Skip to Content

Man is helping keep historical maps alive

<i></i><br/>Map preservationist Ron Koch stands beside the scanner he used to digitize the original document in the records office at the Woodbury County Courthouse in Sioux City on January 17

Map preservationist Ron Koch stands beside the scanner he used to digitize the original document in the records office at the Woodbury County Courthouse in Sioux City on January 17

By Jared McNett

Click here for updates on this story

    SIOUX CITY, Iowa (Sioux City Journal) — At his desk, in a corner of an office on the main level of the Woodbury County Courthouse, Ron Koch has history sitting out. Or, rather, straightening out.

A geographic information systems analyst for more than 20 years, Koch says his day-to-day work involves maintaining and updating data for the offices of city and county assessor’s, county record, county auditor and emergency services. It is information to assist with real estate transactions, voting registration and who has jurisdiction over what.

When he’s not caught up in all that, Koch has also taken it upon himself to make sure scores of maps the county has in its possession are preserved in perpetuity. Some date all the way back to 1858, not long after the founding of Sioux City itself.

Though Koch didn’t begin seriously archiving and preserving the documents until the 2010s, he was thinking about the need to do so as early as 2001 when anthrax attacks forced government offices in New Jersey to close for quarantining.

“The thought being, if anything like that happened here, what would we do? We wouldn’t be able to get the information if it was contaminated and placed in quarantine,” Koch said. “So through a process of time and technology we got to a point where we had the right equipment that I started scanning the documents.”

Once Koch scans the materials, with a machine the size of a table, he makes sure the info gets to sites such as which allow people to view plats and public records through an online portal.

The issue with digitizing, though, is old items are not only quite delicate, which requires extra tender loving care, but some will have ink drips on them or blank spaces where none should exist.

“You have edges and borders and whatnot that are basically falling off or falling apart. Electronically, I recreate the missing areas,” Koch said.

Preserving a piece called Peirce’s Addition was a particular bear of a time for Koch.

“When it was first done, it had some holes right through the middle and there were areas that were all tattered. But I was able to build back the areas that were missing. Give it a decent border. And make it look good.”

Haley Aguirre, an archival records clerk for the Sioux City Public Museum, said how a map is preserved is often dependent on its condition and its size. For big documents, a process known as encapsulation is needed where an archivist surrounds the map in a special kind of plastic akin to Mylar. With the work, its important moisture isn’t sealed in as that could rot the paper. When it comes time for storage, Aguirre said the maps shouldn’t remain in light.

According to Aguirre, the Peirce plat is of an area of Sioux City’s Northside. Peirce and a partner, D. T. Hedges, first laid it out in 1886, and it was the largest single addition ever platted in Sioux City. Aguirre said the specific document Koch worked seems to be from after ’86 because there are parts shown to be vacated.

“The neighborhood was a major undertaking of grading hills, filling valleys, and establishing a cable car line on Jackson to navigate the hilly Northside,” Aguirre said. “Some fine houses were built up there, some of which still remain. Mostly it was the corner lots that were sold, and the spots in between were filled in later.”

According to Aguirre, Peirce lost it big in the Panic of 1893 and left town, but left behind his mansion at 29th & Jackson streets.

As for the August 1858 map Koch digitized, Aguirre said a banker named T.J. Stone submitted it to what was then the Land Office and costs were covered by Luther Sanborn.

“The Sioux City Company did not have the funds to survey and submit the plat themselves, because they had gone practically bankrupt in the Panic of 1857,” she said. Getting to the point of even having a plat for what’s called Sioux City East Addition involved the combining of claims and French fur traders and a “mess of railroad land grants and land bill laws,” according to Aguirre.

Despite the difficulties in working with such old fare, Koch said he enjoys the artistic flourishes someone wouldn’t be able to find in present-day maps.

“They would embellish things with drawings of the Lewis & Clark Monument or the bluffs or part of the riverfront. Or it could just be areas of art deco type designs.”

Certain fonts, such as one for the Hornick and Skinner’s Subdivision (of Lots in Cole’s Addition to Sioux City), are stylized with points. Other drawings feature little critters. Aguirre said the Hornick addition is named for John Hornick, a wholesale druggist who came to Sioux City in 1867 and had his fingers in a whole lot of pies.

“Hornick was involved in everything from railroads to the Corn Palaces to the Riverside brickyards, and this included real estate,” she said. Koch’s effort with the Hornick plat involved adding a border and highlighting blocks in yellow.

All told, Koch said the actual scanning of the archives took about two or three years of wedging it in among regular duties. Then it took additional time to attach the images to existing maps so anyone could get online and bring up the original plats.

“They would need this information if they’re out surveying and instead of having to drive in, they can get online, look at it right there and get the information that’s missing that they need out there in the field. It saves a lot of time and effort,” Koch said.

Up to this point, there’s space to store more than 900 maps.

When new plats come in, Koch tries to scan them the day they’re recorded.

“With that many segments and that much data, it’s a never-ending job of tweaking,” he said.

Please note: This content carries a strict local market embargo. If you share the same market as the contributor of this article, you may not use it on any platform.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - Regional

Jump to comments ↓

CNN Newsource


KTVZ NewsChannel 21 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content