Many states are starting to digitize their historic map collections and make them available online. Old maps are invaluable for researchers of course, but they also make for great additions to any property marketing package. Having some idea of the history of the neighborhood, and of the local context of a house for sale, gives the marketing effort a richness and depth that can’t be matched by newer houses. One state doing an excellent job in digitizing these maps and offering them free online to the public is North Carolina. The North Carolina Maps project is a collaborative effort between the State Archives, the Outer Banks History Center, and UNC- Chapel Hill.
The project began in 2007 and is slated for completion by 2010. There are already more than 1100 maps online. All types of maps are covered- atlas pages, coastal surveys, postal routes, railroad routes, and geological and soil survey maps. Explorer Maps from the 16th-century are there, as well as highway maps from the 1960s. Of greatest interest to historic homeowners and agents, though, are the many maps depicting property lines, buildings, and streets in the individual North Carolina towns. Most of these maps are found in the categories “manuscript maps” and “property maps.”
The image on the left is from an 1882 atlas map of Wilmington. The location and footprint of each building is clearly visible, and many of the houses indicate the owner’s name. The image on the left is from a 1901 Asheville Map compiled by the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company. The Sanborn Company created maps for assessing insurance risk from fire in nearly 12,000 cities and towns from 1867-1970. The Sanborn Maps are among the most detailed and useful records of structures, neighborhoods, and city blocks. If you need to know where a fire hydrant was located, what kind of siding a house originally had, the original building dimensions, or what kinds of businesses were run out of a particular location, the Sanborn maps are your best bet.
In addition to the city and town atlas maps and fire insurance maps, North Carolina Maps also offers an intriguing and fun Historic Overlay feature, which allows you to view a translucent 19th-century city map placed over a current Google Map satellite view. Historic Overlays are currently available for the cities of Fayetteville, Wilmington, and Charlotte. By fading or “seeing through” the historic maps, users are able to compare the similarities and differences between old and new maps, and to study the changes in these North Carolina cities over time. In the image at the left note, for example, the neighborhood in 1877 Charlotte that once stood where the Bank of America stadium is now.
This map collection can be searched by town, city, or county. If you don’t find your city or town, or if the map is too early for your house to be on it, check back frequently. The project aims to include “every available map of North Carolina, or of regions, counties, or towns within the state” created prior to 1923, and to have them all posted by June of 2010. In the meantime, check the Library of Congress’ Panoramic Map Collection for bird’s eye views and other maps that may depict your house and other historic homes in the neighborhood.