by Doug Prince
Maps of the Past
Topographical maps: You'll find an old, tattered one tacked up in nearly every camp in New Hampshire. These old maps, showing roads that now are closed, buildings that have since burned to the ground, mills and railroads long forgotten, are geographical snapshots from another era.
Now you can find New England maps spanning a period of some 60 years through the university's Dimond Library Web site: http://docs.unh.edu/nhtopos/nhtopos.htm. The Historic USGS Maps of New England Archive contains 1,263 topographical maps, covering all of New England from the 1890s to the 1950s.
The archive project began two years ago when Christopher Marshall, a railroad history enthusiast from Amherst who had started scanning old maps at local libraries to find locations of abandoned rail lines, came to Dimond Library to check its extensive paper map collection. "Historic USGS maps are not readily available," says Meredith Ricker, data center coordinator in the library's Government Documents Department. "Many libraries have a few, but until now, no one had a complete collection."
The maps were scanned in quarters, and the images were linked by geographical coordinates. The images have been reduced from 14 megabytes to about 1.5 megabytes each, so home computer users can download them using a modem.
Ricker says the Web site draws an average of 7,000 visits a month from people as diverse as genealogists looking for old graveyards and environmental historians researching the former uses of a property. But first, she says, people look for the map of their neighborhood or hometown. "Everyone wants to see if their house is on the map."
--Michelle Gregoire '99
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