Blue Ridge Parkway archive online with geolocation data

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Driving through Time geolocated photos grab

Geolocation of the images categorized as Construction and Heavy Equipment (Construction), and Workmen in Driving Through Time: The Digital Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina.

Photographic archives are very useful. They aid in reconstructing the landscape and land use, they show the position of outbuildings, and they may indicate the relative prosperity of homes and businesses. However, sometimes we cannot figure out where the photographs were taken.

Three institutions collaborated to create Driving Through Time: The Digital Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, which goes a long way to solving that problem for historical materials that record various aspects of the Parkway. The three institutions are: The Wilson Special Collections Library at UNC; the Blue Ridge Parkway headquarters (a division of the National Park Service); and the North Carolina State Archives. In short, the project takes “historical materials in their geographic context-placing time and stories in space“. The materials include photographs, letters, postcards, maps, and more.

Driving Through Time is a modern photographic archive. All the pictures are of the Blue Ridge Parkway and in Driving Through Time they are linked to the geographic location where they were taken. According to Anne Mitchell Whisnant on the website:

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile scenic road winding through twenty-nine counties in the beautiful southern Appalachian mountains of Virginia and North Carolina. A carefully designed landscape set within a narrow corridor of protected land (about 88,000 acres in all), it is—as its name suggests—a “way through a park.” Unlike many other national parks whose boundaries surround the entire landscapes they are designed to protect and present, the Parkway is a narrow ribbon that “borrows” many of its signature scenic views from the nearby countryside.

As an example, the three pictures shown with this post show the geolocation of the images categorized as Construction and Heavy Equipment (Construction), and Workmen. The first picture shows the map and the distribution of materials in the selected classification. In the second screen grab, below, you can see three photographs are linked to a location just west of Blowing Rock.

Driving through Time geolocated photos grab2

Zeroing in on one location, you can see three photographs (at bottom) are linked to a parkway location west of Blowing Rock, North Carolina.

Selecting one photograph, you can zoom in and see lots of detail. Look at the bridge arch under construction:

Driving through Time bridge under const

Just geo-locating photographs is a major undertaking. This modern presentation of these archival materials that illuminate the story of the Blue Ridge Parkway represent a major leap forward for historical researchers, including archaeologists.

Do you record geo-location information as part of the metadata with your digital photographs? Read more about geotagged photographs on Wikipedia.

Read the UNC Library’s story about the archive here.