Cultural Landscape Laboratory Update

How would you like to be able to click on an area of a map and be able to see how that area has changed over the past 80 years or more….and discover information about its history at the same time?That’s what’s happening at the University of Georgia where graduate students in the College of Environment and Design are geo-referencing data from archival maps and aerial photographs of Stratford to show the evolution of the plantation’s landscape.The Cultural Landscape Laboratory project is a joint venture of Stratford Hall, the University of Georgia, and landscape professionals from The Jaeger Company (see Tim Barrett’s introduction to the project in a previous blog).

During fall 2010, students from UGA-CED’s graduate-level class participated in Stratford’s third Cultural Landscapes of the Northern Neck symposium and completed independent research projects on issues in managing Stratford’s landscape.While I scanned Stratford’s collection of aerial photographs with the assistance of library volunteer Maurice Capone, grad students at UGA digitized the larger historic maps and site plans from our archives.The UGA-CED students geo-referenced data from these images, which means they assigned precise locations in physical space to particular points on the images.This will allow us to compare landscape changes over time…even to current satellite images.

Keyes Williamson, of The Jaegar Company, has coordinated the compilation of a Cultural Landscape Inventory for Stratford Hall; this comprehensive inventory (CLI) will identify garden and landscape features, assessing their condition, integrity and significance.Over the course of several visits to Stratford, UGA-CED professor Eric MacDonald and grad students Tim Barrett and Andrew White have completed much of the on-site mapping of buildings, hiking trails, signs, fences, and other features using state-of-the-art GPS survey equipment.UGA-CED also acquired Geographic Information System (GIS) data from various public agencies, which helped with the mapping of water systems, soils, and features such as roadways.

Stratford’s archives are fairly extensive, and, while researching for details to add to the site history (which Ken McFarland and I are drafting), I often find interesting tidbits of information, maps, and drawings that are new to me.For example, when looking for information on the “ice pond”—which, incidentally, no one alive can pinpoint its location—I found a small colored pencil sketch of the vista to the Potomac River drawn in 1940by Umberto Innocenti, a NY landscape architect, along with some correspondence relating to improving the vista.Innocenti and Richard Webel, his business partner, personally marked 200 trees to be removed in order to make the vista wider and more natural looking.I scanned the drawing and it was added to the number of landscape images being geo-referenced at UGA.