1899 – Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for Shepherdstown

Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, Sanborn Maps Collection.

Each Sanborn Map included a “key,” upper left. It shows how the town is divided, by page number. Page 3 is in the exhibit. The index includes street names, addresses, and “Specials” such as churches, schools, businesses and government buildings. The Note lists the size of the fire company and water facilities. Inside the circle, it provides the population as 1,600 and rates the water facilities as “indifferent.”

The Map

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Sanborn Map Company produced large-scale maps of more than 12,000 American cities and towns. The maps gave insurance agents detailed information to help them assess fire insurance liability. The maps identified such things as roads, buildings, waterways, utilities, and train stations. The company produced at least six maps of Shepherdstown.

Each map was accompanied by a key that was consistent across all Sanborn maps. The maps were color coded – reddish pink for a brick building; yellow for wood; blue for stone. Letters and numbers indicated types of buildings (d for dwelling; 2 for 2 stories); stables were marked with an X. Each map also included information about population (1,600 in 1899) and the size of the local fire department.

If you look closely at the corner of German and Princess Streets, you will see the Entlere (sic) Hotel, which now houses The Historic Shepherdstown Museum. The color shows the building as mostly brick with some wood. The office, dining room, carriage house, parlor and some hotel rooms are identified. Note that the building was larger than it is today. At the time, the left-hand portion of the hotel had a drug store as a storefront and hotel rooms behind it. It was destroyed by fire in 1912, and now serves at the garden area for the complex.

The Mapmaker

Daniel A. Sanborn, a civil engineer and surveyor, began working on fire insurance maps in 1866. He eventually established the D.A. Sanborn National Insurance Diagram Bureau, and he began producing fire insurance maps throughout the country. Sanborn’s firm grew through acquisition of other companies, and by 1916, it held a monopoly on fire insurance maps.

At its height, the company employed about 700 people, including 300 field surveyors and 400 cartographers, printers, managers, salesmen, and support staff. The Great Depression affected its business, and by 1936, it had cut its output from about 60 to 20 volumes a year. The way insurance companies assessed fire liability changed through the years. Sanborn created its last new map in 1961 and issued its last update in 1977. Today the company offers mostly geospatial data services and GIS/software services.