Monday, February 22, 2010

Keeping Track of Photos on the Internet

Every time I go searching on the Internet, I find some interesting photos related to the Vasona branch. For example, History Los Gatos has some unique scenes of the railroad tracks through Los Gatos in 1928. They were probably taken by the railroad or city to show whether the crossings had adequate visibility enough to avoid car/train collisions. For me, they're create because they give a view of the side of town the historical photos usually don't show. The Elm Street crossing photo here shows the Sterling Lumber Co., tracks leading up to the station, and the team track, along with lots of characteristic clutter and detail such as the fence for the lumber yard, the empty ground near the tracks, and the nice stack of ties.

This picture isn't a new find for me; I know I've seen it before, but I hadn't taken the time to download and save it. Normally, I sketch out a town in my town notebook, and then annotate my map sketch with the location of each photo I've found in books. I haven't done this with the Internet photos (though I should.)

Jim Betz once suggested we needed a web site where random people could cite photos they'd found in books, and mark the freight cars, locomotives, or buildings they saw in those photos. I started doing this (see here for the prototype), but for me, the freight cars and locomotives weren't as interesting as the buildings and photo locations on a map.

Luckily, someone already did something similar. Jon Voss's Lookback Maps is an attempt to create a geographical index of historic photos available on-line. It's also an attempt at crowdsourcing - if each of us only enters a few pictures, then the site can be immensely more valuable than if we all kept our own private lists. Jon's interest is San Francisco and many of the photos are local to San Francisco and the Mission, but I've added a bunch of San Jose, Campbell, and Los Gatos photos in so I won't forget about these photos next time.

Do you have favorite photos you've found on museum websites? Are they worth sharing? How about adding them to Lookback Maps?


  1. I really wasn't aware of some of these historic photo databases until I stumbled across your blog; which is awesome.

    While not so much photo-related, I like pouring over old maps and and city plans that never went beyond the map room. One individual has posted a lot of bay area transit and highway plans from over the years. Some were built and some were not. Personally, I'm glad a lot of the highway ones never made it past the map, but it's interesting to look at proposed routings and try to understand the methodology at the time. Here they are:

  2. Glad you liked!

    The old maps are definitely interesting (and helpful for understanding how places have changed.) I'm also a big fan of the freeway plans of the 1960's because I grew up seeing the point where the planning stopped. I remember the stub ends of 280 ended at 4th and Townsend, waiting to roll over the rest of the Embarcadero, or the 280-380 interchange waiting to be finished over the hill to Pacifica, or the grading done to join 680 and 580 between Milpitas and Hayward.

    I'm really happy to see so much historical info available on-line; I remember searching the Berkeley libraries to read about the (cancelled) plans to extend 380 over the hill in the 1980's, and that required a fair amount of searching around in the libraries.