Early 1900s Bloomington shows historic town and changing landscape on interactive map


Residents of Bloomington can get a glimpse of what Bloomington looked like a century ago thanks to a recently released interactive map project at IU called Rebuild Bloomington, which displays data on Bloomington in the early 1900s.

John Baeten, visiting professor of geography at IU, published the interactive map from Bloomington. Baeten and his team of 19 undergraduates used historical data to describe Bloomington’s physical and social landscape in 1907.

Baeten’s class of Geographic Information Systems located data from buildings and residents of Bloomington in 1907 to create the map.

“What’s new is that it was done by a class rather than a big grant or a research institute,” Baeten said. “I thought this would be a great opportunity for the students to not only understand GIS technology, but also to have an end product that they are really passionate about. ”

What they found were parts of the city unrecognizable from what locals know today, Baeten said.

The map depicts a university town with a majority student population, Baeten said. More than 300 stables, 26 grocery stores

downtown, the factories on the B-Line trail and 13 buildings on the IU campus marked key differences. Today, the well-known businesses on Kirkwood Avenue were primarily student housing, such as the Soma Coffeehouse building which was a

fraternity house.

Baeten said the map data included the location of 2,613 buildings from old fire insurance maps and about 4,500 entries from a 1907 city directory. Baeten’s fall semester class leads a similar project for 1900 and he plans to add another year each semester.

Bloomington fire insurance cards from September 1907.

Courtesy photo

Baeten said he hoped Reconstructing Bloomington could help tackle the lasting effects of historic problems such as housing inequalities and pollution. For example, city planners may know that a playground should not be built on top of an old laundromat that produces toxins.

UI graduate Marie O’Neill was in Baeten’s Geographic Information Systems class last semester and said the project gave her a new appreciation for Bloomington history.

“Bloomington is such a transient space,” O’Neill said. “I can see a lot of students wondering ‘what’s the point of knowing her story.’ But for me, it’s really important to get to know where you live, even if it’s only for a few years.

The project aims to involve community members as well as students, Baeten said. One of its next goals is to allow community members to enter information on the map.

Christine Friesel, who leads the Monroe County Field Notes project’s research on 19th-century Bloomington, said the combination of information from her and Baeten’s projects would open up the possibility of following the lives of former residents through the centuries.

“We want to layer stories,” Friesel said. “Finding new ways to display history is the only way we will be able to remember these stories from our community. “

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