With the help of a free app called Layar, users point their phone's camera at an area along the canal and a three-dimensional model of the building appears on top of the modern day canal. The models are to scale, so the buildings grow bigger as the user approaches, and are placed nearly exactly where they stood more than 130 years ago.
Typically Layar is used as a basic mapping service. But Rebecca Rogers, marketing director for the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area, saw a much larger potential.
"This is the technology of the moment," Rogers said. "This is where people, particularly young people, go first for their information."
Rogers said her first efforts to find developers to work on the project, based on technology called "augmented reality," turned up a band of software developers in the Ukraine. Then she struck gold with Jay Gibbons.
Gibbons and his partner Frank Carter form the Augusta-based company Capwah, which updates businesses with the latest technology.
Gibbons was well-versed in augmented reality, but the fresh challenge was researching the Confederate Powderworks. Augusta's gunpowder factory produced more than 3 million pounds of high quality powder during the Civil War under the command of Col. George Washington Rains. All the buildings were torn down after the war to make room for an enlarged canal, except for the chimney, which Rains personally requested be saved.
What historians have recovered are many of the original architectural designs. Sibley Mill adjacent to the chimney was built using the bricks of the powder works and uses an identical architectural style. Gibbons recreated the models based on both of these sources.
The project is mostly complete after three months of work and a launch date is expected mid-summer. There are still some bugs to work out in the system, but each of the 10 buildings will likely include a video or web link that will explain more about the building's purpose. With a little finagling, visitors can even have their picture taken beside the old building -- a souvenir few can boast about back home.
Gibbons is proud to bring history to life for Augusta.
"They're all pretty awesome," he said about the buildings.