Old Oroville seen through a new lens

I have this old photo of Oroville, Washington on my computer and it has always been of interest because it shows Oroville from about the same viewing angle as where I live. There are some buildings and features that are well documented and some still exist, though changed with time. Yesterday I happened to be viewing this image along with a set of newer images and was suddenly dumbstruck by something I’d overlooked earlier. A house in the old photo is still there, and the angle of reference was remarkably similar to what I can see looking out my window. Clearly the person who took that photo was standing very near then to where I am today. Here is the older photo looking southeast toward Oroville’s old downtown.

Here is a more recent photo taken from the deck of our home.

If you compare the two images you’ll notice the home with the blue roof is also seen in the older photo. Notice too the coincidental relative location of the vertical rock face in the distance. That got me to wondering if I could approximate the place where the photographer, Gregg, was when his photo was captured.  To do this I pulled copies of the critical sections of the old and new photos and created some reference lines. I also added some identifying text to landmarks.

And I did the same with my newer photo. And to make it more interesting I removed the color and added sepia tones. Notice the remarkable similarity of the alignment of the far rock wall and the roof of the house.

What this tells me is that within a small margin of error, I was standing on the same line of sight as when Gregg took his photo. I could tell by other references that he was at a slightly higher elevation than I was. I thought I could refine it further using modern technology and get to within a few  tens of feet of the actual spot. And for that I used satellite photography from Google.

UPDATE: Because Orovilleans are a boundless resource of historical information I’ve learned that this house was also the second hospital built in the city, and that in the very early days of this little township a hospital was pretty much any place a doctor lived!

Here is a bird’s eye view of modern Oroville. My home at the bottom is in the yellow box. That is Juniper St above City Park. In the blue circle is the home identified above, and in the green box at the top is the rock face south of town a bit north of Cordell.

Then I created a line of sight line between 18th Ave and the reference house. I had placed a red dot in a circle at my house where my photo was taken and ensured the line of sight touched that and the top of the roof of the reference house where the reference line from the distant rock formation was. The result is, within margins of error, a line on which Gregg must have stood when he took his picture. I needed one more reference to find the exact spot.

It just happens that in Gregg’s photo the southwest corner of the Peerless building lines up with the northeast corner of the IOOF Hall. The IOOF Hall today is Eva’s Bakery. It amazingly has also been moved east from Main St and turned clockwise 90º but is otherwise still a useful reference. So back to Google’s satellite imagery and…

Now recalling the elevation of Gregg’s site is above my deck and the margin of error it is my bet that Gregg was standing northwest of my house (which wasn’t there until 1950) in what is now the alley between Juniper and Kay streets and what became 18th Ave and which happens to be upslope the exact amount to account for the elevation needed.

And that is how you spend the day keeping warm at 11ºF.

3 Replies to “Old Oroville seen through a new lens”

  1. What a fun exercise there Dennis! It is akin to mapmaking in a sense, and going to Google Earth is the natural thing to do in this day and age. You have established an LOP (line of position) which gives you an approximate set of possible locations for Gregg’s camera at the time of the original photo.To nail down exactly where along your major reference line (the LOP) the camera was in fact situated, and to achieve a high level of confidence about it, you should now establish another LOP which is normal to (meaning intersects at 90° with) the main LOP. This is called strength of geometry. Your use of error ellipse is interesting, it allows you to estimate your GDOP (geometric dilution of precision) for that point of intersection. The closer that ellipse is to forming a true circle, the more accurate your mapping solution will be. Now the hunt is on to find another old photo pointing either roughly East or roughly West along your original reference line, and plot that. I think you could probably come up with an historical camera location accurate to within just a couple feet. In a previous incarnation were you by chance a surveyor or cartographer of some kind? You’ve done a good job on this. Given the amount of historical photo records available around here, there’s plenty of opportunities to have even more fun with maps and charts.

    1. No surveyor or cartographer, I’ve always had a fascination of old maps and imagery, did a stint as a pilot for several years which fed into my love of geography (and geology), and I’m very fond of trying to unravel the past. I have a video of the railroad grade from Cordell to Molson – much of it is still identifiable from the air and on the surface. Fun stuff like that consumes available retirement hours in a very entertaining and informative way. Thanks for the comments!

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