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Sanborn Fire and Insurance Maps of Frankfort 1886-1955 - 4-13-16

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In 1886, the first Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Frankfort was completed depicting the growing community. Subsequent maps would be published in 1901, 1907, 1912, and 1925 with updates continuing into the 1960’s, providing a study of the community as it changed over time. Sanborn maps are large-scale lithographed street plans of towns drawn at a scale of 50ft to the inch.  The maps were published in bound volumes, and depicting the built environment of most of America’s larger communities.

In 1866, Daniel Alfred Sanborn, a civil engineer and surveyor began working on fire insurance maps of Tennessee. Realizing the potential for standardized maps of all cities, he established the D.A. Sanborn National Insurance Diagram Bureau to develop and market maps of US cities.  Published primarily for use by fire insurance salesmen who generally had to insure buildings “sight unseen,” the maps enabled them to more accurately appraise those structures.  Local municipalities valued the maps for their wealth of information about their towns.  Each map book includes a title page, index and area map that are then followed by maps of individual districts.  Building and other features are drawn to scale and color coded to represent the type of construction: yellow for wood frame, pink for brick, blue for stone and concrete.  Building heights, street wells, and water & sewer pipes diameter and locations are also included.   Local fire departments used the maps to know what water pressure might exist at the location of a fire and how large a ladder would  be required to reach the roof line of a building.

Sanborn Maps also noted population, economy, and prevailing wind directions, as well as auxiliary buildings, sidewalks, street names and widths, property boundaries, natural features, railroads and street car tracks, sprinkler systems, gas mains, roofing materials, fire hydrants, man holes, cisterns, etc.  Today these maps are useful tools for historic and archeological research, planning, preservation, and sociological studies and research of urban geography. Copies of the maps are commonly used today by city public works officials to locate historic infrastructure, residents of the cities where these maps were created can trace additions and alterations to their homes and businesses.

Author Kim Keister describes the legacy of Sanborn maps: “Stated simply, the Sanborn maps survive as a guide to American urbanization that is unrivaled by other cartography and, for that matter, by few documentary resources of any kind.”

The Capital City Museum has developed an exhibit of historic Sanborn Maps of Frankfort from 1886-1955.  Included are original Sanborn Maps accompanied by photographs of many historic houses, distilleries, and other industries that no longer exist.  This exhibit runs from April to October. The Capital City Museum is open Monday – Saturday 10am-4pm; admission is free.

Contact:  Capital City Museum, 502-696-0607, frankforthistory@gmail.com