Tupelo’s Spain House Move from Outer Space

While it happened almost a year ago, you can still see how the Spain House in Tupelo was moved thanks to Google Maps.  The satellite image was made by Digital Globe, Inc. some time in late 2012.   The Daily Journal reported in this linked story that the house was moved in three portions, all of which can be seen in the satellite photo.  If you observed the house in this configuration do you remember what day this might have been?

Ever so slightly visible is the large tarp that was placed on the structure after it was cut into sectios to protect the interior from the elements.  The two large masonry columns from the front porch can be seen lying on the ground to the right of the portion of the house that has yet to be moved.  No other preparations that were made to the route of the move show up in the satellite image.   The new foundation on Church Street has yet to be built in the satellite imagery.

The satellite image was taken by one of Digital Globe’s earth observation satellites in sun synchronous orbit, likely QuickBird, WordView-1 or WorldView-2.  These satellites operate between 280 and 478 miles above the earth and are traveling between roughly 300 to 700 miles-per-hour.  Considering these distances and speeds the images they produce are very impressive.

Zooming in even further to Google Street View the images seen are from July 2008 (Thank you Google for labeling the street view images with the dates they were taken!) showing the structure still in one piece prior to any moving preparations being made.  These images also show that the lots on the north east corner of Madison and Magazine Streets as recently “cleared” and the MDAH HRI database confirms that the buildings were demolished prior to a January 2009 survey.  Both these notes can help date the other aerial and satellite imagery.

All this reminded me of another aerial photograph of the same block.  When the black and white aerial image seen below was made in 1960 the first satellite imagery of earth had been made only a year prior during the August 1959 N.A.S.A. space mission “Explorer 6”.  The Explorer 6 image takes some imagination to figure out what it is supposed to be so in 1960 routine satellite photography of earth still seemed a space age fantasy.

In the 1960 aerial image the Spain House’s block is filled with structures.  These structures are more discernible in the accompanying 1949 Sanborn map.  Some of these now gone structures still show up on the pre-July 2008 bing.com image of the block.  The bing.com image is a series of aerial photographs made by Pictometry International Corp.  On Pictometry International’s website they state that their “innovative oblique images reveal the world from a more natural perspective, so objects are easier to recognize and interpret”.  These images are captured from low-flying airplanes, in a similar fashion to the 1960 image.  This approach (versus satellite photography) results in more visual detail because multiple perspectives can be produced, with overlap resulting in as many as 12 to 20 images of the same location.  Not as flashy as satellite photography and definitely not as easy to update but it does create better views in my opinion.

I have not found an aerial or satellite image of the structure at its new location on Church Street just yet.  The photos below come from the Spain House’s National Resister Nomination.  The images date to January 2013 and show the structure on its new foundation at the Church Street location.

As long is it can be kept in a stable format these easily produced digital images made from an elevated position will be incredibly valuable to current and future preservationists.  I’m not implying it’s easy to build and launch a satellite but the fact that said satellite is capable of passing over head every 1 to 3.5 days and producing images will make it very interesting to study the evolution of our built and natural landscapes.

Categories: Historic Preservation, Renovation Projects, Tupelo

7 replies

  1. Oh, now I am relieved; it has a simple explanation. When I saw the title, I feared the UFOs moved the house because it sat on the locus of cosmic energy or one of those nodes that are a beacon for aliens.


  2. I wish my dad and his brothers had still been around so they could have seen this house move. They were in the house moving business back in the day.


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