Home > Fort Niagara Project > Fort Niagara Project Pt.1: Introduction

Fort Niagara Project Pt.1: Introduction

Fort Niagara Project, Pt.1:
Introduction

One of my Geospatial Publishing projects (started in February 2012) is converting a section of the oldfortniagara.org website ( “Historical Development of the Fort“) to the Google Earth platform so that users can access the content in an intuitive and dynamic way.   The “Historical Development” pages consist of of 20 dated blueprints of Fort Niagara (located strategically where the Niagara spills into Lake Ontario in western New York State) detailing historically important points in the Fort’s development stretching from 1679 to 1935.
The fort blueprints are scanned from uncredited  hand-drawings based on original documents and historical maps where available.  They use a numbering system and key referencing various points of interest of Fort Niagara at that time.  Each blueprint is also accompanied by a written historical overview of the Fort at that time that references the numbered key.
Here is a screenshot of their  Fort Niagara cc.1755 webpage:

These webpages represent a great concept and seem to have great content.  On the other hand they are probably a few years old and and likely derive from an earlier print-based project.  My thought was that these blueprints could be added to Google Earth as transparent overlays over the actual Fort as it exists today, and viewers could easily click-through the various blueprints in a dynamic way.  Through my own technical, presentation and knowledge management skills, I could help to fully realize and augment the original developer’s vision.

Thus at it’s core my own Niagara project was conceived as a port-of-a-port (Print project>Webpages>Google Earth),  and certainly one of the appealing  things about it is the excellent semi-scholarly content that the Old Fort Niagara Association created (“semi-” because the sources are inadequately referenced).  I definitely feel what I have done/am doing is a tribute to the original.  The project has grown and changed since I began it – I didn’t fully realize ahead of time the amount of repetitive work the project would require (including going through the same process reiterated over 20 times for each blueprint and description!), and trying to make as seamless an interface as possible has been a challenge and an education.   Since I’ve already made a significant investment in the project, I want to complete a satisfying “final” product that will be of interest to fellow history buffs.

I should note that I have contacted the Old Fort Niagara Association (who created 99.5%  of the scholarly content in my version) but have not yet received a response from them regarding my own project.  I know they are updating their website,  may be upgrading the Historical Development pages my project is based on, and may not appreciate my conversion efforts (as a nonprofit association they hopefully have no issue as long as I credit them correctly and link to oldfortniagara.org).  If they are updating their “Historical Development of the Fort” pages it will be interesting seeing what choices they make and how their approach differs from my own solo effort.

Version 1 of my Project

Originally I intended to create a limited conversion of the web site’s material, just stretching the blueprints to the actual Fort Niagara site  in Google Earth and import them as transparent overlays, with the accompanying text included in such a way so viewers could click on the left navbar to read it.

I did most of the editing work in Photoshop – this consisted of

  1. Creating a screenshot in Google Earth of Fort Niagara taken from at the same angle as the drawn blueprints (a satellite photograph really, as opposed to a map)
  2. importing the screenshot into Photoshop as a layer
  3. importing the 20 blueprint image files into Photoshop layers
  4. lining up the drawn blueprints as best I could with each other and with the satellite photograph (fortunately there is a common feature in all the blueprints, the “French Castle” which dates back to 1726)
  5. Coloring the drawn lines in the blueprints to make them more distinctly different as viewers toggled between them in Google Earth [I made some cosmetic changes to the 20 blueprints but few editorial ones, and they remain consistent with the original image files from oldfortniagara.org]
  6. Adding a white outline to the drawn lines so that the blueprint images would stand out (“pop”) when overlaying Google Earth’s satellite image
  7. saving each overlay as a png image file in a web-accessible location (in my rice.edu webfolders)

The Google Earth (Pro) part consisted of

1) importing the 20 processed blueprint images into Google Earth as Image Overlays,
2) lining the blueprints up correctly with the satellite image and deciding on a default “Viewpoint” and angle,
3) importing the descriptive text that accompanied each blueprint on the website (so it opened as a Google Earth “Balloon”),
4) adding all the appropriately titled overlays to a Google Earth “Folder” formatted so only one overlay appears at a time (with the “radio-style button” option) and
5) saving the folder as a Google Earth file (kml)

Here are two Google Earth screenshots of Version 1, both showing the 1755 Overlay and with the right one showing the text Balloon (Image Overlay Balloons are opened by double-clicking the left-navigation label) In addition to the (edited) website text, the Balloon also contains some additional material added by me –  the historical map the blueprint is based (with weblink to larger image) and links to websites on historical events/figures mentioned in the text.

Yay!  Project complete, right? Nope.  I was unsatisfied –  Version 1 still seemed print-derived and didn’t take full advantage of the Google Earth platform.

In a future post I’ll describe some of the  shortcomings inherent in Version 1 of my Fort Niagara project and how I have tried to address them.

I’ll post Version 1’s kml file at some point, currently it references image files on my C: Drive so I’ll have to put the images online and re-reference it.

– Andrew Taylor 7/31/12

Continue to Part 2

[Footnote: in a mostly separate sister project I have created a Google Earth file (kml) with dynamic placemarks that reference sites at the present-day Old Fort Niagara Historical museum, but that project branched of sufficiently to justify discussing it in a future post.  I am mostly satisfied with how the placemarks project turned out]

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