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Juniata IT Class Digitizes Map of Historical Sites

(Posted April 1, 2002)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Juniata College is bringing 18th- and 19th-century historic industrial sites into the 21st century by having students create a digital Geographic Information Systems (GIS) map of more than 100 historically and culturally significant industrial sites in Huntingdon County as part of the college's ongoing heritage project, Currents of the Juniata Valley.

The students, part of an information technology independent study course taught by Dennis Johnson, assistant professor of environmental science, currently are expanding the scope of the project by mapping industrial sites in Bedford, Blair, Fulton, Juniata, Mifflin and Perry counties and creating digital GIS maps that can be accessed on the World Wide Web.

A GIS system uses digital maps arranged in layers that can be viewed singly or as part of an interrelated system. Each "layer" of a GIS system is devoted to one element of an area's landscape.

"Normally, a GIS system or digital maps are used by planners or county officials who need to analyze specific geographic questions," explains James Tuten, assistant professor of history and assistant provost at Juniata. "Many of these historical sites, such as iron furnaces, mills or canal buildings do not appear on any map, digital or otherwise."

The mapping project is part of the larger Currents of the Juniata Valley program, sponsored by Juniata College and the Westsylvania Heritage Corp, which will present yearly slates of educational tours, lectures and events centering on topics relating to historical and cultural events in the seven counties comprising the Juniata Valley. Every year, individuals with an interest in history will research and create tours or presentations relating to current and historical aspects of the Juniata Valley that can be developed into tourism sites.

According to Holly Wolbert, a senior from Erie, Pa., students mapped many of the sites using global positioning equipment as well as maps furnished by Paul Heberling, professor emeritus of anthropology and owner of Heberling Associates, a Huntingdon archeology firm.

The new digital maps allow users to instantly access information related to most of the 107 sites in Huntingdon County, such as dates of existence, specific or relative location and, in some cases, detailed photographs of the site. "Some of the sites we mapped don't exist any more so we have to estimate locations and consult several other sources to make sure our information is correct," Wolbert says.

Over the next few years, Juniata's students will expand its GIS-based heritage maps to include digitized information on sites in four categories. Within each of these categories, projects can be developed or examined from four periods or perspectives: prehistory, colonial settlement, the age of industrial development and the present.
--Making a Living: Topics within this category will include the development of commerce, including trading posts, trail towns and river towns.
--Faith and Religion: Towns and regions within the Juniata Valley in which settlers practiced the same faith or beliefs.
--Humans in the Environment: How people interacted with the valley's environment over time.
--Transportation and Communication: The networks of waterways, roads, railways and airways that affected the economic and cultural development of communities in the Juniata Valley.

Those interested in viewing how a GIS map works can see the map of Huntingdon County's industrial sites at a demonstration at Outdoor Heritage Days, a Westsylvania Heritage Corp. event scheduled for May 3 and 4 at the Huntingdon County Fairgrounds.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.