Conrad Blucher Institute and Bell Library Celebrate 100K Historical Documents Cataloged

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – When Texas was young and the land still uncharted, surveyors were called upon to map the wild frontiers – surveyors like Baron Felix von Blucher, the first in a long line of Bluchers who mapped the original land boundaries of Corpus Christi and South Texas. His grandson, Conrad Blucher, was the last of three generations of Blucher family surveyors. Their work generated 400 field books and thousands of maps – a legacy spanning more than 100 years of surveying in South Texas.

The public now has online access to these historical and legally significant documents, the earliest of which are the Blucher Family Papers, thanks to a partnership between Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s Special Collections and Archives Department at the Mary and Jeff Bell Library and the Conrad Blucher Institute (CBI) for Surveying and Science.

“This project is so much more than a partnership, it’s a blending of professions,” shared Bryan Gillis, Spatial {Query} Lab Coordinator at CBI and survey digitization project lead. “I am most proud of how we have torn down so many walls, literally and figuratively, to accomplish some great interdisciplinary work.”

To make the maps more accessible to students and local surveyors, Seneca Holland, former Texas A&M-Corpus Christi faculty and Dr. Thomas Kreneck, former associate director of special collections, had the idea to start the project seven years ago. For the last four years, Gillis and his team of student workers – in collaboration with the Special Collections staff and students – have accelerated the pace of work thanks to external grant funding.

 “I picked up this project in the last ten months and my experience has been mind-blowing,” said Shebly Gonzales, library specialist II and Island University graduate student. “It’s important that our generation understands the significance of history, so we’re making sure it’s properly preserved and readily available for the future.”

During an event on July 13, professional surveyors from across the state of Texas, as well as local community members, joined CBI and library staff to celebrate the cataloging of the 100,000th document, a map. After a brief introduction from project managers, Ronald E. Brister, registered professional land surveyor and original champion of the project, had the honor of ceremoniously cataloging the map. 

Guests had the chance to glimpse archived documents from 1859 to 1978. Some of the pieces included a large general index and a field book featuring an excerpt from a surveyor in the 30’s who was swarmed by “15 billion mosquitos.” Blueprints, maps and even an original sketch of Corpus Christi done by Felix von Blucher were also on display.

“We have important history in our archives, and it shouldn't’t only be accessible to a few elite people who know about it. It needs to be discoverable and available to everyone,” shared Dr. Catherine “Cate” Rudowsky, dean of Libraries at A&M University-Corpus Christi. “Ensuring equal and unbarred access to information and our history is an ultimate responsibility of libraries, and this project provides that.”

In reaching this new milestone, CBI and Special Collections have only scratched the surface. In addition to eight other surveying collections, they still have thousands of land records to make accessible but plan to expand their project to include preserving other public historical documents.

“The people of South Texas have been, and still are, susceptible to loss of their land based on whether or not original records can be produced,” explained Gillis. “Helping the public gain easy access to land information that is rightfully theirs is how I, as a member of the surveying community, hope to protect them.”