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History of Fire Insurance Maps

August 22nd, 2014
Photo courtesy of Historical Information Gatherers

Photo courtesy of Historical Information Gatherers

For environmental consultants, fire insurance maps (FIMs) can be a goldmine of historical information that is relevant to today’s environmental conditions on a particular property.  These FIMs were created for fire insurance companies to evaluate the degree of hazard for a particular building or area.  FIMs were first created in London in the late 1700s, and the practice quickly spread to the U.S.  The most well-known FIM company, the D. A. Sanborn National Insurance Diagram Bureau (later renamed to Sanborn Map Company) was founded in 1867 with an atlas of  fire insurance maps of the Boston area.  That book can be found today in the Library of Congress.

FIMs documented information that can still be important when conducting historical research during a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment.  They are recognized by ASTM as one of the standard historical sources that may be used to determine if a Recognized Environmental Condition (REC) exists at the subject site.

Key environmental information that can be found on a FIM includes: storage tanks (including gasoline, heating oil, etc.); historical use of the property or adjoining properties; location of petroleum products; industrial processes; heating sources; chemical storage; etc.  Other useful information that may be available: if a basement is present, when a building was constructed, and general layouts.

Historical Information Gatherers (HIG) has recently released an interesting white paper about the history of fire insurance maps.  The white paper includes information about land use, structures and possible environmental issues that one can discover using FIMs, as well as how FIMs were created and updated.  It is available for a free download on HIG’s website.  HIG is in the process of digitizing more than 500,000 color FIMs available through the Library of Congress.

More information about the history of the Sanborn Map Company is available on the Library of Congress website.

 

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