Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Strolling the Streets of Yesteryear

Today one can "walk" down the street of a town half a world away thanks to Google Maps. While the results are not quite as sophisticated, one can also "walk" many towns from the past thanks to Sanborn Maps.

The Sanborn Maps were drawn starting in 1867 for assessing fire insurance liability in urban areas. Farms and very small towns are not represented, but many, many other areas are. In Illinois, nearly 500 communities are recorded, from Abingdon to Zion City.

Each map shows the streets and the blocks in between, as well as water sources like wells, springs, etc. Buildings are drawn indicating additions and sheds and are labeled as well: Harness Shop, Blacksmith, Candy Shop, Dry Goods.

While it's certainly interesting to see how a familiar street was laid out one hundred years ago, it's also fascinating to learn what sort of businesses thrived then. Drugstores were on every corner - much like they are today!

While the first Sanborn Maps were created in 1867 and the last ones in 1970, they weren't drawn every year and not every town had them. To see what's available, check with your library. You may even be able to access them from your home computer and stroll the streets of yesteryear to your heart's content.

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