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The Project: Reading a Sanborn Map part (b)

This is the fourth post in a series addressing digital scholarship in business and economic history related to Library of Congress collections. Read the first postsecond post, and third post.

In my last post, I talked about how I started to learn to read a Sanborn map. I left out one last piece of advice.

I chose a Sanborn map series for an area I’m familiar with, my hometown. But, navigating Sanborn maps of a place I don’t know is trickier: how do I know what I’m looking at?

Both Sanborn maps and current maps (print or web-based) include major relatively unchanging features like railroads and rivers. I pull up a Sanborn map sheet and a present-day web-based map side-by-side. When I see a railroad or river on the Sanborn map, I look for the same railroad or river on the present-day web map. Cross referencing the two maps this way increases my understanding of the Sanborn map’s geography. As well, I can contrast what the area around the railroad/river was like versus what it is like today. The images below illustrate what I mean.

In this first image, the Key for the 1899 Atlanta Sanborn maps, notice the railroads dissecting the city. (Interactive image here.)

Key for Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Atlanta, Fulton County, Georgia. Sanborn Map Company, 1899.

I zoomed in on the interactive image of the Key to capture screenshots of the railroad junction in the center of the page, and Oakland Cemetery to the center right. Compare these screenshots to what I pulled from Google maps.

Screenshot of a railroad junction shown on the Key to Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Atlanta, Fulton County, Georgia. Sanborn Map Company, 1899.

Screenshot from Google Maps of railroad and Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, Georgia. April 23, 2018.











I wanted more details as to what was in the yellow highlighted section, Sheet 3. Go take a look and come back.
There was the round house, freight depot, Presbyterian church, a candy factory, Young Men’s Library, The American Steam Laundry…
That piece of land became Centennial Olympic Park as Atlanta prepared to host the 1996 Olympic Games.

Screenshot of Oakland Cemetery and Sheet 61 shown on the Key to Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Atlanta, Fulton County, Georgia. Sanborn Map Company, 1899.

Screenshot from Google Maps of Oakland Cemetery and the land plot corresponding to Sanborn Map Sheet 61, in Atlanta, Georgia. April 23, 2018.










Again, I got curious about what Sheet 61 would reveal. Go take a look and come back.
The Hebrew Orphan House sat on a block within the bounds of Oakland Cemetery.
Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills was redeveloped into Fulton Cotton Mill Loft Apartments.

Digital collections like the Sanborn maps and tools like Google maps make this kind of research and comparison more accessible. What history and change do you find?


  1. Cheryl Best
    April 26, 2018 at 8:24 am

    Love this idea. Thanks for sharing.

  2. John Hunter
    April 26, 2018 at 5:18 pm

    Fascinating as usual.

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