Researching Historic Buildings with Sanborn Maps

If you’re interested in researching the history of an older building, you might be happy to find that quite a few free resources are available to you, both online and at local public libraries and government offices. Although free to the public, some of these resources are not well known. One important source of information that may be overlooked is the Sanborn Fire Insurance map collection.

Partial Sanborn map image for Columbus in 1887 (left) and 1922 (right)

First produced in 1867 by the Sanborn Insurance Company to assess the risks of buildings, Sanborn maps provide a snapshot of the overall character of a building or neighborhood. If you’re researching the history of your house or business and are interested in information on when the property was built, what modifications have been made to it, and when different parts of the building were constructed, Sanborn maps may be quite useful to you. Or, if you’re studying the history and development of a particular city, town, or neighborhood, these maps can provide some good evidence related to the history of the community and how its buildings evolved. The maps have long been useful to surveyors in the cultural resources business, but they are also available to individuals who are interested in knowing more about the history of the property or community where they work or live.

Based on our extensive use of these maps for projects, the staff at Hardlines Design Company has prepared a free, downloadable guide on using the Ohio Public Library Information Network (OPLIN) to access online Sanborn maps. This document is the first in a series of guides that will give detailed information on researching historic properties.

Click HERE for a copy of our Sanborn Map guide.