Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sanborn, Sanborn. Wherefore art thou Sanborn.

There's a lot to be said for the internet. Some of it good, some of it bad, but a lot to be said. Let's stay on the good side for today.

Got an email yesterday from a digger. He follows this site pretty regularly and especially likes it when we either validate, or disprove, something that's been accepted as gospel since the beginning of bottle collecting. When this site first sprung up, we included a lot of references to Sanborn Fire Insurance maps. The maps were an invaluable tool that we used in dating businesses through their various moves as they evolved. They also often provided diggers with a starting point with which they could research a site prior to digging it. It added an element of science to the old probe, probe, and probe some more method of urban archeology. The digger noted that the presence of Sanborn maps abruptly vanished from the articles being posted and wanted to know why.

Good question. Access to the maps was at one time free and easy. Login name and password were freely shared and access was available to all who had a computer, internet access and a desire to learn. Over 600,000 US Sanborn maps were available at the click of a mouse. It was a veritable treasure trove of information. Sound too good to be true? It was...

Right around the first of the year the plug was pulled. No amount of work around allowed access to the site. Bottom line was, no tickee / no washee. It turned out that the website had become access by subscription only. And the price of admission was outlandish. An email to the company that held the rights to the maps was met with the following reply;

"Unfortunately, the Sanborn Maps are only available to institutions and not the individual user. We license the content directly from Sanborn Maps so the requirement are rather stringent. I wish you success in your research and your writings, your topic sounds very interesting. Thank you, Online Customer Support"

Now what? A google search revealed that I wasn't the only one swimming in circles. The internet was buzzing with folks complaining about the same thing. True, some libraries, in some states, had purchased access rights and one could in certain instances, access the database for selected regions with the use of their library card. A lot of good that does when your library system is broke, open one day a week and doesn't have the funds to pay the light bill, let alone a large sum for database access.

And so my friends, that is why you no longer see references to the Sanborn maps on this site. Hope springs eternal and with luck, someone will be generous enough to provide us with access to the database again. Until such time, all I can say is; Sanborn, Sanborn. Wherefore art thou Sanborn.

1 comment:

robgarb said...

Regarding the sanborn map situation,a few select maps can still be viewed at

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