March 9, 2010

Dating our Historic Home

We've been asked when our row house was built, and honestly?  We have no idea. Turn of the Century? Early 1900's?  1920s?  Enter the Sanborn Insurance Company.

Sanborn maps were created by the Sanborn company for fire insurance purposes.  For over one hundred years, Sanborn mapped 12,000 American cities, and Holyoke was one of the 12,000.  The thought was: we could use Sanborn maps to see when our house was built.

The Holyoke History Room has photocopies of the Holyoke Sanborn Map from 1897.  Our house is not pictured on that map, though the duplex that once stood on the lot next door is pictured.  The Holyoke History Room also had a 1911 LJ Richards Map, on which our house IS pictured.  So, our house was built sometime between 1897 and 1911.

But I wanted to narrow it down even further.  The Richards Map above includes the property owner's name!  That meant we could use old city directories to 'follow' our home's first owner.

Wistariahurst Museum has Holyoke city directories going back to the 1880s.  Our city historian and Wistariahurst Curator pulled the directories from 1911 to 1898 in reverse order.   In 1911, Mr. Hyland lived in our house.  In 1910 he lived in our house.  In 1909, he lived in our house, and...okay, I'll spare you the suspense - the first year he lived in the house was 1899.  We can deduce  - therefore - that our house was built between 1898-1899! To confirm this, I need to look at a Sanborn Map directory from 1898 and 1899.  Digital Sanborn maps are available from academic libraries who subscribe to the online database.  In our case, UMass/Amherst is the closest library to carry the subscription.


  1. How cool!! It's so funny you've been tracking this down. We don't live in a historic house or anything, but hubby has gotten the bee in his bonnet to trace family history. So...he's literally going back as far as he can...apparently we're related to royalty way back. He's the 1600's so far! It's so interesting :)

  2. Maggie that is so cool! I want to do that kind of research on my condo. We've got various dates anywhere from 1870 to 1920.

  3. Very cool. I, too, have wanted to see the proof with my own eyes in the dusty books buried in the city clerks office or wherever it is I need to go. I'd love to see a map like that.

  4. How lovely to live in such a historic community and in a home that's a century!

    How many of us can say THAT? Not many, I fear.

    Stopping by to thank you for visiting me on my SITS day last Friday -- deeply appreciated. :)

    Peace and serenity,
    'The End Of The Rainbow: life After Bankruptcy'
    *This week is MS Awareness Week and I'm spreading the word on behalf of my friend who is afflicted with MS --kindly stop by to learn more and see what you can do. ::HUGS::

  5. How cool is that!! I stopped by from Sits to check it out! I'm going to go explore some more!

  6. That is so awesome. How exciting that you've tracked down the approx. year and how amazing and historic is your house!

  7. These kinds of wonderful historical mysteries make me happy - especially when you can find the old books and maps that actually give you an answer. A color copy of one of those old maps would make a wonderful piece of art could cut it down to only show the area around your home - the surrounding streets....

    This kind of fun, going down rabbit holes kind of research is totally the reason i am an academic!

    Happy SITS Saturday!

  8. Hey, thanks for stopping by my blog...I love yours! I'm following you so I can keep up on your house renovations.

    What an interesting process to find out when your house is built! Very cool. =]

  9. I love the Sanborn maps. The way the houses are drawn in outline means you can use them as a resource to trace additions (or subtractions!) to your house.


  10. Hey Maggie. To save you the trip to UMass, the only years available in the Digital Sanborn map collection are, 1884, 1889, 1895 and 1915 so you won't get any more finite of an answer on dating the house there. We had a similar problem dating our house, as the exact map year we needed was unavailable.


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