Making local history available in way not available before, the Park County Archives has launched Wyoming’s first GIS searchable database that links hundreds of historic photos and information from an interactive online map.
The project uses geographic information systems technology to map out historic places in the county. Clicking on the different icons on each map will reveal information and photos about the places from the county’s archives.
“I wanted to make these maps so people would have new and different ways to learn about local history and about all the photos and historical research we have here in the Park County Archives,” curator Brian Beauvais said. “All the historical information here in the archives is just as much a history of places as it is a history of people. And I think these GIS maps bring to the forefront how people have historically interacted with local geography in ways that many other platforms do not.”
A Plan Takes Shape
The idea for the maps began to take shape in 2022 when the Park County Commission began updating the county land use plan. Beauvais said there were questions about historical resources around the county and how those are accounted for.
Then when the home of Cody pioneer Caroline Lockhart (journalist, author and rodeo founder) was demolished earlier this year, many called the archives in outrage and were surprised to discover it wasn’t listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“We just want to make the information more readily available than it already is,” Beauvais said. “Maps are just another way of organizing information, but archives, museum and library folks have often not fully utilized them because we naturally have a tendency to favor the written word.
“These GIS maps can be a cool platform through which historians and researchers can organize information spatially.”
Brian Clarkson, the geospatial services manager at Ardurra Engineering and Surveying in Cody, volunteered his free time to help Beauvais get started building the maps using ArcGIS Online, a web-based mapping software. The curator then added the rest.
Beauvais presented drafts of the maps to the Park County Commission in February 2023 and they loved the idea. The Park County Planning and Zoning Board also approved. As an employee of Park County, Beauvais’ job is to promote and oversee all local history resources, so the GIS maps are part of that larger endeavor.
Park County is the only county in the state using GIS to promote local history and make its historical resources more accessible to the public, although Campbell County has a suite of GIS maps that include tax parcel and zoning. The Rockpile Museum in Gillette has an “Exploring Campbell County History” map as well.
Beauvais hopes to see the technology used by other Wyoming archives, libraries and museums in the future, but says it’s difficult because a GIS professional is needed to help set up the maps.
“It’s a challenging project just because GIS professionals tend to not be super familiar with historical research and archives, and museum/library/archives folks tend to not have any training or skills using GIS,” he said. “This is a frustrating dilemma, and it’s something I hope these maps can help to start to change. It’s just a matter of getting the right people together with the right skillsets who can collaborate to build these maps for the public.”
Agriculture, Mining And More
Each GIS map features historic photos of real-world places, buildings and street scenes with descriptions in a variety of categories, including irrigation and agriculture, historic ranches, mining sites and Park County National Register locations.
Want to find the Amelia Earhart Memorial? Check out the Meeteetse map.
Interested in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Irma Hotel? It’s listed on the Cody map.
There are 12 maps to explore.
“It gives people another means to learn about local history, while highlighting all the research and materials here at the archives,” Beauvais said. “This information can be fun for folks to look at, or it can aid discussions about development and land management while also demonstrating the utility of preserving historical collections for public use.”
Beauvais said he plans to keep adding to them as he has time. He hopes when people see the maps, they might think of other things that should be added.
“Or, if they have more photos or information that we can get down or ideas for different maps that I can make, let me know,” he added. “We want to make them better.”
In the future, he also would like to overlay historic maps onto contemporary satellite images so people can see where buildings would be on today’s landscape. He has plans to map the locations of one-room schoolhouses, the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp and create a Park County before and after feature.