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Sanborn Maps of San Antonio at the Institute of Texan Cultures

February 9, 2022
Set of Sanborn maps in the ITC Reading Room

UTSA Special Collections is home to millions of items, including maps by the biggest name in U.S. fire insurance maps: the Sanborn Map Company. Founded in 1867 by D. A. Sanborn, the Sanborn Map Company produced detailed maps of around 12,000 U.S. cities and towns. The bound volumes of Sanborn San Antonio fire insurance maps held by UTSA Special Collections were originally published in 1924 and 1952, but each volume was also revised as San Antonio was developed and altered. These hand-colored maps show industrial, commercial, and non-commercial buildings as well as:

  • building entry points
  • dwellings
  • fire fighting facilities
  • property boundaries
  • roof type
  • street widths and names
  • water

Sanborn maps are available digitally, both online via resources like ProQuest’s library database Digital Sanborn Maps, 1867–1970 and the Library of Congress digital Sanborn maps collection as well as offline via the computers in our Reading Room at the Institute of Texan Cultures (ITC). The latter digital files were created via a 2017 San Antonio Conservation Society grant-funded effort to digitize the Sanborn map holdings across San Antonio, specifically those at:

The Sanborn Map Company published San Antonio fire insurance maps from 1877-1971, all of which are represented in this digitization effort. Michael Carroll and his assistant Jessica Mitchell were tasked with creating digital surrogates of approximately 10,000 maps during the spring and summer in 2018. At 21″ x 25″, the 1924 volumes are quite large, so digital surrogates can be easier to browse than the analog materials. UTSA’s San Antonio Sanborn maps digitization project also includes a master index of every address represented in these scans and in which maps they appear.

Digital scans do not capture all of the information present in a physical object, so visitors to the ITC Reading Room have the benefit of access to both physical and digital Sanborn maps. With ITC’s neighbor, UTSA’s downtown campus, specializing in programs like architecture and urban planning, Special Collections keeps these volumes accessible for researchers who will appreciate all these maps have to offer. Exciting details in these books can include periodic corrections as well as surprises like the below poster advertising this Olmos Park development.

1920s advertisement for Olmos Park Estates pasted into a 1924 Sanborn maps volume

Corrections in these bound volumes can span decades and the city of San Antonio changed many times over that period. A single city block on a Sanborn map can have six corrections pasted over it in its lifetime. Researchers are able to use this information to learn about the history of new construction, street name changes, as well as neighborhood developments.

This wealth of resources on the history of San Antonio’s development will inform researchers for years to come. Whether users are looking for the names of businesses that inhabited an address or the lists of original Olmos Park and Terrell Hills property owners that are pasted on the endpapers of one volume, these maps have something for everyone. To visit UTSA’s Sanborn maps in person, be sure to set up an appointment for ITC’s Reading Room.

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