Benefits of Using Sanborn Maps for Exploring Histories and Places


Published on

Presented at the National Council on Public History Conference, Santa Fe, NM. April 2007.

Published in: Education, Technology
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Benefits of Using Sanborn Maps for Exploring Histories and Places

  1. 1. Benefits of Using Sanborn Maps for Exploring Histories and PlacesBeth Filar WilliamsColorado Library
  2. 2. OutlineI. What are Sanborn Maps?II. History of Sanborn CompanyIII. Reading Sanborn MapsIV. Uses of the Sanborn MapsV. Bibliography
  3. 3. I. What are Sanborn Maps?•Fire Insurance Maps•Large Scale•Detailed (50 feet to 1 inch)•Date Back to the 1860s•Updated Regularly Until 1950s•Approximately 12,000 U.S.towns and cities mapped!
  4. 4. Partial of “Map of Congested District of Salt Lake City Utah” 1911 The Sanborn Mapping Company (Scale 200ft to 1in)
  5. 5. Online Digital Sanborn MapsCU Boulder (NEW!) Berkeley Info and Maps Center and Department of History, University of Virginia. of Florida Libraries of Utah Libraries of Georgia Libraries digital Media Center (need permission and authentication to enter) Rumsey Collection has a few Sanborns Libraries – sanborns of Indianapolis
  6. 6. II. History of the Sanborn MapsLondon was prone to fires throughout its history Detail of painting from 1666 of the Great Fire of London by an unknown artist. Photo taken from Wikipedia
  7. 7. Fire InsuranceMaps emergedin London in thelate 1700s
  8. 8. Insurance Mapping in America Growth of insurance based mapping companies, late 1800s Supplied information to insurance underwritersRates based according to the relative risk of fires
  9. 9. Daniel A. Sanborn founded the Sanborn NationalInsurance Diagram Bureau in 1867 Portrait of Daniel A. Sanborn
  10. 10. Shortened the name “Sanborn Map Company” in 1902Eventually emerged as the leader in the field due toabsorption of other companies, high accurate,detailed maps and standardized symbolization (published in 1905)
  11. 11. Surveyors:•Worked anonymously•Names never appeared on maps•Occasionally gained notoriety orcelebrity after leaving the Company•Sanborn’s peak in 1920 – surveyor inevery state!
  12. 12. III. Reading Sanborn MapsSanborn maps contain a rich amountof information and detail….To understand & interpret the mapsyou must use the complex legend!
  13. 13. Color Keys available: OR
  14. 14. Sanborn maps were drawn at a scale of 50 feet to 1 inch until after WWII
  15. 15. Show size, shape, andconstruction ofcommercial buildings(C or S), dwellings (D, Paonia Colorado circa 1908 From ghostdepot.comF or R), and structures.
  16. 16. Not just location but the composition of all buildings within a city or town. Wood Frame Building Stone BuildingFireproof Building Wood Frame w/ Iron Facade
  17. 17. Maps noted strength of firedepartment and sometimes thenumber of engines or firefighters ateach station!
  18. 18. Shows location ofwater and gasmains as well asthings likesprinklers,hydrants, andalarms.
  19. 19. Maps show street names, railroadlines, and Indian Reservations. And labels on most public buildings Reno, NV 1899
  20. 20. Index maps may include prevailing winds,population estimates, fire departmentdetails, and water facility information.
  21. 21. DisastersThematic Map of Chicago StockyardProduced by the Sanborn Company(date unknown) Chicago Stockyards 1947It took less than one week following theChicago Stockyard fire of 1934 to producean updated map.
  22. 22. Corrections and Updates:Each yearrevised maps w/correction slips –paste-ons.
  23. 23. The Decline of the Fire Insurance Maps:•The maps were costly•1929 stock market crash and depression•During WWII government placed restrictions onmap production and building construction•Difficulty keeping pace with the post WWIIpopulation and development boomBy the 1960s the insurance industry shiftedaway from using maps to assess risk
  24. 24. IV. Uses of the Sanborn Maps •Urban Morphology •Historical Sociology •Archeology •Historic Preservation •Genealogy •Urban Historians •Treasure Hunting •And much more!
  25. 25. Urban Morphology •How does physical form produce or reproduce social forms?Study the physical form of a city including: • street patterns • buildings sizes and shapes • architecture • population density • patterns of land uses
  26. 26. Urban Morphology Example Dr. Vaselka used Sanborn maps to examine how the the design and placement of courthouse squares in Texas affected sense of community. Quickbird Satellite Image of Denton, TX “Courthouse on the Square”
  27. 27. Urban Morphology Example The development of the Barrio Libre Neighborhood, Tucson http://southwest.library.arizona.ed u/barr/body.1_div.2.html 1919 1948 1886 1901
  28. 28. Historical Sociology •Study the past to find out how societies work and change http://www.economist.comExample: Washington DC “alley life”
  29. 29. DC Alley Dwellings Example Following the Civil War - housing shortage - small dwellings built in alleys between D.C city blocks – many were brothels! Most residents were poor and/or African American.Public perception of allies and inhabitants: •filthy •squalid •crime ridden •drunken •rampant immorality and disease
  30. 30. DC Alley Dwellings Example Investigations into these “red light districts” were conducted in the early 1900s.Louse Alley wasconsidered one of theworst offenders. View of Louse Alley published in Wellers 1909 expose Neglected Neighbors.
  31. 31. Alley dwellings abolished during early 20th c. …. LouseAlley renamed Armory Place (& became minor street)….Armory Place demolished in 1930s (part of a“beautification” campaign)…. Temporary housing waserected here after WWII…. For a time part of the areawas used as dedicated open space. Currently - American Indian Museum stands the site of Louse Alley but before it was built intensive archeological investigations were conducted & incredible artifacts found!
  32. 32. Sanborn maps guided theexcavation and are one of the few records of both “alley life” and “alley dwellers”
  33. 33. Archeology Sanborn maps frequently aid archeologist – they are the building foot prints!From Footprint of a Sawmill:Archeological Investigation Into the Nurre …
  34. 34. Historic Preservation Taos square in historic Georgetown, CO awaits restoration.Wisconsin Historical Society –how to use Sanbornsto research old buildings:
  35. 35. Historic Preservation Sanborn Maps are an excellent resource for historic preservation. • historical evolution of buildings • historic uses of buildings • determine what building materials should be used conservation andFrom: rehabilitation
  36. 36. Genealogy The study or investigation of ancestry and family history.• Generally do not contain family names - butdo you know the address of an ancestor?• Only cover urban areas so best for researchof city dwelling ancestors
  37. 37. Urban Historians •identify past land uses• Study urbanization of cities• Inferences about how housing sites were developed• Explore how transportation routes developed over time• Scan whole city at once at one time• Find unique structures of the time – and note changes in time.• Growth and movement of immigrant groups in cities• Determine owner builders dwellings• “Way in which North Americans made their way into the suburbs”(from Robert Harris “Reading Sanborns…”)
  38. 38. Treasure HuntingBottle hunters usemetal detectors to findtreasure … also use Compliments of “Digger Odell Publications”Sanborn maps to from http://bottlebooks.comlocate privy orouthouse sites!
  39. 39. Use in Map Libraries University of Colorado at Boulder Map Library – example patrons request for Sanborn maps:Researching a property for sale or selling as to historical value and/or to restore.Curious about old neighborhood and wants to know what looked like “back in the day of his grandfather”Looking for evidence of buildings designated as "historic” are really historic and historically preservedMany Architecture students use them for various projectsEnvironmental research (could an old service station have ever occupied the property with the gas tanks possibly never having been dug up?)
  40. 40. Other Ideas•MIT Open CourseWare: a database of free MIT course materials. Searchfor "sanborn" to access some fabulous resources.•A lesson plan for 8th graders entitled A Road Map to Our Town, by AnnaMoyer developed during a class taught by Professor Susan Hardwick atthe University of Oregon.•A Walk Down Main street: Exploring Your Local Community, a lessondeveloped by Pat Gore at Greenwood Elementary in Independence, MO.Hosted by the Missouri Geographic Alliance.•Other ideas you have?
  41. 41. Bibliography and Weblinks: (general information) (Great detailed history of sanborns) (DC alley life) (DC alley life)Day, Grant, Jonathan Kerr& Jeffery Mauck. Footprint of a Sawmill: ArcheologicalInvestigation Into the Nurre Sawmill in Williamsburg, KY. Available online at:, Tom. “Information About Digital Sanborn Maps.” Kent State University, Libraries &Media Services. 2001. Available online at:, Robert. “Reading Sanborns for the Spoor of the Owner-Builder, 18902-1950s”Exploring Everyday Landscapes: Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture, v. 7. 1997. p251-267Weller, Charles F. Neglected Neighbors: Stories of Life in the Alleys, Tenements, andShanties of the National Capital. Philadelphia: J.C. Winston, 1909.
  42. 42. Purchasing InformationFor Historic and Current Sanborn Maps:• Environmental Data Resources, Inc. (EDR) 440 Wheelers Farms Road Milford, CT 06461 1-800-352-0050 Currently Updated Sanborn Maps Only:• Sanborn Map Company 1-800-930-3298 a library who owns them in your state: