JOPLIN, Mo. —
Several fire maps of towns were compiled and published by the Sanborn Fire Insurance Co. of New York starting in the late 1800s. The Kansas State Historical Society's website at www.kshs.org lists the Kansas towns that were mapped.
Microfilm copies of those maps can be obtained from the society by interlibrary loan through a Kansas library. Some maps are out of copyright, and some aren't. The University of Kansas Digital Commons website has free digitized copies of maps that are out of copyright.
The Sanborn maps, which show businesses and streets, were developed to help the insurance industry assess the risk of insuring a piece of property. Larger towns were divided into several maps, each showing a different part of town. Only a few towns were not mapped.
If an ancestor owned a business in a town, worked at a business there or lived in the town, one can find the building on a fire map and learn details such as the type of material it was made of, the location of its windows and doors, the number of floors, the type of heat, the type of roof and the type of lighting. One can also learn what businesses and streets were nearby.
Some of the old shops shown on the maps are wagon and buggy stores, saloons, cobbler shops, millinery shops, boarding houses, and livery stables.
Each map has a key that explains the symbols used. Buildings are shown in colors. Yellow ones were wood, red ones were brick, blue ones were stone, grey were iron and brown were adobe. An X means the building had a shingle roof, a circle indicates it had a slate or tin roof, and a solid circle means the roof was composite. Dots indicate windows.
The maps also show if a business was in the basement, first floor, second floor or other floor. Broken lines near a building indicate it had wood cornices. Solid lines near buildings represent metal cornices.
When the KSHS site opens, do a search for the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps. Some of the larger nearby towns are Pittsburg (1885, 1892, 1897, 1902, 1905, 1913, 1923-1944), Baxter Springs (1892, 1895, 1899, 1905, 1913, 1926, 1930, 1950), Fort Scott (1884, 1888, 1893, 1899, 1906, 1912, 1925, 1959) and Girard (1885, 1890, 1897, 1902, 1912, 1923, 1935-1943).
Some of the other area towns are Galena (1887, 1892, 1899, 1905, 1911, 1920, 1929-1950), Riverton (1930-1945), Scammon (1905, 1912, 1927), Weir (1893, 1896, 1902, 1909, 1915), Frontenac (1923), Fredonia (1886, 1890, 1896, 1902, 1905, 1912, 1923-1952), Cherokee and Cherryvale.
To see the out-of-copyright maps at the University of Kansas Digital Commons site, go to www.luna.ku.edu and scroll down to Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, then enter the name of the town that you want in the search box.
Suggestions or queries? Send to Frankie Meyer, 509 N. Center St., Plainfield, IN 46168, or contact: frankiemeyer @yahoo.com