Sanborn maps [Was historical maps}...


Jack Burgess <jack@...>
 

When Sanborn was still in business, they gave a complete set of state maps to at least one public agency in every state. In California, UC Berkeley has a set and, I think, the Huntington Library in southern California. If you visit the Map Room at UC Berkeley, you can make all of the photocopies you want for the price of the copies. But, for many years, you could also download, for free, copies of the Sanborn maps that you want directly from Sanborn through their website.

 

These maps were prepared so that insurance agents could prepare quotes for fire insurance. As such, they recorded not only the size of the buildings (and were updated as needed to stay current) but things which would influence the cost of fire insurance including building materials, building height, fire hydrants, etc. Some of this information was provided by the color of the buildings and other items by codes.

 

An index to the code is at

 

http://cluster3.lib.berkeley.edu/EART/images/sand2.jpg

 

Unfortunately, the historic Sanborn company was purchased several years ago by a company that now sells the original Sanborn maps. Back when I was working, consultants hired by companies that were looking at vacant properties for potential development would come to our City engineering office asking for historic aerial maps. In addition to getting copies of the Sanborn maps, they were looking for any potential hazardous chemical problems for the property they were investigating due to then-demolished buildings. I suspect that the company that purchased Sanborn figured that they could make money by selling the maps that were once available for free to the same companies that were investigating vacant properties.

 

A couple of interesting sidebar stories. Many years ago, I bought an expensive company store pin issued by the Yosemite Lumber Company on eBay which, I think, was to allow their employees at the lumber mill to get free meals in the company dining room. The seller contacted me and said that, if I'd tell him why I spent so much money on this pin, he'd send me a free additional "prize". Of course, I told him of my interest in both the Yosemite Valley Railroad and the Yosemite Lumber Company. He fulfilled his promise and including with my pin a print of a Sanborn map of the entire Merced Falls company town. This particular Sanborn map was not included in any index of California Sanborn maps that I have seen so my copy might be the only one in existence. Obviously, it was prepared specifically for an agent who needed to quote fire insurance for this company town. (The town never had a fire.) This map allowed me to not only draft plans for the town but also accurately draw plans for many of the structures in town.

 

The other story. Back when you could download maps for free from Sanborn, I downloaded every map that I could find for any town on the railroad. One of these maps, even though it was filed under "Merced", was actually for the Yosemite Portland Cement plant a couple of miles outside Merced. The Yosemite Valley Railroad served this plant, not only switching rock cars of limestone from an online quarry into the plant but also switching loaded box cars with bags of Portland cement out of the plant and shipping them out on the SP.

 

Several years ago, this large plant was in being demolished when I received an e-mail from an environmental engineer working on the project with a question. While doing onsite demolition, crews hit a concrete underground bunker. They pulled back, not knowing what it was (a logical and proper thing to do) and went on to other work. The question of what they hit was assigned to the environmental engineer who was charged with making sure that the demolition didn't expose any unknown hazards. That is when he e-mailed me, providing me with the general area occupied by this bunker and asking if I had any idea what it might be. I quickly consulted my Sanborn map of the site and, given where they found it, told him that I thought that it was an underground oil bunker which, given the dates when the plant was in operation, meant that it was used for Bunker C, now considered a hazardous material. I e-mailed him a copy of my map but I have no question that they uncovered that Bunker C storage tank. That had to cost the property owner a lot.

 

They later found lead (another hazardous material) on the property which I helped another engineer understand why but  that is another story...

 

Jack Burgess

 

Many county libraries and universities have access to the Sanborn fire maps.  I found that there are maps available for 1919 covering the General Petroleum Corporation and 1926 covering the Central Manufacturing district.  Generally you have to have a library card to access the maps.  Prior to the internet age, I went to UC Berkeley and printed out the needed maps. 

 

Proquest will sell individual maps.  Not sure of the price.  In my research of northern California, maps were often updated and info could be gleaned for a later time period.

 

Hope this helps,

Gary Ray


destorzek@...
 

Interesting comments, Jack, to which I'll add...


The Sanborn maps show railroad tracks, since proximity to the track could affect fire hazards, however, there is no guarantee that the track arrangement is correct. I found this out by accident after I obtained a copy of the sheet that showed the terminal of the Soo Line Eau Claire branch. It showed the main track coming off the Eau Claire River bridge, the turntable, and the turntable lead CROSSING the main track and continuing as a dead end spur, with no other connection. Luckily, at that time I still had an 'old-timer" I could interview, and specifically asked about this track arrangement. Turns out both tracks joined the main with turnouts, the switch points being only a couple feet apart. The cartographer obviously had trouble interpreting the field notes, and just drew it as an acute angle crossing, since it was the location of the track that was important, not the actual arrangement. So, beware.


Dennis Storzek


Tony Thompson
 

Dennis Storzek wrote:

 
The Sanborn maps show railroad tracks, since proximity to the track could affect fire hazards, however, there is no guarantee that the track arrangement is correct. I found this out by accident after I obtained a copy of the sheet that showed the terminal of the Soo Line Eau Claire branch. It showed the main track coming off the Eau Claire River bridge, the turntable, and the turntable lead CROSSING the main track and continuing as a dead end spur, with no other connection. Luckily, at that time I still had an 'old-timer" I could interview, and specifically asked about this track arrangement. Turns out both tracks joined the main with turnouts, the switch points being only a couple feet apart. The cartographer obviously had trouble interpreting the field notes, and just drew it as an acute angle crossing, since it was the location of the track that was important, not the actual arrangement. So, beware.

     Well said. And anytime there is a yard or any reason for very many tracks, a Sanborn will often just label the area "full of tracks," which from a fire insurance perspective is all you would need to know. Not a lot of help to a modeler though.

Tony Thompson             Editor, Signature Press, Berkeley, CA
2906 Forest Ave., Berkeley, CA 94705         www.signaturepress.com
(510) 540-6538; fax, (510) 540-1937; e-mail, tony@...
Publishers of books on railroad history





Chuck Soule
 

Regarding comments by both Jack and Dennis:


I understand that, by Sanborn convention, they showed railroad tracks, but not trolley tracks.  So Sanborn maps are not much help interpreting street railways.


Jack is correct in his surmise that the people bought the Sanborn maps started charging for them because a large demand arose about 20 years ago for conducting real estate assessments of possible historical environmental hazards on property subject to sale.  Banks will not loan money for commercial real estate anymore unless they have a "Phase 1" assessment that is basically a paper search for evidence of past environmental issues.  If issues appear to be present, a "Phase 2" assessment may also be conducted, which typically includes soil borings and chemical tests.  These provide a significant business segment within the environmental consulting industry.


Chuck Soule


James F. Brewer <jfbrewer@...>
 

If you find yourself in the Washington, DC area, be sure to stop in the Library of Congress.  You will have to obtain a LOC ID card (free) which is good for at least a year.  You can then go down to the Map Room where a staff librarian will be very happy to assist you in viewing the Sanborn maps.  If you are content viewing them on the computer screen, you can print out your heart's content at no cost.  The librarian will be happy to show you how to isolate a section of a map, enlarge it, print it, etc.
A few years ago I went to LOC to gather Sanborn maps for Waynesboro, VA which is the last section of my layout to be built. This information has been very valuable and I thoroughly enjoyed the LOC experience.
 
Jim Brewer
Glenwood MD


From: timken2626@...
To: STMFC@...
Sent: Saturday, December 28, 2013 11:36:22 AM
Subject: [STMFC] RE: Sanborn maps [Was historical maps}...

 

Regarding comments by both Jack and Dennis:


I understand that, by Sanborn convention, they showed railroad tracks, but not trolley tracks.  So Sanborn maps are not much help interpreting street railways.


Jack is correct in his surmise that the people bought the Sanborn maps started charging for them because a large demand arose about 20 years ago for conducting real estate assessments of possible historical environmental hazards on property subject to sale.  Banks will not loan money for commercial real estate anymore unless they have a "Phase 1" assessment that is basically a paper search for evidence of past environmental issues.  If issues appear to be present, a "Phase 2" assessment may also be conducted, which typically includes soil borings and chemical tests.  These provide a significant business segment within the environmental consulting industry.


Chuck Soule