I found this map on Reddit and was curious if anyone knows how it was made.

See Modern map of Boston compared to original 1630 shoreline.

I think I could make it if I had a shapefile of the 1630 map.

Does anyone know how I could get that?

enter image description here

2 Answers 2


Cool question and nice map...

I did a reverse image search and found a blog post from 2011, the same year as the map's creation, which has lots of technical details:


    1630 shoreline 
    Metropolitan Planning Organization (Mass.). Central Transportation Planning Staff. 
Name on Item:
    Central Transportation Planning Staff.
    Boston Public Library
    Norman B. Leventhal Map Center 
Collection (local):
    Norman B. Leventhal Map Center Collection
    Local transit--Massachusetts--Boston--Maps
    Fills (Earthwork)--Massachusetts--Boston--History--Maps
    Boston (Mass.)--History--Maps
    Massachusetts > Suffolk (county) > Boston
    1 map : col., mounted on foamboard ; 78 x 62 cm. 
Terms of Use:
    No known copyright restrictions.
    No known restrictions on use.

Also has a 74 MB GeoTIFF download in the right menu bar

enter image description here

GeoTIFF seems to be a useable format for converting to shapefiles or other GIS formats:

  • 1
    for questions about GeoTIFF conversion, and if you can't find existing answers/resources, please ask on gis.stackexchange.com
    – philshem
    May 24, 2019 at 7:14
  • 1
    wow, thatnks for the great answer!
    – dvreed77
    May 24, 2019 at 18:45

You asked for a shapefile of the Boston harbor shoreline for 1630. However, what seems to be available from that era is mostly raster images of maps. So you will probably need to digitize the shoreline yourself from a georeferenced image. In addition to the original map (provided in philshem's answer), there are many different sources of historical maps.

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce) provides a Historical Shoreline Survey Viewer. If you open this tool in Google Earth, it assists you to download historical shorelines for various dates, going back as far as 1841.

The NOAA Historical Shoreline Survey Viewer provides access to a large number of historical shoreline surveys conducted by NOAA and its predecessor organizations. About 7,800 surveys—the earliest dating back to 1841—are available for viewing in Google Earth. In addition to overlaying a scanned image of the survey in Google Earth, the viewer provides links to download: the original scan and metadata, the resulting extracted vector shoreline, and a descriptive report compiled by the survey team.

Historical, georeferenced nautical maps are available at historicalcharts.noaa.gov. There are three maps of Boston Harbor between 1600 and 1800:

enter image description here

The Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library has a digital archive of historical maps. Some of them are georeferenced already. Others are waiting to be georeferenced.

  • Link - many historical maps of Boston Harbor
  • Link - simple, modern maps of the Boston Harbor shoreline at different dates from 1630 to 1995. It would probably be pretty easy to digitize the shoreline from these maps. This series of maps was made by Map Works, Inc. They obviously have a vector layer of the 1630 Boston Harbor shoreline, but they don't provide it on their website. As a private company they have no obligation to provide their source data, but you could certainly contact them and request it.

The NYU Spatial Data Repository has this georeferenced map, Boston proper, Massachusetts, 1895, showing historic shorelines (Raster Image). I believe the "original shoreline" mentioned in the description is the 1630 shoreline.

This map shows Boston proper's original shoreline and changes in wharf line for years 1795, 1850 and 1895.

NOAA provides high-resolution historical and modern vector shorelines as shapefiles here. Description:

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) produced a comprehensive database of digital vector shorelines by compiling shoreline positions from pre-existing historical shoreline databases and by generating historical and modern shoreline data. Shorelines are compiled by state and generally correspond to one of four periods: 1800s, 1920s-1930s, 1970s, and 1998-2002. Each shoreline may represent a compilation of data from one or more sources for one or more dates provided by one or more agencies.

Other old maps of Boston can be found on Oldmapsonline.org.

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