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



Oregon Pacific Highway 1913-1926

I love history. I have recently became fascinated with the historic basalt mileposts in Portland, OR that dot Base Line Road (now known as Stark Street) and other original roads leading north, south and possible west of Portland, OR. I took a trip to Portland this past December exclusively to locate the few milestones that still exist on Stark Street. I gained much knowledge about these milestones from another blogger here. Jeff has spent much time researching these historic milestones that were most likely placed in the 1870s. Of the 15 mileposts that were monumented, starting at the Multonomah County Courthouse in downtown Portland and heading east on Base Line Rd (Stark Street), only nine have survived. To see these particular milestones in person and to know that they’ve survived for over 150 years and in a metropolitan area like Portland is truly mind boggling. Why were these milestones placed to begin with you might ask? In the 1870s the only course for travel was on horseback and/or pulling a wagon or stagecoach. Travel was much slower then and so traveling a few miles in a day was a much bigger task. These milestones helped travelers gauge distance to or from Portland. Milestones have a long history going back to Roman times.

The milestones in Portland got me to start thinking about other milestones that may exist throughout Oregon and I started doing a little research online. After a few minutes of Googling milestones in Oregon I came across a nice online brochure from a local historical society in Hugo, OR that references concrete mileposts (another name they are called) that were placed along the original Pacific Highway before what eventually became US 99 in 1927 and then later became the Interstate-5 as we know today.

Milepost 289

The Pacific Highway existed from 1913-1926.  It was known at the time as Pacific Highway No. 1 and is displayed on old road maps as ‘1’.  When completed in 1923 as a paved road, it was longest continuous stretch of paved road in the world at the time and the first paved highway west of the Mississippi.  Its northernmost point was the Canadian border at the Peace Arch Provincial Park and encompassed three states: Washington, Oregon and California, ending at the Mexico border in Tijuana.

In 1924, the State Highway Department placed numbered concrete mileposts starting at the Columbia River border between Washington and Oregon and heading south on the right-hand side of the road and numbered accordingly (1, 2, 3, 4 etc.). The last milepost erected was placed at or near the Oregon/California border in the Siskiyou mountains. The brochure I came across referenced milepost 268 located near Hugo, OR as well as milepost 286 located along the Rogue River Highway between Grants Pass and Rogue River. So that got me wondering how many other original concrete mileposts may exist along the remnants of the Pacific Highway? A daunting task to say the least and for a number of reasons. To start, the Oregon highway system has evolved greatly since the 1920s. Much of the original Pacific Highway that existed during the early 1920s has been re-routed, widened or cut off altogether so that determining the exact path of the original highway becomes very challenging. I’ve searched for historic maps of the Oregon Pacific Highway and came across a few web sites that offer high resolution images of a few historic road maps of the ‘Auto Trails’ (the term people used for the roads back then. These auto trails complement the Auto Camps (precursors to the modern motels that also existed along these roads for tourists and travelers to stay for the night on the cheap — and another blog topic altogether). Here are a few links to old Pacific Highway maps that I located:

1925-26 Oregon Road Map from Clason’s Touring Atlas

1926 Mohawk Hobbs Pacific Highway Guide. Oregon, Washington Section

1923 Rand McNally Full Size Auto Trails Map for the Northwest

There is also a great website dedicated to the history of the Pacific Highway from 1917 to present and can be visited here.

As the ever-inquisitive one, I decided to see if Google Maps could help me make the mission of locating as many historic mileposts along the Pacific Highway as possible. And low and behold, I found some success! In one night of using Google Maps, I created a custom map and was able to locate an additional THREE mileposts along stretches of the original highway between Hugo and Central Point. The task was made a bit easier after using the measurement ruler within Google Maps edit mode to draw a line along the highway and I was able to locate milepost No. 303, 14 miles to the east and within just a couple of hundred feet from where my next milepost I determined should be placed on the map. I was pretty proud of that accomplishment. You may click on my custom map below to view historical points of interest at the end of this article.

Milepost 269

Thus far, with my custom Google map, I have placed a waymark point almost every mile from Hugo to Central Point. A green waypoint references a ‘found’ milepost. A red waypoint references an either ‘destroyed’ or ‘not found’ milepost. Of course, many mileposts have obviously been destroyed because of road widening over the years, particularly near and in city areas. A few may have been stolen by treasure hunters. And still more mileposts have probably been destroyed by landowners, road crews and even Mother Nature herself. I suspect there are a few hidden in shrubbery and other foliage (particularly BlackBerry plants) and perhaps a few lying in a ditch and/or buried.

Milepost 268

I still wanted to place a milepost waypoint in the location where I feel one should have been located. It helps me to properly detail and trace the original Pacific Highway route. All the mileposts that I’ve discovered, including the two mentioned in the historical brochure, are located on the west side of the road, which makes sense because they were placed for travelers heading south. Interestingly, because of Google Maps I was able to determine that the Pacific Highway near Hugo was cut into two when Interstate-5 was constructed in the early-to-mid 1960s.  I found evidence of a small section of deteriorating asphalt east of Hugo and along what’s known as ‘Old Hwy 99’ that runs east/west and towards where Oxyoke Rd ends on the west side of Interstate-5. I’ve referenced these two points with yellow stars on my custom map. Old Hwy 99 winds its way above and to the east of Interstate-5 heading north and then abruptly stops. The next challenge is to find out where it picked up again — did it merge into Interstate-5 or are there some additional deteriorating sections of the highway being slowly absorbed by Mother Nature in the hills above Interstate-5?

I hope to find and waymark additional mileposts along original sections of the Pacific Highway in the future, working my way north. As far as I know, I am the only person in Oregon who’s created a blog/website exclusively towards locating these concrete mileposts as well as tracing the exact route of the Pacific Highway. I welcome anyone out there to assist me with this latest endeavor.

Please click on my custom Google map below and view all my milepost waypoints that I’ve created (they are my best judgement of where they might be). If you have the time, try locating some mileposts along original sections of the Pacific Highway and if you locate any in person or on Google Maps, send me an e-mail and I’ll add them to the map.