The Sanborn Fire Maps

    Fire maps have long been used by surveyors, insurance companies and others studying details of buildings. According to the Library of Congress, the Sanborn Map Company began making uniform maps of commercial and residential sections of 12,000 cities in the United States, Canada and Mexico in 1867.                 

     Hillsdale, Jonesville, Reading and Camden were among those municipalities in Hillsdale County that were mapped by the Sanborn surveyors. Local fire maps have become an excellent tool for historians in researching buildings and determining exactly what was where.  

    The exhibit at the left is a good example from the 1900 set of Hillsdale maps, showing a group of buildings between State and Marion streets that held the City Brewery, which belonged to J. & G. Haas. By studying the map, one can determine the locations and size of each building, its use, and whether there was a night watchman, heat or running water and a plethora of other things. Each building with a "D" was a dwelling. Later maps also indicated construction materials and more detailed information.  

    The earliest local fire maps available in the Hillsdale County area date back to 1888. With assistance from workers, copies of many of these Sanborn Fire Maps can be found at the Mitchell Research Center in Hillsdale. The maps are a treasure trove of information!


Carol A. Lackey