The Digital Library of Georgia has just made Sanborn fire insurance maps produced between 1923-1941 for 39 Georgia towns and cities in 35 counties freely available online. The maps, which are now in the public domain, can be retrieved at dlg.usg.edu/collection/dlg_sanb, and complement the DLG’s existing collection of the University of Georgia Map and Government Information Library’s 539 Sanborn maps dating from 1884-1922 that have been available since 2005. The DLG has also upgraded its image viewer, which will allow better access and improved navigation to the new and older Sanborn images from this collection.
Sanborn maps were designed to assist fire insurance agents in determining fire hazards for properties by outlining the construction of buildings and their elements, as well as the location of water facilities, house and block numbers, and the names of streets. They have proven useful in researching urban growth and decline, urban planning design, and the historic use of buildings in a city.
Cari Goetcheus, associate professor in the College of Environment and Design at the University of Georgia notes: “Sanborn maps are a wonderful snapshot of place in time from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s.
Originally created by insurance companies to understand building materials in cities so they could decide what and how to insure the built environment, these maps offer much more than that by providing insight into Georgia’s diverse cultural, political, social, economic, and geographic history.
For example, my students and I have most recently been using Athens Sanborn maps to document land-use change in an area known as Hot Corner, the historically black business district of Athens from the late 1800s to the 1970s.”
Valerie Glenn, librarian and Head of the University of Georgia’s Map and Government Information Library notes:
“Because the maps contain such rich details, they provide a clear picture of a town as it existed --culturally, socially, economically, geographically. Users can see how many banks, or theatres, or piano stores existed; the “colored” schools and churches; and the distance between the river and the cigar factory.
Over time this makes it easier for users to, for example, identify changes to historically African-American neighborhoods in a given town or see the development, expansion, and/or decline of a central business district.”