Old Maps in Google Earth

I was happy to read Google’s recent announcement that they were including a collection of antique maps as part of the standard Google Earth package. My only disappointment was that the city of Boston was not included in this first set of maps. It would have made a good candidate for inclusion since the city has gone through such a dramatic transformation during the past 350 years, with large sections of it having been built on filled-in land.

What I didn’t realize until I started playing with Google Earth a bit more is that any image at all can be included as a layer. I tried this out with a map of Boston from 1839 that I had scanned in from a period almanac. With a little bit of work I was able to line up the old street layout fairly well with the current pattern.

Boston 1839 on Google Earth

1839 Map of Boston rendered in Google Earth

A larger version of this image is available here.

By turning on the “3D Building” mode, the sense of change over time is really striking. I’ll have to try this with the famous Bonner map of 1722 which will make the land additions stand out even more.

Google Earth’s Version 4 (beta) is an incredible piece of software. If you would like to explore this map, the layer can be downloaded using this KML file: boston1839.kml. Assuming you have Google Earth installed, opening this file should launch the program and zoom in on Boston with the map layered over the city.

Update: I created a layer for the aforementioned Bonner Map.

» Posted: Thursday, November 16, 2006 | Comments (1) | Permanent Link


I was just watching “Mega Movers” on the History Channel and they mentioned the 1869 move of the Pelham. I then went online to check out more info (hadn’t heard of it) and then found Boston Illustrated. I was having fun reading the info and wanted to find a larger photo of Bonner’s 1722 map. A Google search led me to your page. Funny thing because first thing this morning, I had decided to get the latest version fo Google Earth, so I’ve downloaded your .kml file. Thanks for sharing!!!!

» Posted by Jeannie French on May 31, 2007 08:59 AM