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® 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.
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.
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.
Cartouche of Aurora, 1890
"Water Facilities: Not Good"
Virginia City, 1890, Sheet 1 Population: 6000
Virginia City, 1907, Sheet 1 Population: 3000
Virginia City, 1923, Sheet 1 Population: 1500
Las Vegas, 1923, Sheet 1 Population: 3500
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:
The "red" colored buildings often look more pink than red.
Legends became more detailed and elaborate on later maps.
The prominent Goldfield Hotel shown on a 1909 Sanborn map is colored in red indicating a brick building with the kitchen section in stone:
Goldfield, 1909, Sheet 6
Later maps of multiple sheets often included index lists of streets, businesses and institutions, indicating sheet number.
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:
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:
Verdi, 1912, Sheet 1
Verdi School, a frame building with a belfry and "stove heat, no lights"
Eureka, 1890, Sheet 3
"Opera House" - a stone building
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
Las Vegas, 1923, Sheet 5
[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.
Inventory: An 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:
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.