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Locating Historical Aerial Photos in the BTAA Geoportal 

By Tara Anthony, Penn State University Libraries


The BTAA Geoportal includes historic aerial photography records that span institutions. This post focuses on searching and locating aerial photography records in the BTAA Geoportal with a focus on Pennsylvania historical aerial photography collections.  

Overview of historic aerial photos in the BTAA Geoportal 

search for aerial photo yields 1,701 records (as of October 2023) with a higher portion of records seen from Pennsylvania, followed by Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, Illinois, Nebraska, and New Jersey. The time period of the aerial photo records located is from the present back to the 1900-1949 time period, with the most records present in the 1950 to 1999 time period.  A highlight of some resources will be provided here, along with a greater focus on Pennsylvania historic aerial photo collections.


Searching for Pennsylvania historic aerial photos 

The search for aerial photo and Pennsylvania as the place yielded 1,358 results (as of October 2023), with a high number of records in thMontgomery County area that come from the Montgomery County Pennsylvania Open Data site, such as this 1975 Montgomery County photo.  While using other search strategies to use the term aerial photo and a bounding box for Pennsylvania can yield results that are available for the state, along with specific areas with the state. These records include results from the Pennsylvania Spatial Data Access (PASDA) site related to historical aerial photos. A popular and commonly used resource is the PennPilot (Historical Aerial Photo Library) of photos from 1938 to 1980, which are also viewable in the Pennsylvania Imagery Navigator. In addition, some more specific collections include Penn State University Park/Centre County PA 1949 aerial photos and Penn State University Commonwealth and University Campuses 1985-1986 aerial photos available in PASDA and contributed by the Donald W. Hamer Center for Maps and Geospatial Information, Penn State University Libraries.  

Penn State University, University Park. 1985. From the Penn State University Commonwealth and University Park Campuses 1985-1986 Aerial Photos {1985-1986} collection 

These historical aerial photo collections can be useful to researchers and individuals seeking to gain historical context to the area and to conduct additional research on features of the landscape, such as buildings, forest cover, and/or other road features during their time period.