So, you want to find out more about your house in Topeka. This blog will tell you about some of the resources and search methods which might help you find out about your house and about the people who have lived there through the years. In particular, this blog entry talks about a geographic or map resource which can be really helpful in finding out more about your house.
Sanborn Insurance Maps were originally compiled as a reference resource for insurance companies, especially fire insurance companies. The maps contain details about buildings on the various plats of land including, in many cases, the type of building materials used to construct the building. This was helpful to the insurance company as having these accurate maps meant that they could process policies faster and more efficiently. This same information can be quite helpful to the house researcher as your house on your lot may or may not be the first building on that property.
The original edition of this print resource was published in 1913 with updates added by pasting new information over the old lots or blocks and by adding new pages as additional land became part of Topeka proper. With the on-line database, the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library has access to 7 versions of the Sanborn maps for Topeka ranging from 1883-1955 (maps from other localities in Kansas are also available in this database). There is also a version of the maps available on microfilm. The combination of the three formats can be very helpful in tracking when a house might have been built on a certain lot. The Sanborn Insurance Maps draft the city at a scale of 50 feet to one inch of map so the maps are quite detailed. Building measurements and placement on the lot are given for many properties as well as construction materials (frame, concrete, masonry). The accuracy is high and the maps have been updated regularly through the period covered. The print maps are 24” wide by 25 3/4” tall and 2” deep. This type of detailed street by street mapping is invaluable to researchers who are tracing neighborhood development or looking at the history of a particular property. The books are indexed in the front by streets which are divided into sections by lot/street numbers and each page references the adjoining map numbers. These maps are fairly straightforward and easy to use with each format lending strengths for usability.
Once you have determined that your block of your street is in either volume 1 or volume 2 of the print map (or have located the correct area of the map on the microfilm or on the on-line map), you turn to the correct page of the map and find your lot. From there, you can learn more about building materials, neighboring houses, etc. To trace forward or backward in time, you will need to use the on-line maps (much easier once you know the map number to look for).
Come visit the Topeka Room on the second floor of the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library to explore this resource.
(photo credits: C. Rouse, Topeka Room, Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library, 2010)