building. This will appear on the right side of the screen. At this juncture, it is only the most basic information as well as some technical data. Eventually, this will show photos, links and a variety of other information about the building. Like who lived or worked there!

Links to the Interactive Maps:

Seattle 1894

Seattle 1894 with Buildings

Seattle - Elevation Difference 1894 vs 2010

Youtube Videos of the maps:

12-Minute tour of 1894 Seattle

3-Minute tour of 1894 Seattle with Buildings (embedded above)

If you or your team have a relevant project to share we are all ears (and eyes)! We'd love to know more about your keen varied historic interests and talents. Send us a message and let us know what you're up to and what you'd like to share!

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