Our mission is to collect, preserve, organize, and make accessible materials that document the history of San Antonio and South Central Texas with an emphasis on historic buildings, objects, places, and customs. The library is open to the public, as well as to the members and staff of the Conservation Society.
You can’t find everything online. But you can still find a lot, if you know where to look! Each week, I’ll feature a different website that focuses on San Antonio or Texas history.
This week, I “zoom in” on those intriguing bird’s-eye view maps from the late 19th century. These incredibly detailed maps look like hand-drawn aerial views of cities, only they pre-date the airplane and weren’t created with the aid of a hot-air balloon.
“Bird’s-eye views appear as something between a panoramic view and a map. They were drawn by hand using, most often, two-point perspective to produce a three-dimensional rendering. The city views are surprisingly accurate and represent a much-neglected source for understanding the history of Texas. This site showcases fifty- nine Texas views, documenting forty-four different cities” – from “Texas Bird’s-Eye Views.”
Learn more about how these maps were made in the About and Artist Bios sections or skip straight to the fun of viewing with Browse. It’s possible to search by city, year, or key word. Best of all, these high-resolution images allow for an incredibly close zoom on details from structures and landscape to existing modes of transportation. On San Antonio’s 1886 map, you can even see people in Alamo Plaza and troops assembled at Fort Sam!
The brief historical context provided for each city, plus observations about what is (and sometimes what isn’t) depicted on the maps adds significant value to the graphics. Sites of importance on the maps are identified by numbers that correspond to a key at the bottom of each map, but you’ll also want to use the Features links. These connect to close-ups of selected drawn structures accompanied by an inset historic photo.
Tip: This site includes both the 1873 (the south is at the top!) and the 1886 San Antonio bird’s-eye maps.