When I’m out on one of my photo explorations there are three books thatI usually have with me – South Carolina: One Day at a Time by Caroline Todd and Sydney Wait, the Delorme Atlas and Gazetteer for South Carolina, and the South Carolina Highway Historical Marker Guide by Judith Andrews. The latter title has always frustrated me. While the book itself is a wonderful guide, I’ve always wondered why there isn’t an online version of this available.
The collection of historical markers should be a simple database. That should lend itself to data that could easily be placed online in a searchable form, perhaps with geodata for various mapping systems. I checked the “official” state website about the historical marker program, and this is all they had.
This morning I was reading a post by John Lane on his blog Under the Kudzu. In this post John mentions that he is a contributing editor for the Historical Marker Database, and independently run national project where users contribute information about markers in their state. So far, it looks like the HMD comes the closest to what I had been searching for.
As mentioned, this is a national project, so there are sections for each county in each state. There are categories (Education, Entertainment, Forts, Government, etc) as well as search capabilities by keyword or zip code. There are also sections that highlight specific series, such as “George Washington Slept Here“, Civil War markers, or markers relating to the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The individual entries contain a photograph and description of the marker, which is usually the inscription. Lat/Long coordinates are also provided, along with a link to the location in Google Maps. There is also a section with links to nearby markers, as well as user-submitted photos of the marker and surrounding area.
Probably the most useful feature of the site is the ability to download GPX files of different data sets to import into your GPS. If you follow the Google Map link for a location, you can an option to download all of the nearby markers as a GPX file. More useful, though is the GPX File Download Index, which has each state listed by county. I plan to download all that I can for South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida (places I’m most likely to be driving) and just keep those on the micro-SD card for my Garmin Nuvi. That way as I drive past one it will appear on my screen.
As good as the HMD is, there is still one major drawback. The site relies solely on user-contributed data. While I won’t dispute the quality of information on the site, it’s not “official”, and has the potential for being incomplete. In fact, a quick check shows that some states (and some counties within those states) are represented better than others. For example, a county with as much history as Charleston only has 12 historical markers list. That just doesn’t seem right.
A better solution would be to have the states maintain their historical markers database and to provide an API or some other method for automatically updating the HMD site as new markers are added. Users could then contribute ancillary information and photographs. Even with its limitations, though, HMD is a great resource.
It is worth mentioning that Waymarking.org also has a section for South Carolina Historical Markers. As with HMD all of these locations are based on user contributions. I haven’t looked at it closely, but it looks like using HMD in conjunction with the Waymarking series would be a great way to run up your waymarking/geocaching stats.