Life is short, break the rules. Forgive quickly, kiss slowly. Love truly, laugh uncontrollably and never regret anything that makes you smile. - Samuel Longhorne Clemens (Mark Twain)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Calamity and Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

As with most of my projects I like to do research. Now Calamity is completely a figment of my imagination but I would like to have it at least fall into the realm of possibility. I have always envisioned it as a mountain town in the old west, so narrower streets, a nice slope to that there could be visible building foundations, in other words a lot of things to keep someone's interest while they are waiting their turn in the game. When I stumbled across some RPG maps for Deadwood, South Dakota I decided I would like to see how the real Deadwood was laid out. I found out that the South Dakota state library had the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps for 1885 and 1891. Close enough to fall into my time frame. But the maps were not available online, although they had been scanned. Getting access to Sanborn maps can be really frustrating most states restrict access, even online access, to state residents (by the way if someone in LA can go to the LA city not county library and download the maps for Bodie, CA I would appreciate it). Colorado seems to be the exception and anybody can access the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps for Colorado online and download the images.

I happen to have an old friend living in South Dakota and he applied for his state library card and was able to download the 9 maps for Deadwood that I wanted. Thanks Larry! Anyway the information on these maps is very interesting, if you can get your hands on the colored versions (again thanks University of Colorado) then you can pick things out by the color which represents the major material that the building was made from. They are also drawn to scale so you can take rough building measurements from them if you need to. Not every town has a set of Sanborn maps but when they do you can literally follow the growth of a town from one edition to the next. While 1885 can be done in 3 maps, 1891 Deadwood takes 6 maps. Deadwood is an interesting place to be sure and I look forward to really digging into these maps while I work on more model buildings for Calamity.

Here I pieced together the three sections that make up the 1885 edition of Deadwood, You can see the roads, the railroad tracks, rivers, creeks and buildings.

Moving in on one of the sections. In this case map 1 includes both the scale detail but the outline of the town and how the map sections relate to the area that makes up Deadwood. Not every area is detailed on the maps. They are primarily concerned with more built up areas.

Moving in a little closer in this case where two map sections come together,

And some close up detail

This is a colored version in this case of Silver Plume Colorado which has had its fair share of influence on what I want Calamity to look like.


  1. Thanks Buddy. I just blew 4 hours looking through CU's Sanborn maps. Haven't done a dang thing all afternoon. :p

    1. Glad to help, anytime! They are pretty addictive.

  2. Wow, those are cool maps... I used a couple of historical maps when I was creating the semi-fictional Irony MT, but these are way better...

    1. They are highly sought after by the model railroading crowd. Lots of cool information if you have the patience and access to a library either on site or online that has a set. Some of the libraries just subscribe so sometimes you can get access to the maps in other states as well.