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Mapping History

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From Homesteads to the 21st Century

In early 2009, ESRI provided a grant to the Granite Falls Historical Museum for ArcGIS 9.0 (a software mapping product), based on the museum's intent to create maps showing property ownership over time that could be shared among multiple organizations. 

With the cooperation of several organizations (See Participating Organizations to the right) with large scanners, the Museum digitized many maps (typically township maps, showing about 36 square miles) and cleaned up the images. With lots of student intern manpower (Granite Falls High School student Kyle Rood), the all-volunteer team used the geo-referencing capabilities of ArcMap to accurately overlay multiple vintages of hand-drawn hard copy maps, using modern township, section, and 1/16 section corners as the reference points.

Layer Old Maps to See Changes Over Time

The project team used the “publish” feature of ArcMap to publish and distribute a historical mapping package to 16 museum and genealogical organizations across all of Snohomish County.  Visitors to any of those organizations can now examine the history of any spot in the County, starting with the earliest homesteaders, progressing through a variety of vintage township maps (1910, 1927, 1934, 1940, 1952, 1975), and continuing through current property plats/owners and modern 1 ft resolution aerial photographs.

View the Birth, Growth, or Demise of a Town

Simply by entering a homesteader name or a current property owner name, users can “tune and zoom” to the precise location and view the birth, growth, and sometimes demise of towns, railroads, schools, and businesses over the last one-and-a-half centuries. New maps continue to be submitted, so the project continues, adding maps and sharing across all the participating organizations.

When the County GIS organization saw the initial results, they contributed hundreds of early railroad survey maps they had once digitized, but for which they had never found a real use. With those geo-referenced and added as another map “layer”, users can examine every siding and spur, relating them to the maps of various vintages.

Treasurer Hunters Use Maps

Modern-day “treasure-hunters” come to the Museum to find likely spots to search for artifacts.  They can spot long-forgotten railroad sidings and note the GPS coordinates provided on-screen, before starting out on their trek with their handheld GPS units and metal detectors.


Participating Organizations

  • Alderwood Manor Genealogical Association
  • Monroe Historical Society
  • Index Historical Museum
  • Skykomish Historical Museum
  • Mukilteo Historical Society
  • Stillaguamish Valley Genealogical Society
  • Monte Cristo Preservation Association (MCPA)
  • Stanwood Historical Society
  • United States Forest Service, Darrington Ranger Station
  • Snohomish Historical Society (Charles & Elsie Mann)
  • Sno-Isle Genealogical Society (SIGS)
  • Marysville Historical Society (Walt Bailey)
  • Darrington Historical Society
  • Snohomish County Museum of History
  • Edmonds Historical Society

At other times, the discoveries have been more local, sometimes disappointing, but no less interesting.

Trace Your Family's Land Holdings

A local fellow walked in one day and asked, “Can you confirm that my ancestors homesteaded the property on which the Twin Cities Food plant now sits in Stanwood, WA?”.

While it was clearly a matter of some family pride, our search took a surprising turn.  By turning on the “cities 1910” layer, it was easy to find and zoom in around the city of Stanwood. 

But turning on the homestead layer and searching for his ancestor’s name, Peter Harvey, revealed two homesteads granted to that name, but a mile or more from downtown Stanwood than where the factory is located. 

Zooming in more closely on the downtown map from 1910, we did indeed find a piece of property owned by Peter Harvey (though not a homestead).  Turning on the aerial photographs and using the “swipe” button to peek behind the 1910 city map, it was clear that Peter Harvey owned property in 1910 (albeit not a homestead) that sat precisely on what is now the east end of the factory.  We busted the “homesteaded the factory property” family legend, but certainly found the basis for that story.

Entire County Benefits

Through the generosity of an ESRI grant for ArcGIS to the Granite Falls Historical Museum, all of Snohomish County has taken a leap forward in the preservation of, and access to, a wealth of information embedded in vintage maps. 

For more information, contact Fred Cruger, Granite Falls Historical Museum, .