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a North Central Airlines DC-3 airplane flying over the Madison isthmus, 1952. WHI Image ID 1922
A North Central Airlines DC-3 airplane flying over the Madison isthmus, 1952. WHI 1922

Wisconsin Place File: Documenting a Sense of Place

The Wisconsin Historical Society has finished mounting more than 8,000 images of Wisconsin communities online. Beginning in the 1960s and continuing into the present day, the Society's visual materials archivists have created the Wisconsin Place File, consisting of views of main streets and the built environment, prominent points of interests, and some rural scenes. It depicts most Wisconsin towns, large and small, through pictures dating back to the mid-19th century. Many cities, towns and villages are documented in dozens of different images and image formats, including cyanotypes, black-and-white and color photographic prints, watercolors, reference prints of architectural drawings, pencil sketches and more.

Collection Not Available Online Until Now

Until now, only people visiting the Society's headquarters in Madison could see this massive collection. But in 2004 the Society received a grant to begin scanning and cataloging the Wisconsin Place File. When grant funding ran out, staff carried on the work and have now published the entire Wisconsin Place File in Wisconsin Historical Images. Users may search the database by locale, subject, photographer, description or date.

To complement that Wisconsin Place File, a short history of nearly all these towns is included in the digital collection of Wisconsin County Histories. Simply open the drop-down box labeled "Find Descriptions of a Village, Township, City or Other Community" and jump directly to the pages where any community is discussed.

View Historical Photos of Wisconsin Communities

Links to pictures of many communities appear below. Others may be found by searching the keyword or location field at Wisconsin Historical Images. High-quality reproductions or scans of any image found online are also available for purchase.

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