03 July 2020

Taking visitors back in time with the use of ArcGIS StoryMaps

Written by: Nohemi Colin

During the last two weeks, I’ve had an awesome time researching property boundaries of the Longfellow House-Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site.

The park has been part of the National Park Service since 1972 and includes lavish gardens and the historic Vassall-Craigie-Longfellow House, built in 1759. My first project focuses on the land use and development over the last two centuries using ArcGIS StoryMaps. ArcGIS StoryMaps is a web-based application that allows people to publish and share stories in an interactive way that combines both maps and narratives, which is perfect for following the timeline of events and history associated with the house.

The house is mostly known for playing an important role in American history, serving as George Washington's headquarters during the Siege of Boston and home to the famous poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, but there’s so much more to its story! After using the Cultural Landscape Report (CLR) and Building Old Cambridge to create the narrative, I began searching well-documented estate maps and photographs from the CLR and deed records from Massachusetts Land Records that have recorded the property boundaries as it changed dramatically over the course of its occupancy. I’ve used this information to create outlines of the property boundaries layered over today’s map, to give users a better understanding of how huge the estate once was. One thing to note is that as the surrounding neighborhood changed over time, from rural to suburban, so did the property size and land use. Records show the property has evolved from a colonial farm estate, to a country house, when at its largest was 135 acres, to the 1.98 acres National Historic Site it is today. After I found maps that showed those changes, I cross referenced them with public deeds and the CLR and was then able to map the boundaries on the National Park Service ArcGIS Online.

ArcGIS StoryMap has so many awesome tools and features to add to stories. So, I thought it would be great for users to also get an idea of what the surrounding land looked like throughout the years, while still learning about the house. I began to look through hundreds of maps in the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center-Digital Collections to find sketches or printed maps of what Cambridge looked like in the 1700 and 1800s. I then included them in the story map using the StoryMap Swipe template enabling users to swipe and compare older maps that are layered right on top of today’s map! I’ve also added a feature that allows local users to search their address and see if their home is located within what once was the estate boundaries. Both features have added to the amazing interactive experience users will get when learning through StoryMaps.

Agency: National Park Service

Program: Latino Heritage Internship Program (LHIP)

Location: Longfellow House

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