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U.Va. Library’s Geostat Center Presents Historic Maps Of Charlottesville Online

August 31, 2000 -- What did the pattern of Charlottesville's neighborhoods look like in 1920?

Vinegar Hill had not been razed, the downtown railroad roundabout was still in existence, and the residential area on Jefferson Park Avenue was still developing. At the University of Virginia, the amphitheater was not yet built and dormitories on Dawson's Row were still in use. A new Web site devoted to the University Library's collection of Sanborn fire insurance maps can help researchers see these and other differences in the cityscape.

The site, titled "Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps at the University of Virginia," is located at: Created by the library’s Geospatial and Statistical Data Center (Geostat Center), the site includes more than 40 highly detailed, hand-drawn maps produced by the Sanborn Map Company, formerly of New York. The maps clearly show land parcels, street and utility networks, and homes and businesses, and are color-coded and labeled according to building materials and usage. Viewers can browse the images using either a clickable map index or an index of 1920 street and building names.

In addition to the maps, the site also includes a key to the symbols used, a bibliography for further research, an index to similar maps on microfilm, and a brief historical essay written by Chris Nehls, a U.Va. history graduate student and staff member at the Geostat Center. The site was developed with assistance from the staff of Special Collections and the Early American Fiction Project.

The maps were originally produced to assess the risk of fire and cost of insurance. The Sanborn Map Company produced hundreds of thousands of such maps of cities and towns throughout the United States from the 1880s. "Maps were sold primarily to national or regional underwriting associations.... Sanborn [held] a virtual monopoly by 1920, and by the late 1930s the company had surveyed 13,000 towns," writes Nehls. Comparison of succeeding series of maps can aid historians, urban planners, architectural historians and others in tracing the development of American towns over the first half of the 20th century.

Though the maps depict most of Charlottesville's major business district and many of its residential areas, they do not show all of Charlottesville in 1920. Areas that were not heavily developed are not depicted. Local historians will note that predominantly African American communities such as Fifeville are not shown on the maps, although that area of town was well built at the time.

The original map books are about 21 x 25 inches in size. The library's Special Collections Department holds two of the original map books for Charlottesville: the newly digitized one for 1920, and another for 1907, which will be photographed and added to the Web site in the future. Sanborn also produced maps of Charlottesville for 1886, 1902, 1913, and 1937. A complete microfilm collection of all Sanborn maps for Virginia communities and the District of Columbia is available in the Government Information Resources department, on the third floor of Alderman Library. Users of that collection can also consult the Geostat Center’s Sanborn map Web resource for an index to that microfilm collection, to identify what other maps are available by town and by date.

For more information about the Sanborn fire insurance maps or about the Geostat Center, visit the center’s Web site at or call (804) 982-2630.

Contact: Melissa Norris, (804) 924-4254

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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