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Sanborn Time Series: Examples of Change Over Time

Fire insurance maps are valuable to much historic research because they often provide evidence of change over time. Specific changes in an individual site such as when a building was expanded or torn down, can often be dated within a reasonably accurate time frame, depending on how many different map editions for that city are available. Change can also be examined in a larger geographic entity such as a community or whole town. The growth of towns is reflected on maps through the addition of new coverage in successive editions.

Social or economic change is often reflected in fire insurance maps as well. As a neighborhood aged, for instance, building styles sometimes changed, as in the example of Santa Fe, New Mexico, below. A community's economic development can often be deduced from such information as whether houses were replaced by businesses, went from being single-family dwellings to apartments, or whether the type of business activity in a building changed.

Two areas have been selected to illustrate the way fire insurance maps can be used to study change. The interpretations presented here are not intended to be authoritative. They are merely designed to provide insight into how fire insurance maps can be used for different purposes.


Gary L. Fitzpatrick

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  August 9, 2010
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