Putnam County GIS Coordinator Greg Luersman recently updated the county's system to include old aerial views and plat maps of one of the county's greatest assets: its land.
Putnam County GIS Coordinator Greg Luersman recently updated the county's system to include old aerial views and plat maps of one of the county's greatest assets: its land.
PUTNAM COUNTY — American writer Willa Cather said, “The land belongs to the future.” While unquestionably true, our collective past equally unquestionably shapes the future, and a new offering on the county’s Geographic Information System creates the opportunity for reflection.

GIS is nothing new, and offers a treasure trove of data for a host of applications: agriculture, mapping, telecommunications, accident analysis, disaster management and mitigation, navigation, and environmental impact analysis, to name a few.

“We started (the county’s GIS) in 2007 when I was first elected,” County Auditor Bob Benroth said. “Greg (Luersman) had worked for Soil and Water and has had training in GIS.”

Now, thanks to Luersman’s training — and his painstaking efforts over the past two years — historians and genealogists can take advantage of the system to learn more about the county’s geographical past.

Working with the county Engineer’s Office, Luersman arranged to have all of the old plat books and aerial photographs digitized. He then took those images and created overlays on the GIS.

Available online at putnamcountygis.com/historical/, the site pops up as a color-coded township map of the county. Across the top of the page is a teal-colored tool bar. To the left of the tool bar, it simply states Putnam County Historical Data. To the right are seven individual boxes, click points offering a variety of options.

One such, the third from the right, pictures four small boxes. Here, users are provided the opportunity to view aerial photographs of specific locations dating back to 1939.

After entering a specific address, or simply clicking on the map, a box appears, at the bottom of which the words “Zoom to” are both highlighted and underlined. Once “Zoom to” is clicked, a current aerial photograph of the site automatically appears. Clicking on the photograph icon brings up a drop down menu presenting all available photographs ranging back to 1939.

To the left of the photo icon is a tiny green map. Clicking on that icon brings up plat maps from as far back as 1880. Organized in the same manner as the photographs — with a drop down menu and check boxes — users can quickly see who owned the land in any given year, and precisely how much land.

“Obviously, aerials and platbooks are the biggest things that people are going to want to look at,” Luersman said. “Secondary information I have on there are the old road names and numbers. The old time farmers sometimes know it was John Smith Road back before it was Road 3. That information is there, too.”

“A lot of people enjoy this stuff, and this is a public service,” Benroth said, addressing the question of why, and noting the site’s more practical applications. “But, also, there’s a lot of genealogy that takes place. When was Grandpa’s barn built? Well, if you can go back and see when it wasn’t there, and then see when it was, then you can pinpoint it a little bit. How did the boundary lines change on land? Literally, you could see, if you wanted to research it, how a creek or ditch has widened or meandered over 100 years. And you can do all this research on here from your house.”