Exploring history online with interactive maps

*Note* This blog is best viewed with Google Chrome. Last updated 12/30/17

As I’ve searched public web domains that contain historical databases of information the past few years for research, I’ve noticed a concerted effort with many of these domains to make the ‘hunt’ for historical information easier to obtain. Online map technology has made browsing for historical points of interest an enjoyable experience by allowing the user to quickly point and click through vast amounts of information and to tailor this information to one’s own needs. For example, I have become very enamored with The Living New Deal website based at the University of California, Berkeley whose mission is to seek out and preserve the myriad of projects that fell under Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal Acts of the 1930s. The New Deal programs were FDR’s attempt at getting Americans back to work and the country’s economy functioning again following the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and subsequent economic turmoil. The most exciting aspect of this website is its interactive map of the United States which contains a constantly-updating screen of red dots that each represent a New Deal project that when clicked on, will provide a quick history of that project. It’s very easy to quickly zoom into a particular region or state and view New Deal-era projects that may exist in your neck of the woods.

As many readers know, a great resource for historical data is the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) which is part of the National Park Service. Their website offers a growing database of historical sites that have been officially nominated and approved in the National Register. Just this past spring, the NPS rolled out their new, online interactive map containing every NRHP listing (as a yellow dot) throughout the United States. Visitors can quickly zoom into their region or state and view the many historical sites that have been officially registered. Select the yellow dot of a particular listing and a popup window will let you download the PDF datasheet of that listing. See the NRHP screenshot of the map below.


Another website hosting a wealth of historic information is Oregon Encyclopedia which also contains a really nice interactive map of the Pacific Northwest containing blue dots representing historical sites of interest along with articles that readers can enjoy and learn a little more about the history of the Beaver State (see screenshot below).


Yet another great website for NW historians is the Oregon Historic Sites Database. This website includes a pop-out window of an interactive map which will list historic sites from the National Register of Historic Places as well as sites listed in local databases.  It is surprising what history you may find when perusing a particular town on the map. For example, I was able to zoom into the town of Bonanza, OR on the map and see that there were three former jails listed for the town that don’t appear in any other database online. See the map for yourself (screenshot below).


The map below represents all the official Oregon Historical Markers throughout Oregon known as ‘Beaver Boards’ because of the painted silhouettes of the state animal found on these wooden markers.  The wagon wheel icons represent Oregon Trail Interpretive Sites. Check out the Oregon Travel Experience website and their markers.

OR-historical markers map

The Oregon Heritage Tree Program is a website within the Oregon Travel Experience domain that promotes and preserves historic trees throughout the state. They also have an interactive map that you may visit and discover official Oregon heritage trees that usually contain a plaque nearby that highlight their history (see map image below).

Tree map

The Southern Oregon Historical Society website has created TWO interactive maps devoted to historical markers it has placed over the years .  One map highlights the metal ‘T’ markers that were placed at specific points along the historic Applegate Trail as well as other notable historic sites throughout Jackson County. Another online map showcases additional historical markers that exist throughout Jackson County and dedicated by various historical societies over the years (see map image below).

Jackson Co. markers

Interested in locating all the historic military forts that existed throughout Oregon during the pioneer days? Look no further than fortwiki.com which contains a map of Oregon listing all fort locations (see map image below).


If you enjoy traveling on America’s roads and highways you may be particularly interested in visiting the Lincoln Highway website devoted to the preservation of this historical roadway, the first highway to be built from the East Coast to the West Coast in 1913. Amazingly, there are still remnants of the original highway that survive today. A really neat interactive map of the Lincoln Highway shows viewers the evolving sections (reroutes and realignments) of the highway over the years from state to state (see screenshot below).


I’m sure there are other historic websites containing interactive maps for the Pacific Northwest but I’ve listed a few of them here to give readers an idea of just how far technology has come to enable fans of history to quickly browse historical sites from the convenience of their home computer. If anyone has a website they’d like to share, please message me and I’ll be happy to update this blog! douglass.halvorsen@gmail.com



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