Not long ago, the Geography & Map Division tweeted this business map of Bristol, Bordentown, Burlington, and Mount Holly in the New Jersey/Pennsylvania area. Naturally, the business librarian in me perked up, because it is a great example of how maps and company information can come together.
When doing historical research on a local business, many people find it helpful to understand the physical landscape that a particular business fits within. Maps are a great way to help with this, because when street names and numbering change and landmarks no longer exist, places can look very different than they once did.
Our Doing Historical Company Research guide does not spend too much time on maps as part of historical company research, but we have published a few posts related to the Sanborn fire insurance maps that demonstrate how they can be used. I wrote a post about my love for these maps and illustrated their usefulness by looking at a particular corner of Capitol Hill here in Washington, D.C. Nancy Lovas also wrote two posts with a few useful tips and examples on how to use them.
Getting back to this particular map, the companies listed are what you would expect for this period. A number of them are in the building trades, such as lumber dealers, plumbers, paint dealers, and a stove/heater supplier. There are also those that are more on the “domestic” side of life, like coal suppliers, dry goods, apothecaries, insurance salesmen, tailors/clothing sellers, and a tobacconist. The appearance of the ads varied as well. Ads from builder B.C. Gaskill and organ seller Mason & Hamlin included images to draw the eye in, while others like Jas. Enright the “practical plumber” and Daniel Brook the merchant tailor were more basic.
What I find interesting is how this map is also used to advertise a new development in Pennsville and that the printer included all of these places together, although they are not as close to each other as one would assume by the map. If you want to explore more and see how the county and its places changed, there are Sanborn Maps for Burlington County published not long after this particular map – for Burlington from 1885, 1896, 1908, 1915, etc. – and even ones for Bordentown from 1897, 1908, 1915, etc. There is also a Sanborn map of the lower Penn’s Neck Township from 1938 if someone wants to understand where that Pennsville development went over the next 50 years.
And one final suggestion: when doing research on older companies why stop with maps? Go a step farther and look for pictures. Kristi Finefeld over at Picture This wrote a post that started with a picture she found featuring an unusual company truck and led to a search to learn more. It shows how pictures can add even more to the story.
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