Google Maps have been my constant companion since they were introduced back in the stone ages (okay, a few years ago). I can’t believe I ever did research without them, and I seriously pity the historians who came before me who didn’t have this kind of tool at their disposal.
I should mention that I’ve been a map fiend from way back, and have always used them extensively… but! The satellite pictures on Google Maps (and Google Earth) truly help me understand the geographical context of what I’m researching.
A snapshot of Spanish Bluff, the place where the Custis/Freeman Expedition was halted by Spanish troops in the early part of the 19th century.
History cannot exist without a grasp of the geography where events took place. The location, time, and space are all important factors in understanding why and how things happened. Sometimes, it’s not the easiest thing to picture… landscapes change, after all.
Let’s take at a photo I found on the Texas & Pacific Railway Historical Archive website:
Denison, where this photo was taken, doesn’t look at all like it did back in its railroading hey-day. So I checked the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps to make sure that I am seeing the intersection of tracks correctly, as it seems the T&P tracks are passing underneath the MKT tracks:
Using descriptions from the T&P site (behind Crockett and Hull Streets) and discerning the railroad bed from up in the air, I found the disused right-of-way on Google Maps. I made sure it was the right one when I traced it back to Bells.
And, if you look closer, you can even spot a section of the stone wall from the old tunnel:
Which is what I photographed when I visited Denison the other day:
Looking at the photograph and the current condition of where the railroad used to be gives me a sense of how much Denison has changed over the years.
Then, there’s the question I had about something I saw from the air in Sherman, between Mulberry and Pacific Streets (south/north) and Willow and Lee Streets (west/east):
It looked industrial (that wasn’t too far-fetched) so I decided to see what I could from old maps. First, I checked out the Bird’s eye map:
And then checked the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map:
So, the bases I’m seeing are peanut and cotton oil tanks. Not earth-shattering, but at least I know what I’m looking at when I check out the ruins.
Another way to do this is to check city directories from the time periods, but since I don’t have them handy, I’ll use the maps to figure things out.
This kind of research is what goes on all the time inside museums, archives, libraries, bored people’s laptops at Starbucks, etc. Hey, it’s something to do!