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Guide to Historical Maps in the Special Collections and Archives Research Center

A guide to the types and uses of historical maps in SCARC's collections

Maps and Changes to the Environment

A black and white image of men working in a creek. In addition to oral traditions, historical maps are a vital source of historical spatial information. When combined with more recent data, such as GIS data, historical maps such as topographs, aerials, and surveys can help researchers chart the environmental history of a location. Historical maps have “proven valuable for the analysis of land use / cover changes, coastal features, settlement processes, agricultural histories, soil degradation, salt marsh losses, and river meanders…[and] can help to verify, concretize, or dismantle narratives about past environmental changes and political events.”

A wide variety of map types can assist researchers in making arguments about environmental changes over time. For example, by reviewing aerials taken of the same area in or around Corvallis over a span of several decades, a researcher could chart the transition from agricultural to residential use, or perhaps even from one kind of crop to another (depending on the ratio of the aerials being used). As another example, by using the Oregon Timber Tax Maps and/or the Forest Type Maps of Oregon in our holdings, a College of Forestry student could determine the re- or deforestation of a specific track of land, and the changes, if any, in the types of forest cover across that piece of land.


Aerial Photographs of Benton, Lincoln, Linn, Marion and Polk Counties, 1936-1979
This collection is comprised of aerial photographs taken by or under contract with the United States Department of Agriculture from 1936 to 1979 and includes images of 5 counties in western Oregon: Benton, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, and Polk. This collection includes multiple sets of photographs (arranged chronologically by year) for each county. Each set is comprised of two components: photo mosaics (Series 1) and photo tiles (Series 2-6). The mosaics, which serve as indices for the photo tiles, are representations of each county (typically one quadrant of the county per sheet) made by arranging reproductions of the photo tiles in geographic order. The mosaics include serial numbers for each tile and are annotated to indicate which tiles are held in the collection. The photo tiles are largescale photographs of quadrangles within each county. Because the photo tile sets are incomplete, each mosaic includes annotations indicating which photo tiles are present in the collection. Many of the collection's mosaics and photographic tiles include manuscript annotations, markings highlighting geographic features, and alternative numbering schema. This collection is being digitized, and is available online in Oregon Digital.

United State Department of Agriculture Aerial Photographs of Linn, Benton, and Lincoln Counties, 1972-1994

The United States Department of Agriculture Aerial Photographs of Linn, Benton, and Lincoln Counties, Oregon, consist of aerial photographs assembled and used by the USDA field office in Tangent, Oregon for soil conservation and other purposes. The photographs were made by the National Aerial Photography Program. For 1994, the collection includes detailed index maps and large (24x24 inch prints) as well as smaller (10x10 inch) photo proofs. Index maps are also available for the 1990 and 1985 photographs. The 1985 images only include Lincoln County. For all other years, there are no indexes available and all of the images are 9x9 inch or 10x10 inch photo proofs. However, a small subset of the 1972 images have descriptions of the locations depicted in the photographs and the collection includes one 24x24 inch print of the 1972 flights. The 1994 images include a few images of neighboring Lane, Marion, and Polk Counties near the boundaries with Benton, Lincoln, and Linn Counties.

Marys Peak Area Aerial Photographs, 1962
The Marys Peak Area Aerial Photographs consist of photographic prints (9x9 and 10x10 inches) made by the U.S. Forest Service in June-September 1962. The photographs are part of the Forest Service's Project EIJ (FS-EIJ) and depict Marys Peak and other areas in the Oregon Coast Range that are part of the Siuslaw National Forest. Many of the images include logging roads and clearcuts. The collection also includes an index map for the images of Marys Peak; some of the images are annotated with township and range.

McDonald Forest Aerial Photographs, 1962
The McDonald Forest Aerial Photographs consist of photographic prints (9x9 inches) made by Western Aerial Contractors, Inc. (WAC Corp.) of Eugene, Oregon, on July 23, 1962. The photographs depict the forest cover within the McDonald Forest as well as areas immediately surrounding the forest. The photographs are at an approximate scale 1:12,000 and were made in 7 north-south flight lines. An index map showing the flight lines and locations of images is part of the collection.

Siuslaw National Forest Aerial Photographs, 1972-1974
The Siuslaw National Forest Aerial Photographs consist of photographic prints (9x9 inches) made by the U.S. Forest Service in the summers of 1972 and 1974. The photographs depict the southern half of the Siuslaw National Forest lands from Waldport to Coos Bay and from the Oregon coast to the east slope of the Coast Range. The images include forests, clearcuts and logged areas, and logging roads as well as rivers and streams through the Oregon Coast Range and the Oregon Dunes near Florence and Reedsport. The bulk of the collection (976 prints) consists of photographs made in August 1972. These images are arranged by flight line (28 lines total), and are at a scale of 1:15,840. The remainder of the collection (143 prints) consists of photographs made on flight 41041 in July 1974. These are at a scale of 1:70,000. Many of the 1974 prints are heavily annotated.

Umatilla National Forest Aerial Photographs, 1939
The Umatilla National Forest Aerial Photographs consist of several (8) aerial photographs from the BTU project made by the U.S. Forest Service in May 1939, as well as a completed mosaic photo index (5 sheets) of the BTU project aerial photographs. The photographs depict forested areas as well as areas that may have been cultivated or used as rangeland. The photographs are annotated with section numbers and other codes that may indicate soil type. A few notations indicate crops under cultivation. These annotations may have been added by the Agricultural Adjustment Administration. Most of the photographs are of the area northeast of Ukiah near Owens Butte. The photographs are 21x25 inches, with a scale of 1 inch = 660 feet (1:7920).

Camp Adair, Oregon, Maps and Aerial Photographs, 1942-1973
The Camp Adair, Oregon, Maps and Aerial Photographs collection includes topographic maps, orthophotographs, and other maps and images documenting Camp Adair, which was located north of Corvallis, Oregon. Most of the materials in the collection were prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the bulk are from the war years of 1942-1944. The maps offer details on buildings in the cantonment area; artillery ranges; training courses; roads, ditches and culverts; and general land features. Several items from Folder 1 have been digitized and are available upon request.

Satellite Images and Aerial Photographs of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, 1972-1982
The Satellite Images and Aerial Photographs of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest include a variety of satellite images and aerial photographs depicting Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and California. Most of the images are at a small scale (1:1,000,000) and depict large areas. Images in the collection were prepared by NASA from Landsat data and by the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Region and the Environmental Remote Sensing Applications Laboratory (ERSAL) at Oregon State University. A radar mosaic of western Oregon produced by Motorola Aerial Remote Sensing, Inc. is available in the collection. The images depict vegetation cover, water bodies, physical land features, and topography. Of particular note is an aerial photograph of Mt. St. Helens and Spirit Lake taken in 1972, several years before the catastrophic 1980 eruption.

Wetlands Inventory and Survey Maps, circa 1976 - 1990
The Wetlands Inventory and Survey Maps document the National Wetlands Inventory as conducted in the western United States and the central Willamette Valley and Pacific Coast in Oregon. The collection includes two atlases. One atlas depicts the extent of state and local wetlands surveys that had been conducted in 1965-1975. The second atlas shows the types and coverage of aerial photography available for conducting wetlands surveys and inventories. Drafts of wetlands inventory maps for the area from the central Willamette Valley to the coast comprise about half of the collection. These maps document the type and extent of coastal and inland wetlands following the Cowardin Classification System developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1979. The Cowardin system is a hierarchical classification consisting of the major wetlands classes of marine, estuarine, riverine, lacustrine, and palustrine. Details on water flow, substrate, vegetation, flooding, and salinity define subclassifications within the major classes. The maps were prepared primarily by stereoscopic analysis of high-altitude aerial photographs; wetlands were identified based on vegetation, visible hydrology, and geography. Most of the maps in Series 2, National Wetlands Inventory Maps, are 1:24,000 U.S. Geological Survey topographic quadrangles (Folder 2).

Rangeland Resources Department Maps, 1936-1967
The Rangeland Resources Department Maps consist of materials created and assembled by Rangeland Resources faculty and alumni documenting range type surveys and studies in the Lower Powder River basin, Vale District, and Squaw Butte Experimental Range in eastern Oregon. The collection includes detailed range type maps of the Keating Soil Conservation District on the Lower Powder River in Baker County; these maps also include a land ownership overlay and tabulated acreages of different range types, cultivated land, and pasture as well as grazing capacity. These were prepared by E. William (Bill) Anderson of the Soil Conservation Service. One map of range types in the Vale District in eastern Oregon is also part of the collection. Materials created for range studies conducted in the 1930s and 1960s of the Squaw Butte Experiment Range in southeastern Oregon comprise a portion of the collection. Folder 4 includes topographic maps of Squaw Butte Ranch prepared by the U.S. Geological survey (circa 1960).

Oregon Timber Tax Maps, 1950-1996
The Oregon Timber Tax Maps consist of more than 4,000 maps and related documents detailing appraisal information for forest taxes. The collection includes annotated township maps, data sheets on timber volume, as well as many other pieces of information regarding the valuation of timbered lands in Oregon during the 1950s-1970s.

Plans and Profiles of Oregon Rivers, 1923-1971
The Plans and Profiles of Oregon Rivers consist of maps prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey documenting surveys of rivers and streams. The bulk of the collection (181 sheets) is comprised of river plans and profiles; the remainder of the collection (34 sheets) is dam site and reservoir plans. The plans depict topography adjacent to the river or stream, typically to an elevation high enough above the water surface to include the area of proposed reservoir sites, possible canals or conduits, or other structures related to water utilization. The profiles depict the elevation of the stream surface over a given reach of the waterway. The maps include general location maps and depict notable features such as roads, railroads, and landmarks. Some of the dam site and reservoir plans include topographic cross sections of the stream or river at the dam site. Information about the area and capacity of the reservoir are also included on many of these sheets. The collection documents primarily rivers in Oregon; however, rivers and streams in bordering regions of Washington, Idaho, and California that are part of the Columbia, Snake, or Klamath drainages are also part of the collection. Maps of the major tributaries of the Willamette River, including the North and South Santiam and McKenzie Rivers are included. Many coastal rivers, such as the Nehalem, Nestucca, Siletz, Siuslaw, Trask, Umpqua, and Wilson Rivers are also depicted in the collection.

Forest Type Maps of Oregon, circa. 1900-1995
The Forest Type Maps of Oregon document forest composition at the county, region, and statewide level in Oregon from 1900 to the mid-1950s. The U.S. Geological Survey prepared the earliest maps at the beginning of the 20th century; the Pacific Northwest Forest Experiment Station and the Pacific Northwest Region of the U.S. Forest Services prepared the forest type maps for the 1930s-1950s. The maps depict the type and quality of timber as well as areas of non-forested or de-forested land. Most of the maps in this collection were prepared in the 1930s-1950s for the Forest Service's Forest Inventory and Analysis Program and other programs focusing on large-scale forest health. The maps depict stand types by species composition, tree diameter, and age as well as noting non-forested lands and recently harvested areas. In addition to this primary information the maps also show the locations of main road systems, county and state boundaries, municipalities, rivers and streams, railroad lines, and note boundaries of townships and ranges.

Donald B. Zobel Collection of Historic Forestry and Vegetation Maps, 1914-1989
The Donald B. Zobel Collection of Historic Forestry and Vegetation Maps consists of maps assembled, annotated, or created by Zobel for his research and teaching in forest ecology and botany. Some of the maps were assembled by William W. Chilcote, his students, and other Botany Department faculty. Most of the maps are of Oregon, including McDonald Forest and the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, and northern California. However, the collection includes maps of forest types in midwestern states, a vegetation map of North America, and map of initial damage from the May 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens, Washington. The primary topics addressed by the maps are forest types, forest and vegetation cover, timber stands, soils and erosion.  The collection also includes general purpose forest, recreation, and topographic maps. Of particular note are a map of the of road system on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation (1962); a topographic map of the Three Sisters, Oregon, prepared by Edwin T. Hodge (1925); and a 1914 maps of the state of Oregon published by the Oregon State Board of Forestry. A map of the vegetation of North America prepared by John W. Harshberger in the 1910s is also included.

McDonald Forest and Peavy Arboretum Maps, 1934-1993
The McDonald Forest and Peavy Arboretum Maps consist primarily of detailed maps of the Arboretum and forest prepared from the mid-1930s through the early 1940s. The maps document topography, forest site and timber types, and arboretum plantings. The maps depict the forest and arboretum boundaries, roads, streams and lakes, and structures. Of special note are maps depicting land owners in the area as of 1937. Most of the maps are quite detailed; multiple copies of some maps are available. The collection includes one detailed map produced on a pen plotter in 1993 depicting the topography of two tracts in the Soap Creek Valley.

Oregon Department of Forestry Maps, 1914-1985
The Oregon Department of Forestry Maps consist primarily of maps generated in the 1940s-1970s to support the Department's role in fire protection for private, state, and federal forests in Oregon. The maps delineate the boundaries of Forest Protection Districts and their component units throughout the state. The maps provide detailed information about roads surrounding and in the forest landscape, noting the condition of highways, state roads, forest roads, and trails. The maps also depict landscape features such as lakes, streams, springs, summits with elevations, and mines or quarries. Most of the maps in the collection are at 1:125,000 scale. Of special note in the collection are two copies of a color Map of the State of Oregon prepared in 1914 that depicts areas with merchantable timber as well as those that have been cut-over or burned and whether or not they are being re-stocked.

Bureau of Land Management Maps of Oregon, 1944-1993
The Bureau of Land Management Maps of Oregon consist of maps published for use by the public as a guide for outdoor recreation as well as maps prepared for management and oversight of forest lands under the purview of the Bureau. The maps depict the boundaries of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in Oregon, master units (primarily in western Oregon), and the extent of national forests. The master unit maps show the locations of O&C Lands (Oregon and California Railroad Revested Lands), which are managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The maps in the collection range in scale from 1:125,000 to 1:1,000,000 and depict towns and cities, highways and major road systems, and major physiographic features. Some of the maps in the Master Unit Maps series (Series 1, Folder 1) are annotated with the allowable quantity to be harvested and the estimated merchantable volume. The maps depict the location of O&C lands and timber.

National Forests in Oregon Maps, 1910-1989
The National Forests in Oregon Maps consists of maps of national forests in Oregon prepared by the U.S. Forest Service. The collection includes maps of the entire forests, regional maps depicting all the forests in Oregon, some Ranger District maps, and maps of wilderness areas and the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. Several of the forests extend into California or Washington. The maps provide details such as location, condition, and road numbers for forest roads, campsites and recreational sites, Ranger and lookout stations, key land features, streams, towns in the surrounding vicinity, and main highways in the regions, as well as the National Forests' boundaries. The maps also have the legal townships, ranges and sections, corresponding to the Public Land Survey System.

Crater Lake National Park Maps, 1903-1962
The Crater Lake National Park Maps consist of topographic, shaded relief, and bathymetric maps of Crater Lake, Oregon, and vicinity; most of the maps were prepared and published by the U.S. Geological Survey. The bulk of the maps are topographic maps at 1:62,500 scale. These include an early series of maps issued in 1903, 1911, 1925, and 1931 as well as a later series issued in 1946 and 1956. In addition to topographic contours, the maps depict streams, roads, trails, boat landings, Ranger stations, and campgrounds in the vicinity. The earliest topographic maps reference the 1886 survey and depth soundings conducted by Mark B. Kerr for the U.S. Geological Survey.

A bathymetric map of Crater Lake prepared in the early 1960s by John V. Byrne is also part of the collection (Folder-item 1.4). This large scale map (3 in = 0.5 mile) depicts the lake depths with contour intervals of 10 fathoms. This map may have been prepared for the Lunar Geological Field Conference in Bend, Oregon in 1965 and published with the conference guidebook.