ABOUT THE 1936-1937 AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHS

Historical records, starting over 200 years ago, show the Susquehanna River Basin to be one of the most flood-prone watersheds in the nation. The river has endured 14 major floods since 1810 – about one every 15 years, on average. Even the Native Americans who once lived in the area told of many floods. The Basin is also vulnerable to frequent, localized flash floods every year. These flash floods, usually affecting smaller tributaries, can occur with little advance warning. The river drains 27,510 square miles of New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland – where nearly 4 million people live. Of the 1,400 communities in the Basin, 1,160 have residents who live in flood-prone areas. For these residents, flood warning and flood management and protection are of utmost concern.

In mid-March 1936, two successive, extraordinarily heavy rainstorms battered the East Coast from Virginia to Maine. Combined with a rapid melt down of a large snow accumulation already on the ground a major flood occurred in the Susquehanna Basin, known as the "St. Patrick's Day Flood." This was the largest recorded flood in the Basin up to that point in time. The flood's significance extended beyond its high waters as it became the impetus for the federal government to pass important legislation for extensive flood-related projects as part of Great Depression Era policy making. As part of this impetus the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Soil Conservation Service started the process of comprehensively inventorying the land cover in the Basin by using the relatively new technology, for the time, of aerial photography.The Otsego County 1936-1937 aerial photographs provided by this web site are part of this inventory endeavor. Otsego Lake forms the headwaters of the Susquehanna.

The Otsego County photography was acquired between late fall 1936 and early fall 1937. This wide time range related to the heavy cloud conditions frequently found throughout the region and the snow covered ground associated with the long winters. The lack of clear days with no snow on the ground made it hard to obtain good quality photography in a timely manner. Thus, aerial flights were limited to short flight lines and adjacent flight lines often covered different seasons. The flight lines had a north-south orientation and generally went to a midpoint in the county before turning. The seam at the midpoint often resulted in an overlap between two flight lines producing two photographs of the same location at different times. Flight lines varied in the amount of overlap with adjacent flight lines. Also, the amount of overlap in photographs taken along a flight line varied, making it difficult to align photographs with an adjacent flight line's photography.

C. S. Robinson’s Aerial Surveys from Ithaca, N.Y. at the time undertook the inventory for Otsego County. During World War II the photography was used to make the USGS 7.5 minute topographic maps covering the county. Under the amended U.S Espionage Act the photography was declared “classified” throughout the Korean War and into the mid 1950s. The photography was unclassified in 1957 by the USAF’s Directorate of Intelligence.

To find a specific location click on the nearest settlement identified in the section entitled “AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHS” and from that settlement navigate to the desired location. See the section, “USAGE AND CREDIT,” for instruction on how to download a photograph. Have fun seeing Otsego County from a bird’s eye view in the mid 1930s!

Return to Cover Page Last Updated May, 2016