Do Your Own Neighborhood History- Maps

| No Comments

I would love it if other folks did a neighborhood history using evidence beyond oral histories*. However, I do know that the census portion is a PITA and a lot of work, so I would recommend just doing one block. What can be done for a larger area are maps. Where do you find the maps? All over. Let's start with the Washingtonia Room, on the 3rd floor, at the MLK Library downtown.

MLK Washingtonia Room

Here is a photo of the maps area. On those shelves are big volumes of DC city maps that go to the level of structures. Here I found the 1887 maps for Truxton Circle and later years up into the 1950s. First thing after grabbing the year of your choice is look at the map index in the front. Find your general area, and if it is in that volume. Old City (L'Enfant's drawn city) NW tends to be in Volume 1s. NE at times is in another volume. The index will tell you. If you are in 'suburban' DC, like Tenleytown or Brookland or such, I have no idea, but the index should point you in the right direction. If you want to take pictures take in account that the overhead lights and the shiny mylar are an annoying combination. Also be aware of copyright laws if you plan to put this up on-line, anything 1923 and before is fine.

Another good source is the Library of Congress and you don't have to leave home.

You can access some Sanborn maps from 1888 to 1916. For me I didn't find those Sanborns helpful because they didn't come over to eastern NW DC as far as I would have liked. There are more Sanborns that the Library of Congress has access to, and I used those to map out segregation patterns, but you have to go to the LC.

You can also access Baist maps from the LC's webpage but it requires a bit more digging. Also it would help if you had some software that can read (or won't freeze on you when using) JPEG2000 files, so you can download the files and crop them as needed.

If you just want to see what is out there or order some prints for yourself there are other options. Paul Williams of Kelsey & Associates sells full sized copies of 1887 Hopkins maps on-line on Ebay. If you want other years by Baist, I have used Historic Map Works. I have bought copies of various sizes from them for friends and my own research. Search under District of Columbia, under United States. Recently I have been told about a site like Historic Map Works called Ward Maps. Their Baist maps go up to 1939, and for several maps they claim to have authentic antique maps for sale.


*Oral histories are like witness testimony, worthwhile and informative. But the physical evidence is powerful too.

Leave a comment