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Digitizing Kansas Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, 1883-1922

The Kansas Collection, Kenneth Spencer Library, University of Kansas, houses and provides access to an extensive collection of Sanborn maps for 241 Kansas towns and cities covering a period from 1883 through the 1930s. With funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the maps from 1883 – 1922 are now digitally available to researchers everywhere through this website.

History of the Maps

The Sanborn Map Company, of Pelham, New York, began surveying the business districts of cities and towns across the United States in the late 1860s. Their intent was to provide insurance underwriters with detailed information about the locations of businesses, the structures they were located in, and any information needed to assess their liability for insurance purposes.

Surveyors noted the size, shape, and construction of homes, commercial buildings and factories, the location of windows and doors, the existence of sprinkler systems and fire walls, the types of roofs, the widths and names of streets, property boundaries, building use, and house and block numbers.

How To Use the Maps

Each map set begins with an index sheet showing which areas are depicted by a specific sheet in the set. The colored areas on the index sheet are paired with a number, that represents the number of the sheet in the set where that area is described.

Sanborn Map

Lawrence, Kansas 1912 Key Map and Index

The maps are color coded and contain a key to the coding, identifying materials used in construction of the buildings and homes.

Usage Statistics

Prior to making the Kansas Sanborn Maps available online, maps were viewed in Spencer Library by numerous patrons each year. A check of internal call slips for the past three years shows that an average of 76 map sets (not sheets)were examined each year.

Since April 1, 2011, the main page for the Kansas Sanborn Map Collection within LUNA has had 5,843 page views.  When analyzing the page views by title, 21,733 visits to individual pages have been made to pages with the title “- Kansas Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps” since April 1, 2011. From here drilling further into the data is possible. For instance, the most popular page so far has been the map sheet for Lawrence, 1883, Sheet 1, with 599 page views. The next most popular individual map sheets have been the 1st sheets of the earliest maps for Wichita (178 page views) and Topeka (157 page views).

Funded by NHPRC

Kenneth Spencer Research Library


Sherry William
Curator of Collections
Spencer Research Library

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