NYC Street View Map Travels Back in Time

An insanely detailed interactive map of the city pulls up 100 years of historical street view photos.

Horse-drawn carriages? Check. Top hats? Check. Sepia tones? Check. An extensive new interactive map lets us travel back in time and see New York City street views from more than 100 years ago.

In a Herculean undertaking, software developer Dan Vanderkam created the OldNYC map by geocoding 80,000 original digitized photographs from the New York Public Library's historical collections report Popular Science.

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Vanderkam, a software engineer for the urban digital platform company Sidewalk Labs, learned about the New York Public Library's extensive Milstein collection documenting the changing face of the city. He assembled a small team to assign latitudes and longitudes to each of the library's digitized images, spanning from the 1870s to the 1970s. The OldNYC map project, which uses Google Map data, took them over a year to complete.

This isn't Vanderkam's first interactive mapping project. He previously lived in San Francisco, where he led the creation of OldSF, geocoding 40,000 images from the San Francisco Public Library's digitized collections. As he explained on that map site, it all started when he was searching the library for his cross street and discovered a mislabeled image from 1945 that had actually been taken from his roof.

"It always bothered [me] that the mislabeling of the image was so crucial to my finding it," he wrote. "This led to the idea of putting the images on a map."

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First thing I did with the OldNYC map: Look for photos around my old neighborhood in Astoria. In the 1920s, parts of the area looked downright rural. But by the 1930s some aspects felt familiar: the clotheslines, architectural details, awnings, and occasional industrial views. Hey, I think that chainlink fence might still be there.

The one drawback is that the map isn't searchable. In a way, though, that's part of the charm. By scrolling around, visitors get to discover unique views of the city's past that would otherwise remain hidden.

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