The Great Idea Project for The Stillwater Foundation, 2016

What is Lens Flare Stillwater?

Lens Flare Stillwater allows us to make a connection between the historical photo collection of Mr. John Runk and the digital technology of 2017. Specifically, there is a connection between the geo-location of the historical photo and its appearance in 2017 at the same location. Lens Flare Stillwater allows you to have the History Book of Stillwater in your mobile device or computer. We can enjoy looking at the John Runk Collection of photos from the comfort of wherever we happen to be (virtual reality), or we can enjoy these same experiences while on location in Stillwater by using the browser-based APP (Augmented Reality). There are photos, narratives, audio narratives and additional photos and features that function in any mobile device. The best news is that they are FREE !

Virtual Reality Tour

Virtual reality means that you can take an imaginary tour of Stillwater and view photos, read text, listen to audio narrative, view video and go to other maps and references that are related to the history of Stillwater. You can take this tour from the comfort of your home or hotel room anywhere in the world.

The Lens Flare Stillwater web site allows you to visit Stillwater, Minnesota for a virtual tour of the city in times past. The historical photos are sourced from the John Runk Collection, but more about that when you read and view who Mr. Runk was and what he did for all of us many years ago. What makes the site interactive is that it is linked with GPS coordinates that allow you to view the historical photo in the context of its location as it exists today. There are narratives for most of the locations. Some of these will provide audio descriptions as well as written descriptions of the historical sites. There also are Google Street View 360 Maps of these historical locations in Stillwater that are linked to their present day locations. There are photos on the maps that show and provide a brief description of the locations. In summary, Lens Flare Stillwater is a combination of the past work of Mr. John Runk with today’s technology.  This allows us to accurately locate his historical photo contributions  against today’s scenes and do some other magic.

This web site also functions with all mobile devices, so you can view these photos while walking and taking a tour of Stillwater.  The web site is very interactive and puts the "History of Stillwater in your Pocket or Purse". The site host and the APP have compatibility with all mobile devices and desktop computers. 

Progress and Different Consequences

What is different about Lens Flare Stillwater is that many of the places in the photos do not exist today. Some have burned while others have been razed. Some are still standing, while others have been modified or are undergoing modifications. Some, you can touch and feel while others are gone, but for these images. Many of these historical photos have been juxtaposed over scenes of the same location as it appears today. The intention here is to give everyone a feel for the history of Stillwater as it went through the wilderness, the Native American, the Territorial Prison and Statehood, the lumbering era, the manufacturing enterprise era, the railroading period and other times of change. We want to make visitors or residents curious as to what life must have been like during any of the epochs of Stillwater’s unique history.


Augmented Reality

Augmented reality is a feature on your mobile device that enhances your real experience.  In the case of Lens Flare Stillwater, that feature is the geolocation technology.  This allows you to be nearby an active location and have the technology automatically provide information, such as photos, text, audio and video related to that location. It enables us to sense when we are nearby an identified historical location. This is best used with your mobile device when you actually are in Stillwater learning about these locations. There are two ways to accomplish this;

Native APP

A "Native app" is a separate software that functions apart from your mobile device browser. Generally, you must download the App via the Apple Store or other location in order to use the App.

The future of Lens Flare Stillwater will include a "Native APP" for your iOS mobile device (Apple). The APP will enable you to easily locate and identify these historical sites using your camera function. It will also allow you to swipe across the historical photo and view the same scene as it appears today or at different times in the past. Lens Flare Stillwater will be truly an “Augmented Reality” APP.  At this time however, the native APP is not yet available.  When it does become available, you will be able to easily download the FREE APP from this site.  Stay Tuned !

Browser-Based APP

A browser based APP is similar to the native APP, but it is functioning via your device browser.  Lens Flare Stillwater is also fortunate to have software that enables us to have Augmented Reality features via our web site.  The software has been generously provided by Robert Bilyk of Lodestar Learning Systems.  This software functions thru the web site gateway.  The device senses the geolocation and changes the screen view as you enter the new geolocation.  As you walk or drive thru Stillwater and you come within the geofence of an active location, your screen will change with a photo, text narrative, audio narrative or video related to this historical location.  Bob Bilyk and Lodestar Learning Systems have also provided training for our volunteers to input content into this software.  This software is fully functional at this time and will work on all mobile devices.  


The historical content, voice, text, photos and locations are being created by an “All Volunteer” team. Click Here to see our Volunteers.  If you are interested in helping out, please contact Lens Flare Stillwater.


Funding for Lens Flare Stillwater has been provided through a very generous grant from the Stillwater Area Foundation as a prize for winning their 2016 Great Idea Competition. These people have been very patient with us because of delays and problems with software development during the past seven months. The Stillwater Foundation has helped many organizations who are centered on improving Stillwater.  Keep them in mind when you are interested in making a contribution to this worthwhile foundation.

Software Development

Pivot The World

The hard work for such an APP had already been done by a start-up called PIVOTtheWorld, the brainchild of Sami Jitan and Asma Jaber. Sami and Asma have been working on the software for this native APP, which has allowed our volunteer team to focus on content development.

Lodestar Learning Systems

Bob Bilyk and Lodestar Learning Systems have also worked very hard with their Lodestar Browser-Based APP.  Their software powers the Browser-Based APP at the Lens Flare Stillwater web site. Their generosity and adaptive work has demonstrated how a community works together in a cooperative manner.

Sources of Content

The John Runk Collection of Historical Photos has been sourced from:

The Washington County Historical Society

The Stillwater Public Library

The Minnesota Historical Society

We are also grateful for the availability of digital files from the New York City Public Library for some the content in Lens Flare Stillwater.