by Erinn Batykefer

National Book award-winning poet Gerald Stern, Pulitzer-prize winning author and essayist Annie Dillard, and Pulitzer prize-winning playwright August Wilson are all native to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The city’s neighborhoods, its streets and houses, its rivers and bridges and industries are the backdrop for some of the most memorable scenes in literature.

Pittsburgh Historic Sites’ Pittviewer is a wonderful way to explore the unique geography and neighborhoods of Pittsburgh throughout the city’s history, to learn more about the places mentioned in literature, and to research for your own place-based art.

A screenshot of an 1890 Hopkins map available for Pittsburgh via the Pittviewer

From the About page:

Most people don’t know the history of their street, neighborhood, or even city. The Pittsburgh Mapping and Historical Site Viewer provides a window into the past, allowing anyone to see how the city took shape over time. It shows how the city of 22,433 people in 1835 changes over time: how neighborhoods grow and expand, while others were planned but never built. Street names change over time, empty lots become buildings, and schools and churches open and close.

The maps were made by cutting and georeferencing hand-drawn paper maps made over 100 years ago. Using historic maps, some more than 175 years old, this interactive map highlights sites in the National Registry of Historic Places among others. By browsing through the years at a location, you’ll find a cemetery that became a school, the arrival of rail yards, and other indicators of how the city has evolved around changes in transportation, industry, and population.

Historic Pittsburgh has collected and digitized over a century of maps and images from University of Pittsburgh, Chatham University, Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, the Carnegie Museum of Art, and several local historical societies with the help of an IMLS grant.  At the time of this writing, the Maps Collection comprises five series of maps that trace the physical development and changes of the Pittsburgh area landscape. The G.M. Hopkins Company platt maps, the oldest in the collection, range from 1872 to 1940.

Search for landmarks using the search tools, or choose the period of maps you want to view using the Basemap option.

The interactive experience of the Pittviewer is a GIS-based application that builds a geographic and temporal picture of the city of Pittsburgh from the Maps Collection’s assembled maps.  Using the Pittviewer, you can search for landmarks and addresses, and use the More / Basemap features to toggle between historic views of the same street or building site, or to find more information on a particular place  In some areas, the changes are so remarkable the Pittviewer experience feels like watching a time-lapse video.

Whichever era of map you choose to explore, the map itself is peppered with clickable icons representing historic sites including schools, cemeteries, landmark businesses and eateries, famous homesteads, and other points of interest culled from the National Registry of Historic Places and the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.


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