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Nevada In Maps: Sanborn Maps

Sanborn Maps of Nevada



Nevada's early western settlement history was one of tenuous existence. Settlements, hardly towns much fewer cities, came and went usually as mining sites were exploited and declined. Few maps exist to document the existence and changes to these towns. Sanborn® and similar town maps provide invaluable historical detail on 33 early towns of Nevada dating from 1877 to halfway through the 20th century.

This project is an effort to present online a full-color set of Nevada Sanborn® and other Nevada town maps. There is no full set in any format available at any location in the state. This digital collection dating from 1879 through 1923, as of the initial posting, totals 516 maps for 29 towns, some of which no longer exist.

Sanborn® Maps of Nevada towns

Sanborn® and other companies published detailed city maps to record information relative to fire insurance in cities and towns across the United States in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. The Sanborn® Company of New York quickly became the dominant publisher of town maps for insurance purposes. Towns were surveyed usually at 50 to 100 feet to the inch and drawn on sheets typically 24" x 26", but the size often varied. These maps present a description of a town at the time of the survey by depicting the streets in the core of a community. Buildings were drawn in footprint outline with a number of floors, windows, and other construction elements indicated. Buildings were color-coded to indicate the type of structural material: brick, stone, wood, etc. Often names and descriptive terms on structures [particularly commercial] indicate the nature of the activity or business and the owner. Water sources and local fire-fighting facilities were cited in brief description and drawn on the map where existed.

  • What can be found on a Sanborn® map?
  • Features and web tools of this presentation
  • Locating a Nevada town map: See Inventory of print, microfilm, and collections online
  • Coordination of Historic Photos and Nevada Town Maps
  • This digital project: scope, restrictions, acknowledgments, and participants
  • References, websites, and web citation guides
  • The Sanborn® Map Company

What Can Be Found on a Sanborn® Map? 


  • Cartouche
  • Legends, Keys & Indexes
  • Fire Departments, Fire-Fighting Equipment, and Water Facilities
  • Community features


This Virginia City cartouche [title block] is more elaborate and detailed than most drawn for Nevada communities with a more detailed description of water and fire fighting facilities and building descriptions. The street diagram indicates sections of the town as depicted on a specific map sheet in the set.

Hand drawn map with ornate lettering. Different section of the city are color coded and a report is provided alongside that includes information on water facilities and fire apparatus.

Virginia City, 1890 Street Map, Sheet 1

More typically, on Nevada maps in this web presentation, the cartouche included the town name, county and state; date of the survey and general information on the town including the population at the time of survey, very briefly stated fire protection provisions [or not] along with water availability, as well as Sanborn® publication information.

 The population cited on maps in successive years can indicate the growth or decline of a town. For example, as you follow each Virginia City cartouche chronologically, left to right along the first row of images below, you will trace the city's waning from 6000 persons in 1890 to a mere 1500 in 1923.

Alternately, you might track the slow growth of Las Vegas up until its population surge resulting from the influence of the construction of Boulder Dam, World War II, and tourism. The cartouche below from the 1923 map shows a modest population of 3500.

Round label of map including information about population, steam & no hand engines, independent hose carts, water facilities, and prevailing winds. 

Cartouche of Aurora, 1890

"Water Facilities: Not Good"

 Section of cartouche. Virginia City, 1890, Sheet 1 Population: 6000

Sanborn map label including information about prevailing winds, water facilities, hose carts, truck, and population. Virginia City, 1907, Sheet 1 Population: 3000

Sanborn map label including information about prevailing winds and population. Points readers to a report for more information about water facilities and fire department.  Virginia City, 1923, Sheet 1 Population: 1500

  Sanborn map label including information about population and prevailing winds. Points readers to a report for more information about water facilities and fire department. Las Vegas, 1923, Sheet 1 Population: 3500


Legends, Keys & Indexes

The Key on early Sanborn® maps consisted of an unpretentious legend describing buildings by indicating the nature of the construction by color and codes for structural features:   

Key of an early Sanborn maps displaying color coding for building type. Yellow is frame. Red is brick. Blue is stone. Grey is iron. Green is specials. Items marked with a "CL" are cloth lined and 5 and 19 indicate relative heights. Information about fire walls, roofs, and steam boiler are also included.

 The "red" colored buildings often look more pink than red. 

Legends became more detailed and elaborate on later maps.

Key for a map of Reno. Items are illegible but there are many and color coded.

Reno, 1918

The prominent Goldfield Hotel shown on a 1909 Sanborn map is colored in red indicating a brick building with the kitchen section in stone:

Hand drawn floor plan including the kitchen labeled in blue and other areas including hotel, gambling and bar, off. rooms, and rest. labeled in red.

Goldfield, 1909, Sheet 6

Note: Both the Sanborn® microfilm and the online subscription collections [not this web presentation] are black and white and, therefore, lack the information indicated by color. Consult "Locating a Nevada Sanborn map®" section.


Later maps of multiple sheets often included index lists of streets, businesses and institutions, indicating sheet number.

Index. Specials. Aitken's Wood Yard is on sheet 7. Bishop Whitaker's Young Ladies' Seminary is on sheet 1. the C.P.R.R. Freight Depot is on sheet 4, it's Passenger Station is on sheet 9, and it's round house is on sheet 3. The City Hotel is on sheet 4. The Congregational Church is on sheet 10. The Episcopal Church is on sheet 8, the First Baptist Church is on sheet 7, and the French Hotel is on sheet 9.

Fire Departments, Fire-Fighting Equipment, and Water Facilities


Descriptions of water facilities available for fire protection and of fire departments were a key component of town insurance maps and provide a subtle description of the economic health and sophistication of the town and the geography of the area. Later maps provided more detail than found within the earlier cartouche.




Water lines and hydrants:

Hand drawn map section labeled Hand Eng. & Hose Cart, colored in blue.

Dayton, 1895



Hand drawn floor plan of Hotel Nevada including water lines and hydrants. Section in blue are labeled Hotel Lobby, Bank, Barber, and Off.

Las Vegas, 1923, Sheet 5

Community Features

Features of a community described or at least labeled on the maps provide primary information on the society and activities of a place and a time. Nevada town maps clearly reflect the early western culture largely based on mining—but not without cultural aspirations:


Layout of Verdi School. All colored yellow with Stove-Hert, No-LTS and Belfry labeled.

Verdi, 1912, Sheet 1

Verdi School, a frame building with a belfry and "stove heat, no lights" 


Layout of Opera Ho. Blue to designate it being a stone building with yellow and red sections just outside the building.

Eureka, 1890, Sheet 3

"Opera House" - a stone building


Layout of a catholic church, red colored with a 75' spire.

Austin, 1886

Catholic Church

Layout of U.S. Mint, colored blue to designate sandstone construction.

Carson City, 1885, Sheet 1

The U.S. Mint opened in 1870 to accommodate the ore from The Comstock;

built from sandstone quarried just east of Carson City
Layout of public library, colored blue to designate sandstone construction. ELEC. LTS and STOVE HEAT are included as labels, as is a vault.

Las Vegas, 1923, Sheet 5

Public Library

[sandstone block building]

Every building was not identified; many were small frame structures [yellow colored] of no significance to the surveyor; many others are labeled simply "D" or "dwg" for dwelling, which were likely very modest.


Locating a Nevada Town Map


Note: This web collection is limited to maps 1877–1923.


InventoryAn inventory of known Nevada Sanborn® map holdings in any format and their locations. This Inventory of print, microfilm, online and this web site is subject to revision as holdings are identified. 

Note: No single location holds a complete set in any particular format. Contact each site for information regarding their print versions, obtaining print copies and/or digital copies.


Original maps of Nevada towns may be found in:

  • the Special Collections Department(link), Knowledge Center, University of Nevada, Reno
  • Nevada Historical Society, Reno [located on the northwest side of campus].

These maps were given to these institutions by the Library of Congress and local sources. However, their use is restricted and neither site holds a complete Sanborn® set. Most of the maps in this web presentation were scanned, and are presented in full color, from these two collections.