South Carolina Aerial Photograph Indexes, 1937–1989

About the Collection

This digital collection comprises over 1,700 index sheets from over 300 aerial photographic surveys of South Carolina. These surveys, conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture, produced thousands of square aerial photographs. These photographs were used primarily to track farm boundaries, but now they also provide an invaluable record for researchers of land use, environmental change, and urban history. To facilitate the identification and use of these photographs, the prints were arranged geographically and photographed in aggregate to create indexes. In some cases, index grids were overlaid on highway maps to indicate the arrangement of aerial photographs.

The surveys in this collection document changes to the rural and urban landscape of each county over five decades. Rivers gave way to reservoirs as dams were constructed: Contrast the Savannah River in 1954 with the Hartwell Dam construction site in 1959 and Lake Hartwell in 1965. Borders between counties have changed since the earliest photographic surveys in this collection as well. Most strikingly, much of the northern portion of Kershaw County (including the town of Kershaw) was transferred to Lancaster County in 1977.

The collection also illustrates the growing concerns with access to sensitive information during the Cold War. Some of the surveys omit areas in the state with ties to national security, including Fort Jackson in Richland County and the Savannah River Site, a nuclear weapons and energy facility occupying portions of Aiken, Allendale, and Barnwell counties.

How to Find Individual Aerial Photographs

  1. Locate the desired aerial survey (county and year) using the collection home page or by searching or browsing the collection in CONTENTdm.
  2. If the survey has multiple index sheets, the first image in the digital index copy will be a key to the arrangement of sheets. Use this key to find the desired area of the county, then select the corresponding index sheet.
  3. Some surveys’ individual photographs are not present at the University of South Carolina or are very limited in number. In such cases, there will be a note on the sheet arrangement key (if present) and in the Note area of the Object Description.
  4. Zoom in on the index sheet to find the desired geographic location.
  5. Each individual photograph on the index sheet is labeled with an ID number, generally on the upper right corner. This number lists the county code, the flight code, and the sequence number. Example ID numbers include ATA-13-30 and 45019-178-85.
  6. Individual photographs are housed in the Maps Department of Thomas Cooper Library (Level 5). Contact Map Library Specialist A. Ross Taylor at for holdings information.

Digitizing the Collection

Digital Collections Assistant Matthew W. Shepherd (MLIS, May 2012) scanned the index sheets in August 2011 and May 2012 using the Zeutschel OS 14000 A0 overhead scanner. The scans were 400ppi, 24-bit color TIFFs. In February 2012 and May 2012, Shepherd processed the TIFFs to JPEG and cataloged the metadata, collaborating with Digital Collections Assistant Robert Blank to share a map-based metadata schema for this collection and the South Carolina Department of Transportation County Road Maps collection.

To aid users of the collection, Shepherd created key images that depict the geographic layout of sheets for most indexes. These keys are based on map data from the United States Census Bureau’s South Carolina State County Map (Census 2000).


Map Library Specialist A. Ross Taylor and Government Documents Department Head Bill Sudduth provided guidance for the usability and metadata needs of this collection. Digital Collections Department Head Kate Boyd and Digital Collections Production Manager Ashley Knox offered feedback for the metadata and Web design.

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