The Library of Congress sponsors an amazing website full of resources useful to the historic home enthusiast. It’s called the American Memory Project and it’s filled with millions of scanned documents, advertising, maps, diagrams, films, photos, and more from the Library’s collection. One fascinating section is the Panoramic Map Collection– it’s loaded with aerial views of cities and towns hand-drawn by artists across the country in the late 19th century.
From just before the Civil War up through the start of the twentieth century, local chambers of commerce, real estate brokerages, and large manufacturers would hire map companies to produce these panoramic maps. Also known as “aero views,” or “bird’s eye views,” these images were designed to showcase a city’s best assets and attract new industry and residents.
Artists would travel to the towns, walk the streets and sketch everything they saw as if they were hovering a thousand feet above the town. At the end of a day’s work, the artists would collect the various sketches, piece them together and add on to a master map. At the end of the artists’ work, the master map would be reproduced as a lithograph and sold to the factory owners and home owners whose buildings were depicted on the map. Thousands of hours of artistic effort went into the creation of these maps and they remain some of the best references for what towns and buildings looked like in the late 19th century.
These maps are great for research for historic preservationists, but also very useful to include in marketing materials for houses that are for sale. They really help give buyers more of a feel for the house’s historic context. The house above is 60 Kay Street in Newport, RI. Comparing the 1878 map view on the left with the recent aerial photo on the right, both this house and the adjacent house are clearly depicted, with their distinctive front porches and rooflines. 60 Kay Street is currently for sale for $1.3M. (More details at Historic Homes Marketplace) You can check out the rest of the Newport map here, and check out the Panoramic Map main site to find a city or town near you !