Sanborn Fire Protection Maps

One of the frequently used local type of maps for genealogists and historians over the years has been the Sanborn Fire Protection Maps. They were originally created back in the 1860s to assess buildings and homes before insurance companies issued fire protection policies. These carefully drawn maps have detailed information regarding the water ways within a town and its many buildings. Between 1867 and 1970 some 12,000 towns in the United States of various sizes has been mapped out. These maps for the same towns have been done at different times, some in 1884, others in 1907 or 1920. Since the dates are so varied it is like a snap shot of the town in that year.

This Massachusetts company was founded by Daniel Alfred Sanborn in 1867. It became so successful over the next few years it had regional branches across the country. There were legions of surveyors who recorded all the buildings and relevant details about these buildings in the towns regarding their fire liability.  Included on the maps, usually divided into different sections of a town, had the streets, churches, businesses, hotels, movie houses and schools all labeled and dimensions for the buildings.  Homes were also marked but not labeled with a owner’s name.

These comprehensive maps are a wonderful source of learning where a family had a home, which homes next door and the types of businesses who nearby. They can be located in most state universities and / or state archive libraries.  There is also a complete set in the Library of Congress, but unfortunately not all the states are not online.   The states the Library of Congress does have: AK, AL, AZ, CA, CT, DC, GA, IL, IN, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MO, MS, NC, NE, NH, NJ, NV, OH, PA, TX, VA, VT and WY.  However, most of the states through the universities or archives have now made most of their Sanborn state and town maps available online. Also public libraries across the country having the ProQuest databases carry the Sanborn Maps.

A method of locating a state is to use a search engine like Google and use the keywords ‘Sanborn Fire Protection Maps’ + then the state’s name. This will produce the state university or archives with online images of the maps. Download a copy and label its date and place.  There could be several different years’ of maps for the same town, so download all of them. You will want to refer to them numerous times.

The above map is of Manchester, Maryland in 1924.

< Return To Blog Although I know of this resource I have yet to really make good use of it. But I know someday it will provide me with the jackpot find we are all always seeking! regards, Theresa (Tangled Trees)
Theresa Casteel 23/04/12

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