Friday, November 17, 2017

Behold the Future of Kit House Research

Earlier this month, fellow kit house researcher Catarina Bannier announced the launch of a new interactive map that features all of the authenticated kit houses located in the Chevy Chase section of  Washington DC.
Map of Historic Chevy Chase Kit Houses
Image courtesy of Catarina Bannier
As Catarina shared in her announcement, this area of Washington DC is home to almost 100 kit houses that have been authenticated using building permits and mortgage records. The interactive map not only documents the location and model of each house but includes catalog images for the specific model and images of the homes themselves. I created a similar kind of interactive storybook - on a much smaller scale - for the Sears houses located in the Oakwood Subdivision of Northville, Michigan.

What both sites share in common is that they provide a way for the general public to access and review some of the data that's been collected by kit house researchers across the country. One of the reasons that my fellow kit house researchers started assembling the databases of kit houses was that there was almost zero information available online to assist owners, historians and researchers locate homes in their community. But even today, the databases aren't generally accessible to the public. This has been done to ensure the integrity of the information that's been collected. But it also limits the information that can be easily shared to the handful of lists and interactive maps that have been created from that data and other resources.

What's needed going forward is a "front end" for the databases - a way for people to access and view the thousands of hours worth of research that has been done by dozens of researchers across the country. Catarina's work in Washington DC provides one example of how that could be accomplished. I've also tried out Loveland Technologies publicly accessible services where we can upload data from our national database for specific cities. We did run into some problems with importing addresses and getting those to match up to the data in the Loveland databases. Also, Loveland currently supports only a limited amount of data. There's no opportunity to add catalog images and related imagery.

Image of Sears houses in the Cincinnati, Ohio area (parcel based locations)
Using Google's map services, I've created a nationwide map of Sears houses that some in my group of kit house researchers use to explore known and potential locations of kit houses. But even this is limited in its utility and I'll eventually run into the limitations of the service Google provides which maxes out at 20,000 locations.

Map showing locations of Sears houses in Cincinnati, Ohio area
While I'm an IT guy, most of my experience with interactive mapping has been limited to small data sets or data in a single community. I'm hoping folks at places like Loveland or ESRI can provide a way for folks like us to make our data more accessible to the public at large. I know we'll get there eventually and I'm pleased that examples like Chevy Chase DC show us what's possible.

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