Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Wisconsin Place File - Image Gallery Essay

Documenting a Sense of Place

Wisconsin Place File, Documenting a Sense of Place | Wisconsin Historical Society
Aerial view of a North Central Airlines DC-3 airplane flying over the Madison isthmus. Clearly visible are the Wisconsin State Capitol, the 1 West Wilson Street State Office Building, and Lakes Monona and Mendota.

North Central Airplane over Madison, 1952

Madison, Wisconsin. Aerial view of a North Central Airlines DC-3 airplane flying over the Madison isthmus. Clearly visible are the Wisconsin State Capitol, the 1 West Wilson Street State Office Building, and Lakes Monona and Mendota. View the original source document: WHI 1922

The Wisconsin Historical Society has mounted more than 8,000 images of Wisconsin communities online. Beginning in the 1960s the Society's visual materials archivists 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. The Wisconsin Place File is a discrete physical collection of photographs. The Society's collection has many more photographs of towns in other collections. Be sure to search the catalog by town name.

Creating the Online Collection

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 into our online collections. Users may search the database by locale, subject, photographer, description or date.

To complement the Wisconsin Place File, a short history of nearly all these towns is included in the digital collection of Wisconsin County Histories. High-quality reproductions or scans of any image found online are also available for purchase.

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