Observing Landscapes: Topography and Photogrammetry

One of my favorite items in the collections of Cranbrook Archives is George Booth’s hand drawn map of Cranbrook, which he created over a 24-year period between 1904 and 1928. It is the earliest topographical record of Cranbrook and visually documents his ideas and plans for developing the landscape. In 1951, George’s son, Henry, created annotations to accompany the map, which are useful both in deciphering the map and identifying locations. Henry’s notes on what was envisioned and what was implemented during those early years, are a good starting point from which to venture into the manuscript collections for verification.

Cranbrook Map drawn by George G. Booth between 1904 and 1928.
Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

As Cranbrook’s landscape evolved from a family estate into a center for art and education, the means of recording and viewing the topography was assisted by developments in aerial photography, known as photogrammetry. Talbert Abrams, a native of Michigan, is regarded as a key contributor to this field of photography, as he founded the Abrams Aerial Survey Corporation in 1923. The earliest aerial photograph of Cranbrook I could locate is from circa 1918.

Aerial photograph of Cranbrook estate and environs, circa 1918.
Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

In the Cranbrook Photograph Collection there are many aerial photographs taken by Abrams, as well as other photography firms, ranging from the 1920s through the 1990s. Since the purposes of aerial surveys are manifold, correspondence provides some insight into why they were commissioned and how they were specifically used, for example, as publicity and advertising. In 1932 Cranbrook’s public relations manager, Lee A. White, engaged Cranbrook School Headmaster William Stevens to select an image for the coming year’s brochure, and aerial views appear in all the early Cranbrook brochures. Aerial surveys have also been used to assess and understand the landscape prior to making a change to it. This was the case in 1961, when a topographic map and aerial photography were requested for the Off-Street Parking Study.

Letter from Keith A. Smith to Arthur B. Wittliff, November 1961.
Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

Correspondence between Arthur Wittliff, Secretary for the Cranbrook Foundation Board of Trustees, and Abrams Aerial Survey Corporation, provides intriguing details about the scale of the photography and the material base of the prints. The images below are from a December 6, 1961 set of 12 double weight velvet prints of aerials covering 1 square mile at a scale of 1 inch per 600 feet.

Aerial photograph ASP-5 taken by Abrams Aerial Survey Corporation on 6 December 1961.
Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

ASP-5 (above) shows the intersection of Cranbrook Road and Lone Pine Road, and includes Kingswood School and Lake, the Institute of Science, Cranbrook House, Brookside School, Christ Church Cranbrook, and the Academy of Art and Academy Way. ASP-10 (below) shows another view of Cranbrook and its environs, encompassing the Institute of Science, Academy of Art, and Cranbrook School.

Aerial photograph ASP-10 taken by Abrams Aerial Survey Corporation on 6 December 1961.
Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

When looking across the topographical history of Cranbrook from George’s map through aerial photographs, it is always fascinating to discern the changing landscape alongside the features that are unchanging. And, for me, the great inspiration of George’s map is that, although each individual project necessitated getting into the weeds and meticulous details, his ideas were always guided by situating them within a bigger picture.

Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Alphabet Soup

This morning I was looking for an image from our collection to relate to the Cranbrook Art Museum’s newest exhibition “Read Image, See Text” to post on our Facebook page. I would hazard a guess to say that most, if not all, archivists love books almost as much as historic documents.  Though archives usually do not seek to collect books, and certainly are not lending libraries, books can often comprise part of a collection. So my search for a single image led me to think about the range of books we have in our collection.

The first was written by William O. Stevens, nearly 25 years before he became the first headmaster of Cranbrook School.  After receiving his doctorate at Yale, Stevens taught English at the U.S. Naval Academy for 21 years. The book, which satirized early 20th century Annapolis using twenty-six limericks and illustrations, became an instant success. Find out why it also became controversial.

William O. Stevens, An Annapolis Alphabet: Pictures and Limericks (Baltimore: The Lord Baltimore Press, 1906).

William O. Stevens, An Annapolis Alphabet: Pictures and Limericks (Baltimore: The Lord Baltimore Press, 1906).

The first edition poetry book below illustrates beautiful text and the tooled binding of the times. It is inscribed: “Ellen W. Scripps, a Christmas present from her Father [James E. Scripps], Detroit 1879.” The editor of the compilation, Henry T. Coates joined the publishing firm of Davis & Porter in 1966; Davis retired the following year and the company became Porter & Coates which became famous for creating Home and Garden magazine and publishing the Horatio Alger Junior titles.

Henry T. Coates (ed.), The Children’s Book of Poetry: carefully selected from the works of the best and most popular writers for children. (Philadelphia: Porter & Coates, 1879).

Henry T. Coates (ed.), The Children’s Book of Poetry: carefully selected from the works of the best and most popular writers for children. (Philadelphia: Porter & Coates, 1879).

Gustaf Strengell, the father of Cranbrook’s textile designer Marianne Strengell, composed and designed this handwritten analysis of the Swedish poet’s writings as part of his graduate thesis. Franz Michael Franzén’s (1772-1847) work expressed the romantic conception of nature as both idyllic and divine, and was influential in the development of Finnish poetry.

Gustaf Strengell., Franzén. (Helsinki, unpublished, 1898)

Gustaf Strengell, Franzén. (Helsinki, unpublished, 1898)

For a really great blog post about related collections, see: Graphic Arts Collection, Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

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