Aerial photography of Great Smoky Mountains, NC-TN


The week before last I attended the graduate student open house at Hodges library.

I spoke with a librarian staffing a table with information about the Smokies Collection about the University potentially acquiring some historical aerial photography of the Park. Would you happen to know who that librarian was? She was handing out bookmarks with images from the Smokies Collection.

I took a business card to follow up but unfortunately have misplaced the card, but I do want to follow up on this so I thought I’d try here.

I am currently volunteering with the National Park on a cartography project documenting historical land use in the Smokies.

We’re attempting to classify land use using early aerial photography surveys conducted by the TVA and USGS in the 30s, 40s and 50s.

Through a partnership with Clemson University, Park Service archivist John McDade already has digitized aerial photography from the 1950s, the earliest comprehensive set of aerial survey photos of the park.

However, because evidence of land use can rapidly change, I hope to obtain earlier photos documenting land use prior to the Park’s formation.

Toward that end, I have been in communication with both the National Archives Cartographic Section in College Park, Maryland, and the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Maps Division based in Chattanooga.

My correspondence indicates that the National Archives has aerial survey film negatives for these years:

Haywood Co., NC – 1924, 1939, 1940
Swain Co., NC – 1939
Blount Co., TN – 1938, 1939
Cocke Co., TN – 1937, 1938, 1939
Sevier Co., TN – 1937, 1938, 1939

I should point out that these are index sheets, and the information I have from the Archives suggests that there are at least four 20 x 24 sheets per index per survey. Haywood County has 6 sheets because it is a larger area.

I should also point out that it is unknown to me what extent of the Park within each county is covered by the survey missions. While TVA/USGS maps uniformly detail structures, roads, and other features for the "lowland" areas outside the park, it was not until publication of the 1943 map series that details of areas within modern day park boundaries were added.

Essentially the earliest topographic maps (based on the aerial photo survey images) have a giant "blank spot" on the map where the Park is. This seems to indicate that possibly: a) USGS/TVA did not find mapping the interior of the park to be a priority or b) USGS/TVA did not have aerial photographs of the interior of the park.

My expectation is it’s actually a mix of the two – mapping the interior of the park was probably not a priority; therefore flight time over the interior was not allocated for missions photographing the interior of the future Park.

The reason I mention this is it creates a problem in determining how many film negatives would need to be digitized, which was a question the librarian I spoke with at the graduate student open house asked me.

For an estimate, for the 1953 series, there are 30 index sheets, 20 by 24 inches each. It seems likely to me that based on the size of each county, one index sheet probably indexes a lot of smaller film negatives.

Again, the information above was provided to me by the National Archives.

The original film canisters are available from TVA Map and Photo Records office in Chattanooga. The original film negatives would need to be digitized, and this work has a fee associated with it. However, I believe this fee would be less than that of a vendor working out of the National Archives, which is the only option available for obtaining digital copies from NARA Cartographic Section.

From prior conversations with Peggy Cooper of TVA Maps, the prices in April 2013 were quoted to me:

$80 per hour for research to find the materials
$28.50 per 1000 dpi scan
$15.00 to write to a disc

Contact information for Peggy Cooper is below:

Peggy A. Cooper
pacooper @
TVA Maps
2837 Hickory Valley Road
Chattanooga, Tn. 37421
Toll Free-800-627-7882

As a graduate student working on this as a volunteer, obviously $80 per hour and $28.50 per scan for an unknown number of film negatives is a bit steep for me to pursue on my own, so I was excited to hear that University Libraries might be interested in looking at the material for possible acquisition.

Please let me know if there is any additional information on these photographs that you might need to evaluate this resource for possible acquisition.




About Tanner Jessel

I am a recent M.S. in Information Science graduate from the University of Tennessee School of Information Science. I was formerly a graduate research assistant funded by DataONE (Data Observation Network for Earth). Prior, I worked for four years as a content lead and biodiversity scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey's Biodiversity Informatics Program. Building on my work experience in biodiversity and environmental informatics, my work with DataONE focused on exploring the nature of scientific collaborations necessary for scientific inquiry. I also conducted research concerning user experience and usability, and assisted in development of member nodes with an emphasis on spatial data and infrastructure. I assisted with research designed to understand sociocultural issues within collaborative research communities. Through August 1, 2014, I was based at the Center for Information and Communication Studies at the University of Tennessee School of Information Science in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Posted on September 3, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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