What You Can Find in the Library Part III: Maps

Hannah D. Cox, Archivist/Librarian

Thanks for joining us for the third installment of our series! Today we will be looking at some of the different kinds of maps in our collection. Maps are often used in conjunction with other materials to help researchers gain a more complete understanding of their given topic. A map may offer insight into what a structure was made of, how a town grew, or literally where the bodies are buried. Our collection includes over 400 maps that date from the 17th Century to the year 2000. Our Maps finding aid is available here, and we hope you enjoy our maps as much as we do! 
Plan of the City of Albany about 1770
Plan of the City of Albany about 1770

Albany Area Maps

We hold numerous maps portraying the city of Albany, several of the surrounding towns and villages, and Albany and neighboring counties. These maps vary in the depth of their descriptions, but often include local streets, districts, and wards of the city; changes in street and area names; and home and business locations. Researchers often use these maps to see how the area has changed over time, including changes in industries, population centers, and the emphasis on different landmarks. 
On left: John Miller Plan of Albany in 1695; On right: Map of the Albany Lumber District, 1857

Property and Patent Maps

Often used hand-in-hand with Albany area maps, property maps feature specific properties, usually large estates such as the Van Rensselaer Estate and others. These maps show how land was subdivided on a particular estate, and often who owned or worked which lots. Commonly commissioned by the estate holder themselves, these maps were originally used both as status symbols and for property management. Today, researchers use them to see changes in land ownership, migration patterns, and land usage patterns. 
A Map of the Manor Renselaerwick, 1767
A Map of the Manor Renselaerwick, 1767

Cemetery Maps

The Library also holds a few cemetery maps, including those of Albany Rural (1871, 1884) and Onesquethaw (1876)Cemetery maps were created to show the layout of a cemetery and its individual plots at the time the map was created. Sometimes it includes the names of the deceased or surnames if a particular family group was buried together in an area. Researchers use these in a variety of ways. For many, these are genealogical tools that help locate an ancestor’s gravesite. These maps are also used by land developers to determine the location of historic cemeteries. 
Onesquethaw Cemetery, 1876
Onesquethaw Cemetery, 1876

Utility Maps

Historic utility maps often show sewer and water lines and how a city rid itself of waste and obtained its water. Utility maps found in the Library include a proposed water line map from 1850 and a water supply map from 1840 for the city of Albany. Through these, a researcher can determine not only where these lines run but what structures or roads have been built over them, as well as the environmental impact on the water supply. 
City of Albany Proposed plan for water supply, 1850
City of Albany Proposed plan for water supply, 1850

Transportation

Another kind of map found in the Library’s collection are those related to transportation. These include railroad maps, canal maps, highway and turnpike maps, and port and basin maps. These maps were used to show the transportation of people and goods across the land. Through these authorities could determine which routes were the most practical, property rights, water depths, location of locks, and much more. Researchers now use them to look at how these man-made land improvements changed settlement patterns, land ownership, and the progression of different industries. 
On left: Map of the Albany Pier and Basin, 1825; On right: Map and Profile of the Proposed Canal from Lake Erie to Hudson River, 1817

New York State and Regional Maps

We also have maps of the upper Hudson Valley region and New York State. These maps often depict the shapes and names of counties as boundaries have shifted over time. Names of towns long gone across the state can also be found on these maps. These maps can also help researchers see a broader view of the area to learn how the changing borders of a county or state may have impacted where they need to look for records to complete their research. 
On left: Provinces of New York and New Jersey, 1776; On right: Map of the State of New York, 1804

Geologic Maps

The Library also holds geologic maps of New York State. Geologic maps represent the geological structures, minerals, and products of a given area. These maps were often used to determine the economic potential for an area, such as whether a given region was likely to contain gold or other valuable mineral deposits. Today’s researchers use them to understand settlement patterns, help mitigate natural disasters, understand the environment impact of any changes, and much, much more.
Economical Geology of New York, 1830
Economical Geology of New York, 1830

Sanborn Maps

Sanborn maps are another kind of map held by the Library. Also known as fire insurance mapsSanborn maps allowed fire department to assess their total liability in a given area. These also show whether an area has a fire department and its makeup in terms of staff and equipment. Often very large and unwieldly, Sanborn maps are very colorful, with different colors representing the different kinds of materials from which buildings were constructed. Individual structures on each street of the city are shown, along with business names, building sizes, any outbuildings in relation to the structure, and where alleys were once located. Today, these maps are used extensively by researchers, often in conjunction with city directoriesto see how a community has changed, how people once lived, and local community centers or organizations. Our collection dates from 1876-1965, and there are a few Albany area Sanborn maps that are available online through the Library of Congress. 

Other Maps

Even beyond all of these maps, we have many others covering more specialized topics. These include maps of local battlegrounds, political maps (showing the political boundaries in New York State), postal maps (which show postal routes and stops), population maps, transit maps (including bus routes and bikeways), and tourist maps (often depicting shopping, dining, and cultural interests). 
Albany, Ten Eyck, circa 1700-1710
Albany, Ten Eyck, circa 1700-1710

We love our maps and hope you have enjoyed our post! As always, please contact us with any questions, and watch for our next post on our Architectual Collections. 

16 April 2020