The Sanborn Fire Insurance Company began producing these maps in the late 19th century for towns and cities throughout the United States in order to provide information to insurers about the composition and use of buildings to allow for the correct underwriting of policies. The maps include: building footprints; building material shown by color, height and number of stories; uses such as dwellings, hotels, churches, and chicken coops; street widths, water pipes, hydrants, and cisterns. This provides historians, genealogists, urban planners, and ethnologist with a wealth of information about the nation’s past.
A handful of libraries hold large collections of these maps, more own a smattering. I would say that Stanford Libraries hold a bit more than a smattering, but nothing like comprehensive coverage of any given area. We hold in paper about 230 sets of maps that range in size from a single page to multiple volumes covering the city of San Francisco. We have scanned the items that are out of copyright – 47 areas in all including two atlases held at the David Rumsey Map Center showing Hallowell, Maine from December 1889 and Frankfort, Kentucky dated September 1907.
Stanford’s collection is now online in an exhibit that allows you to browse, view, and download the scanned maps from the collection. Each town or city has its own browsable section. An interactive index makes it easy to look for specific streets or neighborhoods when it takes multiple sheets to cover a region. Enjoy exploring!
Direct to Online Exhibit