Monumental Achievement

OldPVD.com uses interactive maps to explore the history of Providence

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The Point Street Grammar School was once a handsome, three-story building, with tall windows and tower-esque French roofs. The school opened in 1874, and generations of children passed through its classrooms. The institution survived a devastating fire in 1940, and more than 500 students were safely evacuated. Still, a decade later, the walls were torn down, literally paving the way for a new highway. Bombing down I-95, you would never guess that you’re driving over the resting place of Point Street.

How do we know this? Because of OldPVD, an interactive website that maps the historic landmarks of our capital. Created by local author Maureen Taylor, OldPVD pinpoints (mostly) bygone architecture through the ages, dating all the way back to the city’s founding in 1636.

“Photo genealogy is my life’s work, and it has led me to develop this new website,” says Maureen. “It’s a vast collection that now can be brought to life and accessed for free by schools, historians, researchers, and anyone with an interest in seeing where something used to be or still is.”

Maureen is more than a dabbler in family trees: She has published several books, including The Last Muster: Faces of the American Revolution and its two sequels. A self-styled “photo detective,” Maureen has been featured in an astonishing range of national media, from the New York Times to CNN’s The View. Locally, OldPVD partnered with Year of the City, a region-wide celebration of Providence’s heritage and culture.

But OldPVD is more than just a slideshow of landmarks past; the website uses a crowdsourcing model to enrich its images and descriptions. Like users of Waze and Wikipedia, pretty much anyone can add notes and commentary to the OldPVD interface. By adding dates, anecdotes, and archival photos, everyday people can build out the cartographic storytelling. The best part: It’s free.

The developer is Mike Bronner, managing partner of California-based GeneaLabs. Mike had a similar interest in hyper-local history, and he created a platform called ChronoCharts, which makes the interactive maps possible.

“For many years I have had plans to develop a time-based historical mapping application that allows you to explore your family tree over time with contextual historical maps,” says Mike. “I had not yet developed the software due to time and financial constraints. When Maureen brought up the idea to publish historical information about Providence, the historical maps aspect was a perfect fit.”

Brace yourselves, history buffs. You’re about to enter quite the rabbit hole.