Scroll though time with the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

Feb 12, 2024 | by

With all the help by Riley Champine

The Sanborn Fire Insurance maps are a set of incredibly detailed maps of cities across North America published by the Sanborn Map Company from 1886 to 1977. Many of these maps are part of a public domain archive of over 400,000 maps that have been collected and scanned by the Library of Congress.

Here’s where it gets next level: Adam Cox has created an open source web application at that allows folks to overlay the old insurance maps on a modern scrollable, zoomable map.

The folks at the University of Richmond Digital Scholarship Lab have done the work to add the Richmond. They’ve hired about two dozen students to take on the georeferencing work (positioning the maps into their correct location). The DSL is the same group responsible for georeferencing and digitizing the redlining maps.

The DSL is collaborating with epidemiologists at the University of Michigan on an NIH grant that aims to find direct mechanisms for why people who have lived in redlined neighborhoods are more likely to have worse health outcomes. Examples include proximity to industrial sites, railroads, junk yards, infrastructure that burns coal or gas, etc.

The site currently has the 1886, 1895, and 1952 maps for Richmond (so it’s all pre-1970 annexation). CHECK IT OUT HERE.

Scrolling around I was struck by just HOW MUCH of Southside was involved in the tobacco trade in 1952. So many warehouses, so many jobs! (That pic at the top is Model Tobacco at Hopkins & Richmond Highway).

It’s fascinating to see the old street grid and property lines along Semmes Avenue east of Cowardin.

Hull Street approach to Mayo Bridge. Numerous paper manufacturing companies here adjacent to many tracks and the canal. What is now the Richmond Railroad Museum is shown as the segregated Hull St. Station for the Southern Railway (map labels both a “waiting rm.” and a “negro waiting rm.”). (From RC)

Westover Hills Blvd and Forest Hill Ave. Check out the old Post Office on Westover Hills Blvd (now Fultz & Singh Architects) and lots of gas stations (“Fill’g. Sta.”). Note the restaurant in the same location as O’Toole’s, and the movie theatre that’s now New Canaan Baptist Church. (From RC)

Semmes Avenue and W 14th St. There used to be a turn table for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad in the vicinity of the Riverside Dr onramp to the bridge. Most of the right of way of Railroad Ave shown in this map is now occupied by the Jamestown and River View Apartments. (From RC)

Also stumbled across the old Bainbridge Junior High (1915-1975) at Bainbridge Street and Cowardin Avenue, and the Venus Theatre on Hull Street.

3 thoughts on “Scroll though time with the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps”

  1. Fascinating looking at our house in Oakwood. Quick question: is there a key somewhere so I can decipher some o the colors and notes?

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