Snapshots of Progress

November 13, 2014

Rochester, New York is a fascinating city with a fascinating past. I believe it rivals any large metropolitan center in the captivating events that shaped what it is today. I love learning as much as I can about it.

Plat Map from Library of Congress
One of my favorite things to do is to look at old maps and to try to imagine living in the time in which it was drawn. A great resource for this can be found at the Central Library downtown. Plat maps are available for many areas around the city. They are also available through the Library of Congress.

These maps typically contain the names of the land owners before most plots were carved up for various uses. It's fascinating to look through those and find names you're quite familiar with. Many have become street names, names of schools, neighborhoods, etc.

They also tell the story of what things used to be. For example, before Marketplace was a mall it was an airport. Before it was 490 it was a subway/trolley line. Before that it was a canal!

I highly recommend spending some time looking through these maps and find your house, your place of employment, your old high school, and look around it. See what's changed. See what's stayed the same!

The Plat maps only take us to a certain point in time. Why is that? My guess is photography. Specifically aerial photography. We continued to make maps, but they lost the survey types of info you could find in the Plat maps. Now it was more focused on the streets and boundaries.

I'm lucky enough to work for a company that helped to pioneer aerial photography. We have images that were taken with the U2 spy plane, as well as images captured with kite cameras. Yes, a camera on a kite!

My favorite photo on any wall of any building that I have ever been to is one that was taken using KODAK aerial film. The poster sized photo print is from an aerial image larger than my head. The subject is 1960's Rochester.

Rochester, NY circa 1965

Notice any cool features? Notice how the outer loop is not complete? Nor is 490 going through downtown. 390 North stops at Ridge Road. Have you counted the airports? Is your house there? Is your neighborhood even there? Care to go for a ride through the real Can of Worms?

Rochester, NY circa 1965
Can of Worms
Rochester, NY circa 1965
Two airports

These days we just hop on Google Maps and enjoy a beautiful color satellite image of just about any place on earth. We can actually experience what can be seen from almost every street using their amazing Street View capability. You can actually experience walking on the floor of the Erie Canal aqueduct downtown!



All this serves to provide me with a sense of place, past, present, and future. I'm continually fascinated with why things are the way they are and the stories they have to tell. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

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