Aerial Photographs of Richland County, South Carolina

Aerial Photographs of Richland County, South Carolina

Pilot Project

About the Collection

State map emblem with key

The University of South Carolina’s Thomas Cooper Map Library houses the majority of South Carolina’s aerial photographs—approximately 130,000 images—from 1937 to 1989. The photographs are frequently used by developers and planners around and even out of the state, resulting in physical damage to many of the images.

This pilot project consists of a very small portion of the aerial photograph collection: approximately 2,000 images of the Columbia, South Carolina area for the years 1938–1939, 1959–1960, 1971, and 1980. If this project is successful, outside funding will be sought to continue adding images to the online collection.

The aerial photographs originally came from a few different government agencies. The majority are from a set of aerial photographs from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency (formerly the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service). These have been acquired from the USDA State Office since the mid-1960s in a program set up by Dr. Richard G. Silvernail, former chair of the USC Geography Department. These photographs cover every county in South Carolina from the 1930s through the 1980s, in seven- to ten-year intervals, with several sets missing due to previous disposal by the county agencies. These photographs number over 100,000.

In addition, each county has been required to update their aerial photographs for tax mapping, every ten years, since the mid-1970s. These are contracted separately from the USDA photographs. The Map Library has photographs and Mylar negatives for Richland and Lexington counties. Due to space restrictions, other county photographs have not been collected.

The U.S. Geological Survey has an aerial photography program for the production of their topographic maps. The set for South Carolina is held by the South Carolina Land Resources Commission. They recently closed their public office and will consider dividing their set of USGS photographs with the Map Library.

There are miscellaneous private and public agencies that produce occasional photographs as well, but this is very small in comparison to the photographs by the USDA and county planning commissions.

In general, there are 3 sizes of photographs: contact prints at 9″ × 9″, enlargements at 12″ × 12″, and large prints at 24″ × 24″. There are a few 36″ × 36″ prints as well. The number of photographs in a particular county set depends on the size of the county and the scale of the photographs. Prior to 1970, the scale was 1:20,000, while later sets are 1:40,000. Thus, areas on 1:40,000 photographs are depicted at half the size of those on 1:20,000 photographs, resulting in four times more geographic area on the same piece of paper.

The Map Library continues to collect aerial photographs and is planning to acquire the 1990s photographs when they come available.


Ross Taylor and David McQuillan of the Map Library provided the aerial photographs and explained how the photographs are accessed and used. David McQuillan provided most of the information to write the background about the collection. Lauren Glaettli (MLIS, 2005) scanned the images for this pilot project in the summer of 2005. She used a UMAX PowerLook 2100XL scanner and created TIFFs at 300 ppi. Lauren also created brief metadata and Kate Boyd loaded the images and metadata into the CONTENTdm database. In the fall of 2005, Phu Nguyen (MLIS, 2005) began the creation of the Web pages to accompany the collection and to make the images in the database accessible through image mapping. Laura Coleman (MLIS, 2006) created the look of the Web site and Laura Masce (MLIS, 2006) finished creating the original HTML pages in the spring of 2006. Matthew W. Shepherd (MLIS, 2012) redesigned the Web site to accommodate accessibility and Web design best practices in 2013.

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