Large Scale Central

Sanborn maps

Devon’s Hecla Mine thread made me realize that maybe many of you don’t know about the Sanborn maps. The Wikipedia page (Sanborn maps - Wikipedia) provides a good history of them and what they were used for.

For us modelers, they are an invaluable resource for both building locations and size, and track layout.

Take, for example, this map of Canal Street in Philadelphia.

It shows all the trackwork, and all the buildings, both in location and size.

The site takes a bit getting used to in order to navigate, but there’s a ton of valuable information in them.


As a followup, sometimes you can hit Street View and have a look around

I agree they are an awesome resource! I have been molesting them for many years now. However you forgot the disclaimer warning


I second rooster on this one t, they can become a time consuming hobby themselves. But for a prototype modeler they are a huge resource. My Hecla build would be a guess and by golly attempt to understand the photos of the mine I am looking at. But thanks to them I know what everything is. And since the Sandborn maps were updated pretty regularly you can also follow the changes in an area.

Something to watch out for in regards to railroad tracks on these maps. The railroad tracks aren’t always 100% right. Or even close. From what I’ve read the map makers focused on the buildings and could care less about the track arrangements. Sometimes it was even made up. Or so I’ve been told.

Another useful tool is old tax assessor’s information. I was recently told that a New Deal program allowed a bunch of cities to get tax assessor’s information cataloged and “officially” recorded.

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I agree with Craig; the Sanborn maps were made for their fire insurance calculations, not architectural or mapping purposes. So, not necessarily to scale. But very helpful to kinds of buildings, their basic shape, rough dimensions, and their relative positions. I’ve used them a lot over the years in my research and mine model planning.

Another resource is the ICC (Interstate Commerce Commission) Valuation Records, a lot of it done in the 1915-1920’s, to get railroad rates across the country on an even par. Their maps are very precise as to track alignment, though they don’t convey much about non-railroad buildings and other features.

I was able to get a set of map scans for the V&T through the NV State RR Museum, and know of other sources for the companion handwritten reports. I don’t know how one would get them for other RR’s. But for the maps and a lot of related other materials the ICC came up with, here’s a good starting point:


Actually from my findings the tracks are usually spot on and have helped me locate certain things. “NOW” arrangements can vary year to year as you know already? However you can go to the next year up or back on the Sanborne Maps if you are fortunate enough to be able to do such. The arrangements do change from my findings though.

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