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2015-11-19

Nearly Every USGS Topo Map Ever Made (2014)

Source

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Went hunting for topo maps again recently, and found an interface called TopoView which is so much better than the USGS store and anything else I’ve seen that it’s dumbfounding:

http://ngmdb.usgs.gov/maps/TopoView/viewer/

It has historical & regional maps as well as the topographical maps. It’s easy to browse. It has built-in support for pinning maps on Pinterest. Really.

Huge props to whatever unsung team at USGS pulled this together.

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I have mixed feelings about USGS topo maps these days. On the positive side, they are producing revisions much more frequently than in the past and they have made available high quality digital images of these maps for free.

The availability of high resolution image files is really nice if you have a big screen and a powerful computer handy, but not so nice if you are scouting for berries on logging roads in a pickup and need something that you can stuff in your pocket. The USGS stopped doing big lithographic print runs of their maps, and the new inkjet prints are garbage in comparison. Whenever I find a lithographic print of a quadrangle I am interested in, I buy two or three because I know I may not be able to find them in the future.

Also, the newer revisions (the ones including satellite images) seem like they get much less individual attention from the cartographers. Labels and symbols are less intuitively laid out. The difference between the new and old map styles is similar to the difference between musical scores generated by a computer and lightly edited by a copyist, and scores created by a master plate engraver.

I vastly prefer the maps from the 80’s and early 90’s.

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I worked for the USGS for a few years and learned a lot about this.

The old topo maps were compiled, drawn, and edited by hand, from primary sources. Look at an old topo and notice the different symbols for barns and houses, outline vs filled squares. They were able to mark those because a usgs employee went out in the field and checked each building. The result of this process were extremely accurate and detailed maps but it was very expensive. It took hundreds of person-hours for each map.

The new topos are produced from remote sensing data, mainly imagery and lidar, and are highly automated. They are worse in most ways(but quickly improving!) than the old maps but take much, much less person time, less than 10 minutes per map. This time is mostly spent verifying/cleaning the source data.

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Whenever I find a lithographic print of a quadrangle I am interested in, I buy two or three because I know I may not be able to find them in the future.

An opportunity for someone?

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When NatGeo was still making their Topo software, you could go to REI and printout fairly high-quality quadrangles of a region you were interested in for a few bucks. Not sure if they still do that. |

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Everything the USGS produces in the public domain. Have fun :) |

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This is interesting, now if only they had 3d topography maps.

I’m building a GPS tracker that I can take on hikes and will store coordinates and altitude to an SD card so I can generate 3d models of the path I take or overlay with 3d maps.

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The National Library of Scotland has a great online collection of old maps as well: http://maps.nls.uk/ - going back to 1500, with slippy maps, side by side views, all sorts. It’s not just Scotland, but the whole of the UK. A lot of them are georeferenced so you can easily flip through time and see how your local area changed.

Licensing isn’t as simple as USGSs though.

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The amount of map data available for free these days is amazing. I remember saving up to buy those maps in high school. |

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As a history buff (mostly civil engineering based, roads, bridges, tunnels, railroads, etc.) I find these historic maps extremely useful. |

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I don’t know about you guys, but I find that old maps are just fascinating in terms of the history they represent. Perusing old maps and seeing how names of places have changed over time is something that always intrigues me.

Here’s an example: The closest intersection to where I grew up was the corner of Civietown Road, Shellpoint Road and Holden Beach Road. As long as I can remember, the whole area was always referred to as Civietown” and there are a couple of stores right on the corner, and the fire station for Civietown Volunteer Fire Department. OK, boring enough, except I always wondered WTF civietown” meant.

Then, one day, I got hold of some WWII era USGS maps and started poking around and noticed that in the 1940’s things were subtly different. The intersection we call Civietown” now was called Fulford” back then. Now that’s very common family name in the area, so that part isn’t terribly surprising. But curiously, Civietown” was about two miles further away, at the intersection of Mt. Pisgah Road and Empire Road, and was spelled Sivey Town”. Huh, what? And the area near the end of Shellpoint Road was named Monogram” for no apparent reason.1

This stuff fascinates me. My grandmother can remember the Monogram business, but has no idea when exactly, or why, the name went away. And I haven’t found a good explanation yet for why Sivey Town” became Civietown” and relocated itself by two miles. I also still don’t know exactly what either Sivey Town” or Civietown” actually means. An older relative told me it has something to do with a kind of bean called a Seve bean” that was farmed in the area, but I can’t really find much to back that up.2

So yeah… browse around old maps, who knows what kind of mystery you might stumble upon.

1: this post actually inspired me to take the time to download a historical survey of unincorporated communities” that was put together a while back. There’s no definitive answer on how Monogram” got its name, but there is some interesting history associated with it. http://www.brunswickcountync.gov/planning/files/2015/04/plan…

2: To the extent that it’s been researched, the Seve Bean” story is widely acknowledged as a popular local legend, but that’s about the extent of it as far as I know. http://www.myreporter.com/2013/01/is-it-spelled-civietown-an…

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Nearly Every USGS Topo Map Ever Made. For Free. Source The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has been producing detailed topographic maps for more than 125 years. Today they are nearly all digitized