And that's not the fault of the governments who maintain the information really. The main problem comes when one meets the verity that J. Random Citizen doesn't speak jargon – that particular cant which is lingua franca amongst those who work in our names in the halls of the county courthouses and city h alls of the land.
But the lingo is simple to learn. In particular, what one really needs to understand is the functions of various public officials, and what they do. The thing to really look for is offiices that have anything to do with recording, measuring, taxation, and the like. If a county or a city has online mapping, they will usually have that as an adjunct to offices such as City Recorder, Assessor, City or County Surveyor. From my reading of the Silverton City Code, for instance, I found that the City Recorder is responsible for generating the records of annexations, providing the ongoing definition of just what the city is and just what it isn't.
In the case of Marion County, the mapping function is provided by the Assessor's office. It should be a fairly simple reader exercise to deduce why that might be. In the case of Marion County, though, the maps available provide a sheer eye-glazing surfeit of detail about what's on the ground there.
The link to online map books at Marion County is here. Amongst them, and the one which excited me the most, is the Marion County Operations map book, which provides complete coverage of the county down to the property line – and not just that, but every property that has an address has that address placed on the map (check the illustration of a section of downtown Silverton). This is an invaluable resource to those wishing to reasearch and compile regular street maps that go to the next level by providing address information. Other maps include parks, urban and rural zoning, and others.
I am a big fan of maps that provide address grid info. They are interesting in and of themselves, to show the structure of the address system (which fascinates me as the shiny bit fascinates the crow), and dead useful to the sojourner trying to navigate themselves through an unfamiliar town.
Like most such records, however, it doesn't detail why the decisions were made; it must be inferred. In the case of Marion at large, the grid centers on downtown Salem, where State Street meets the Willamette; in Silverton, where Main and Silver Creek/Water Street come together.
Another thing that's not online yet, and germane to something I want to do, is plat maps. These are the original maps of the city as envisioned, and detail the streets that are there (or the ones they wanted to put there) and the city's history of territorial expansion. This is something I'm still running down.
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