Tag Archive for Sanborn maps

June 11th, 2015

Decoding old Chicago street names during Phase I Environmental Site Assessment research

Map Showing the New House Numbering System in the City of Chicago, 1910 (courtesy of chicagology.com)

Map Showing the New House Numbering System in the City of Chicago, 1910 (courtesy of Chicago Public Library via chicagology.com)

When conducting Phase I Environmental Site Assessment research, Gabriel reviews old building permits, Sanborn fire insurance maps, and other historical sources. Sometimes reviewing this information can get confusing when the streets in question no longer have the same names.

Chicago’s city street addresses didn’t become standardized until 1908.  Even after that time, many streets were renamed to honor individuals or end lingering confusion stemming from pre-1908 street names (generally to eliminate duplicate street names).

For example, a building permit from the 1930s on “Garfield Avenue” would be pertinent to Phase I research for a property located on today’s “Dickens Street.”  We’d have to review maps listing “Robey Street” when researching sites located along “Damen Avenue.”

Information about streets with the same name require additional scrutiny by our researchers:  Lincoln Street and Lincoln Avenue;  Clybourn Place and Clybourn Avenue; Washington Street, Washington Avenue, and Washington Boulevard; and Park Avenue and South Park Avenue,  just to name a few.More information on these Chicago street name changes can be found on a Chicago Now blog and Chicagology.com.

March 4th, 2015

Going back in history with the Pullman District

In celebration of Chicago’s historic Pullman District being designated a national monument, the Chicago Tribune has published historical photos and maps of the area.  One of their interesting maps is an interactive “now” and “then” comparison using a fire insurance map from 1901 and a current aerial photograph.


sanborn map - pullman district

Click on the map to link to the interactive version on the Chicago Tribune website


This interactive map is a great example of how Gabriel uses historic fire insurance maps as part of our Phase I Environmental Site Assessment research.  We compare the fire insurance maps for the area where our subject property is located with today’s maps, looking for any past uses of a property that may indicate hazardous substances were used previously and therefore may still be present in the soil or groundwater, or may be associated with a vapor migration or intrusion issue today.

For more information on fire insurance maps, read our earlier blog post “History of Fire Insurance Maps.”

Thanks to Dianne Crocker at EDR for the link to this map.

August 22nd, 2014

History of Fire Insurance Maps

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.