Five decades of Iowa aerial photography are now available on IDNR Website

Posted October 30, 2014 at 6:33 pm

Editor’s Note: The decades available are the 1930s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s through this project. From 1990 to present were already available. The 1940s were not done due to World War II — few photographs were available in this decade.

Iowans have a way to look into Iowa’s past and view changes of their entire state, from decade to decade, thanks in part to REAP funding of the Iowa Historic Digital Aerial Photo Project.

The public can now see where former buildings were located, what kinds of industries and operations were on a site 70 years ago, and how development and urbanization has changed Iowa’s city and agricultural landscapes by visiting

In 2009 and 2011, Historical Resource Development Program grants from REAP helped the Department of Natural Resource’s Geographic Information System Section procure photographs from various archives across the state and nation. Archives in Washington D.C., the University of Iowa Map Library, the Iowa Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Aerial Photography Field Office, county offices and private national archives all contained valuable pieces to Iowa’s geographic time puzzle.

“The Iowa Historic Digital Aerial Photo Project makes these images available to researchers, developers, landowners and others who need to understand the history of properties in Iowa,” said Steve King, deputy state historic preservation officer. “We appreciate preserving these important historical documents and making them available online to Iowans and others around the world.”

Developers, landowners and managers, and planners often need to understand how a property was previously used in order to evaluate history’s environmental and character impacts. Knowledge about a site’s resource use is also beneficial, and difficult to find elsewhere. Soil and stream-bank erosion patterns, conservation improvements and changes in natural vegetation and habitat can also be used to compare trends in land use and natural resource management.

Once the photos were scanned and made digital, GIS staff diligently matched them to their actual location. A processing algorithm then aligned the photos into blocks, which were mosaicked together to produce statewide coverage. Because of this approach, the photos can now be viewed with other mapped features such as roads and land boundaries.

“The REAP funds were really valuable because they allowed us to purchase large batches of photos,” said DNR GIS analyst Kathryne Clark. “Five decades of the entire state of Iowa is now mapped in a way that didn’t exist before this project.”

The GIS Historic Aerial Photography Project took more than eight years to complete, from 2004 – 2012, because of its detail specific and comprehensive nature.

Clark said Iowa is more advanced than many states because the imagery is more easily incorporated into other mapping applications, due to its layering compatibility. Iowa’s geographical history can be seen transformed by manipulating basemap layers on the top left of the screen. The ESRI World Imagery layer is also included. Layers with roads, city and county boundaries are available.

In its 25 years, REAP has benefited every county in Iowa by supporting 14,535 projects. REAP has funded these projects with $264 million in state investments, leveraging two to three times the amount in private, local and federal dollars. Collectively, these projects have improved the quality of life for all Iowans with better soil and water quality; added outdoor recreation opportunities; sustained economic development; enhanced knowledge and understanding of our ecological and environmental assets, and preservation of our cultural and historic treasures.

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