Maps are Footprint in Time
December 31, 2009 — Update 1/21/2011: The Library no longer subscribes to the online Sanborn Maps. Hard copies are still available to view in the Local History Department at the Library Center.
Like a key that unlocks buried treasure, an old map led Springfield architect Allen Casey to discover historic family property – then led him to its doorstep.
The resource? Sanborn Maps, large-scale plans of cities and towns, drawn at a scale of 50 feet to an inch. More than 660,000 maps were produced from 1867 to 1970, so you can see block-by-block detailed maps for more than 12,000 U.S. cities and towns.
They were created to help fire insurance companies assess the risk associated with insuring a particular property. But they are treasure maps in the hands of genealogy buffs, environmental researchers and run-of-the-mill map hobbyists. The maps are incredibly detailed, down to each garage, outbuilding, awning and elevator. The view of the old Springfield Wagon Company’s expansive plant is just fun to “read” on the 1896 map, Sheet 12.
Library card holders can access the Digital Sanborn Maps from home (anyone can see them on a library branch computer) through a simple site search from thelibrary.org. The district also has hard-copy maps of Springfield from 1933 to 1956 in the Local History Department at the Library Center, 4653 S. Campbell Ave.
Local History Department Manager Michael Glenn says many people are still surprised to discover this library resource, which he calls them “footprints of a point in time.”
Footprints that led Allen Casey to a forgotten piece of family history. As an architect who also redevelops downtown properties, Casey has used Sanborn Maps to learn how a building was constructed, its quirks and history. But his personal quest involved the Kraushaar Brass and Light Manufacturing Co., which his grandfather and great-grandfather operated from 1873 to about 1930 in St. Louis.
Casey mentioned his search to a St. Louis lighting expert, who produced a 1900s catalog listing two company addresses. Casey’s family knew nothing of a second, Broadway Avenue site. A Sanborn Map showed details of the old plant, down to the foundry, storage and packing rooms. A Google Earth satellite map revealed the former Kraushaar building still exists, and Casey drove right to it.
“It was fascinating as far as filling in the pieces,” Casey said. “To see on a 1909 map an ancestor’s business was enthralling, and to find it with their name on it was an even bigger deal,” Casey said.
Many such discoveries are possible with the library’s resources, from the Moaser Directory of Towns, Villages and Hamlets, to the Geographic Names Information System, GNIS, to the U.S. Geological Survey topographical and quadrangle maps, to the map of known Greene County sinkholes.
Kathleen O’Dell is community relations director of the Springfield-Greene County Library District. She can be reached at email@example.com.