Wall maps, atlases, and insurance maps can provide valuable information about individual properties, including the names of land owners, building outlines, and construction details.

Wall Maps

Wall maps based upon local land records and actual surveys were commercially produced for most counties during the 1850s. These maps typically identified the locations of residential, commercial and public buildings with landowner names. The maps also included inset maps of major population centers and illustrations of a few buildings of note.


County atlases surpassed wall maps in popularity in the 1860s. The new format allowed publishers to create two-page maps for most towns and villages, each of which included the locations of residential, commercial and public buildings with landowner names. Additionally, many atlases provided full page illustrations of public and private buildings, municipal histories, and biographical profiles.

Panoramic Maps

Panoramic maps, or bird’s-eye views, were popular from the 1870s into the first decade of the 20th century. The hand-drawn illustrations of cities and villages from an oblique perspective high the urban centers captured street patterns, individual buildings, and major landscape features—often with a surprising degree of detail. (See “Panoramic Mapping,” Library of Congress.)

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

The Sanborn Map Company began publishing maps of cities and towns as an aid to assessing fire insurance liability in 1867 and continued producing maps for some locations into the 1970s. The large-scale, lithographed street plans included a wealth of information on the size, shape, and construction of buildings in cities and villages. Most sets of maps were updated every five to ten years, making it possible to follow incremental changes to structures over time. (See “Introduction to the [Sanborn Map] Collection,” Library of Congress.)

  • Sanborn maps for New York are available online at major research libraries. Many historical societies also have original copies of maps for their locale.