Exploring Maps

Explore the various types of maps for which we have Lehigh Valley examples and learn how to find more of these types of maps in other online map collections around the country and beyond.

Fire Insurance Maps

Fire Insurance Maps covered cities and industrial places for the purpose of providing insurance agents with the detailed information about individual buildings, and their surroundings,  necessary to underwrite fire insurance policies. They were made at a large scale, often 1 inch to 50 feet (a scale ratio of 1:600) where one sheet might cover little more than a city block. Individual buildings were color coded according to their construction material and information about water lines, hydrants, cisterns and fire houses were also included. Given how zoomed in these map sheets were,  many such sheets were necessary to cover a particular municipality and they were bound into single volume for a particular year.

Although these maps were introduced in London in the eighteenth century, it wasn't until 1855 when the first U.S. city, New York, was mapped in such a way. After the Civil War a number of fire insurance map companies emerged, but the Sanborn Fire Insurance Mapping Company came to dominate the business. Beginning in 1885 their surveyors came to Northampton, Lehigh, and Carbon Counties and thus begins the earliest coverage of our region. Over time the area covered grew beyond a few large cities to include a number of smaller towns. But these types of maps never attempted to cover rural areas. They were limited to densely populated areas or nearby industrial sites where fire risks were highest, and there were enough potential buyers of fire insurance to justify the expense of creating these maps.

In Pennsylvania we are fortunate to have a nearly complete set of Sanborn maps, from the earliest available through the 1930s (maps still in copyright are not included). Digitizing these maps, and making them freely available to all, has been done by the  Donald W. Hamer Center for Maps and Geospatial Information at the Penn State Libraries. LVHMC has assisted the Center in creating an interactive web map where users may find the cities and towns in our region which were mapped by the Sanborn company. This Lehigh Valley Fire Insurance Maps app also includes a great deal more information about Sanborn maps and how to read them.  Another Penn State Libraries' webpage, Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, provides links for every town and city in Pennsylvania, listed in alphabetical order.

Panoramic & Bird's-Eye View Maps

Coming Soon.