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Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps – An Orientation and New GIS Tools

Sanborn map that shows the Library of Congress building.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia. Volume 2, Sheet 197, 1904. Geography and Map Division.

Please join us for the second session in a new series of virtual orientations for the Geography and Map Division, focusing on our collection of fire insurance maps!

Date: Tuesday, August 9th, 2022

Time: 3:00-4:00 pm (Eastern)

Location: Zoom

Register Here

Reference librarians Amelia Raines and Julie Stoner will present an introduction to the fire insurance maps housed at the Library of Congress, with a special focus on the maps created by the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company. This orientation session will highlight the background of fire insurance mapping, the Sanborn map collections, as well as fire insurance maps made by other companies held in our division. We will cover how to search, download, and interpret Sanborn map sheets. Also covered will be which sheets are available online, the future of digitizing these important resources, and new GIS tools to assist researchers in delving into the maps. After the presentation, staff look forward to answering additional questions from attendees.

The Sanborn map collection includes some fifty thousand editions of fire insurance maps comprising an estimated seven hundred thousand individual sheets. These sheets are uniform large-scale maps, dating from 1867 to the present and depict the commercial, industrial, and residential sections of some twelve thousand cities and towns in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

The maps were designed to assist fire insurance agents in determining the degree of hazard associated with a particular property and therefore show the size, shape, and construction of dwellings, commercial buildings, and factories as well as fire walls, locations of windows and doors, sprinkler systems, and types of roofs. The maps also indicate widths and names of streets, property boundaries, building use, and house and block numbers. The Library of Congress holdings represent one of the largest extant collection of maps produced by the Sanborn Map Company.

Sanborn Atlas Volume Finder screenshot.

As this is our most heavily used collection, we are always looking for new ways to assist researchers in using these invaluable maps. We are happy to announce the publication of a new GIS tool, the Sanborn Atlas Volume Finder! This new tool will help pinpoint the correct Sanborn fire insurance atlas volume for locations in large cities. As there are usually many volumes that cover larger cities, with shifting volume boundaries, it can be confusing or difficult to ascertain which volume covers a specific area or address. With this tool, researchers can enter an address which will immediately show which volume covers that area and a link to any online images. Currently, the cities of Detroit and Los Angeles are completed with the cities of Washington D.C., Chicago, and New York to be published in the coming months.

Screenshot of Detroit Sanborn Volume Finder

A demonstration of these new GIS maps will be given in the orientation linked above. We hope to see you there!

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