Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sanborn Maps

I discovered early on in my teaching career that I couldn’t get my point across to students without a map.   I had pull-down maps in my classroom, but I rarely used them because they were mounted over my white boards, and they would cover up other information students needed access to   The mounted maps rarely had the information I needed to show students at the time as well, so I would just draw a quick outline of the United States on the board, fill the map in with whatever I was teaching at the time, and then move on.
Recently, I ran across a map source I was unaware of – a resource used by historical researchers, city planners, preservationist, genealogists, and even sociologists.

I’m speaking of Sanborn Maps – maps that were created from 1867 to 1970 detailing town and building information for approximately 12,000 towns and cities in the United States.
The Sanborn Company was founded by Daniel A. Sanborn in 1867.  The original purpose of the maps was for fire insurance assessment.  Eventually, the Sanborn Company was the largest and most successful American map company with several regional offices including my favorite town….Atlanta, Georgia.

In much the same way as Google has sent out a legion of folks to gather data for Google Earth, the Sanborn Company used surveyors to visit each town where they detailed every street and building periodically.   Not only would the maps indicate where the buildings were they also indicated the types of businesses that were in each location.
Those involved with history research use the maps to look at how certain areas grew and later declined.   I’ve used the maps to determine how certain historic buildings in the town I live in have changed over time and confirm ownership since the early deed records burned in during a courthouse fire during the 1950s. 

You can see one of my weekly columns here where I used Sanborn data in my research.  I’m able to research particular lots and can determine at what year the locations go from vacant lots to structures.   I can tell if the structure was wood or at what point the owner upgraded to brick or added an awning.   The name of the owner is usually listed as well as the types of businesses that could be found from year to year.
Genealogist can use Sanborn maps to confirm ownership of homes and buildings since structures are very detailed while city planners use the maps to study urban designs over time.   The maps also come in handy for historic preservationist and demographers.

….and what about the classroom….would I use them there?
You bet I would.

Tom Gates, Associate Professor at Kent State has an excellent online article regarding Sanborn Maps here which includes a section on use in the classroom.   Gates advises:
The Sanborn digital maps can be used for individual research and classroom instruction.  The changes in a town and the built environment are recorded in detail and can provide the basis for a number of projects, which can be visually presented in the classroom.

The study of American literature, based on novels and travel journals which describe typical Nineteenth Century American towns, can be better understood by studying maps and their Record Descriptions which contain references to places in terms that are now arcane in American English usage.
Architectural design students can use the Sanborn Maps to analyze various building types and functions exemplified by cathedrals, synagogues, theaters, hotels, residences, schools, laundries, bathhouse, department stores, factories, fire houses, etc.

I highly advise educators to read the entire article and decide for yourself how you could use these resources in your classroom.
You can find Sanborn maps at the following links….there are probably more, but this will get you started!  Enjoy!!!

North Carolina, 1884-1922

Florida, 1860-1923

South Carolina, 1884-1960

Hallowell, Maine, 1890

Indianapolis, Indiana, 1887-1941

Toledo, Ohio, 1902

Muncie, Indiana, 1883-1911

San Francisco, 1900

Colorado, 1883-1922