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Guide to Historical Maps in the Special Collections and Archives Research Center

A guide to the types and uses of historical maps in SCARC's collections

Historical Sketch

A Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Roseburg. A road, route, or street map is a map which represents roads and other lines of transportation rather than natural geographical features. Road and street maps do, however, commonly include: political boundaries and labels, prominent buildings (e.g. City Hall), tourist destinations (e.g. museums), parks and recreational facilities, hotels and restaurants, and airports and train stations. Street maps are typically somewhat limited in scope, covering a specific area – e.g. a neighborhood – within a larger metropolitan area, or just within the city limits of smaller towns. Highway maps generally provide a broader overview of major routes within an area much larger than that covered by a road or street map, e.g. the State of Oregon.

Drawn in 1160 BC, the Turin Papyrus Map is considered one of the earliest known road maps, depicting “routes along dry river beds through a mining region east of Thebes in Ancient Egypt.”

Please note: while Sanborn maps are included on this page, they do not include roads or properties outside of a given location's historical city limits. For example, the 1912 Sanborn maps for Roseburg, Oregon show only what is considered Roseburg's present-day downtown.


Street Surface Maps of Oregon Cities and Towns, 1939-1942
The Street Surface Maps of Oregon Cities and Towns depict street surface types, railroad locations, and building locations in 207 Oregon cities and towns. The maps are predominately at a 1 inch to 200 foot scale with a few surface maps ranging from 1 inch to 100 feet to 1 inch to 400 feet. There also are smaller-scaled key maps for cities with more than 4 surface maps. The maps differentiate between concrete roads, bituminous surfacing on rock, concrete, or treated bases, macadam surfacing, graded surfaces, or unimproved road surfaces. The maps also show the location of structures and the function of the building -- house barn, garage or shed; school, church, or post office; and business establishments of 1-3 stories. In addition to these features, the maps also provide information about data sources, survey control points, city limits, street names, and key surroundings. Most maps also include a reference to the township and range. All of the maps were prepared in 1939, with the exception of the map of Rockaway published in 1942.

Oregon State Highway Division Maps of Oregon Cities and Towns, 1969-1989
The Oregon State Highway Division Maps of Oregon Cities and Towns consist of maps of 230 Oregon cities and towns created between 1969 and 1989. Most of the maps are at a scale of 1 inch = 800 feet; the maps of larger towns and cities are at a smaller scale of 1 inch = 2000 feet. The maps include details such as city limits, road systems, post offices, schools, public buildings, court houses, and some notable land features. The population of the town or city is given on each map. The maps were produced in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration.

General County Highway Maps, 1951-1963
The General County Highway Maps consist of highway maps of several Oregon counties, primarily in western Oregon with the exception of Harney County, prepared by the Oregon State Highway Department in cooperation with the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads. Maps are included for Clatsop, Columbia, Coos, Curry, Douglas, Harney, Lane, Lincoln, Polk, Tillamook, and Yamhill Counties. Data for the maps was compiled from a statewide highway planning survey. General maps of the county as well as additional sheets with more detailed maps of key locations such as towns and highway junctions are included. The maps provide detailed information about the condition and type of roads (impassable, primitive, unimproved, graded, gravelled, or paved) as well as whether the roads are public or private. The maps depict the locations of bridges, transportation lines, airfields, mines, camp areas, parks, and power plants and include information on land features, city and town locations, county populations, and some city populations. Public structures such as schools, churches, hospitals, and businesses as well as personal dwellings are shown on the maps.

Highway Maps of Oregon Counties, 1965-1976
The Highway Maps of Oregon Counties consist of maps for all 36 Oregon counties produced by the Oregon Highway Division in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration. One or more sheets for each county depict roads and bridges; railroads and airports; structures such as tanks, sawmills, and power plants; recreational facilities; rivers, streams, dams, and fish hatcheries; and other features. In addition, additional sheets for each county include orthophotographs (aerial images) for developed areas of the county, primarily cities and towns, with highways, rivers, and other features highlighted.

Oregon State Highway Maps, 1918-1991
The Oregon State Highway Maps consist primarily of the official highway map produced annually by the Oregon State Highway Department from the late 1910s through early 1990s. The collection also includes road and recreation maps produced by the U.S. Forest Service in the 1920s-1930s and several commercial highway maps. Highway maps produced annually by the Oregon State Highway Department are included for almost all years between 1918 and 1991; maps for 1918-1942, 1945, 1948-1977, 1979-1986, and 1991 are part of the collection. The more recent maps include maps of cities and towns. Many of the maps have linen backing that obscures text on the verso. In addition to showing federal and state highways in Oregon, the maps depict municipalities; predominant land features, such as rivers, lakes, and mountain ranges; state boundaries; populations of cities; mileage between towns and junctions; and National Parks, State Parks, and wildlife refuge locations. The maps also note locations of airports, roadside rest areas, fish hatcheries, lighthouses, county seats, and winter sport areas. Many of the maps also include tourist information for travelers, crucial State Laws pertaining to automobiles and drivers, and mileage tables for calculating trip distances. Official highway maps published by the State Highway Department are available online in the Oregon Maps digital collection.

Oregon Transportation Maps, 1940-1944
The Oregon Transportation Maps were prepared by the U.S. Public Roads Administration and document transportation in Oregon, immediately preceding and during World War II, in 1940 and 1944. The collection consists of two sets of 12 maps covering the full state of Oregon, issued in 1940 and 1944. For highways and roads, the maps indicate if they are federal; state; or forest, park, or public. The type of pavement is indicated for each road or highway. Five different pavement types are shown on these maps: unimproved; earth, graded and drained; gravel, traffic-bound, selected materials, sand-clay; processed types, surface treatments, water-bound macadam; and brick, cement-concrete, asphaltic-concrete, bituminous macadam. In addition to transportation networks, the maps depict cities and towns with a population key. They also denote the locations of county seats. Natural features such as lakes, streams, and mountains are also included with their names; the extent of national and state forests, Indian reservations, and other land reserves are shown.

State of Oregon Maps Collection, 1866-2000
The State of Oregon Maps Collection includes a diverse selection of maps of Oregon. The collection includes single-sheet maps of the full state of Oregon and detailed maps of specific areas. Maps of counties, cities, and regions of the state are included. Topics of the maps include geology, soils, agriculture, recreation, traffic flow, dams and reservoirs, land use, and physiography. Most of the maps depict roads, city and town locations, and political boundaries. City and county maps include street names, buildings, and historical sites. All regions of the state are represented in the collection, including all counties and many cities and towns. The collection includes maps prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey, Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, the U.S. Bureau of Soils and Soil Conservation Service, the Oregon Experiment Station, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Oregon Historical Society. Maps created by Ewart M. Baldwin, Edwin T. Hodge, Erwin Raisz, T.P. Thayer, Ray C. Treasher, George W. Walker, and Francis G. Wells are part of the collection. One map in this collection - the 1876 General Land Office map of Oregon - is available in the Oregon Maps digital collection.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of Oregon, 1879-1956
The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of Oregon are an extensive collection of detailed maps of 178 towns and cities in Oregon prepared for the primary use of insurance companies. The bulk of the maps were prepared in the 1880s through 1920s. The maps depict both business and residential areas and provide detailed information about the location and type of construction of structures. Most of the maps are at a scale of 1 inch = 50 feet. The collection includes maps of Portland, Astoria, Bend, Corvallis, Eugene, Medford, and Salem as well as numerous smaller towns and villages. All types of structures are represented, including homes, apartments, and boarding houses; churches; schools, courthouses, community halls, parks, playgrounds, and other public facilities; warehouses, factories, mills, dryers, canneries, and creameries; retail stores, banks, and other businesses; and garages, barns, and sheds. The maps provide detailed information about lumber and saw mills and log ponds. Information about streets and railroads as well as the water system and fire department for each municipality are provided on the maps. The Sanborn Maps indicate the type of construction of each structure, whether it is wood, brick, stone, or a combination; the size of the structure and number of floors; and the heating source.

The Library of Congress has made a selection of their Sanborn maps available online. Using the facets on the left side of the page, allows users to sort the digital images by date and location.

Corvallis and Benton County, Oregon, Maps, 1859-1991
The Corvallis and Benton County, Oregon, Maps include a variety of maps depicting Corvallis and Benton County and provide a broad spectrum of information about Corvallis and vicinity. The maps depict changes in the region from the mid-19th century until the early 1990s. About two thirds of the collection consists of maps of Corvallis; the remaining third are of Benton County. The maps depict roads, parks, schools, public buildings, and natural features. The Benton County maps include road and zoning maps for the county which provide information on highways, city locations, land features (Folders 2, 3, and 11, and Box 10), and the locations of many prominent structures. A set of 1913 land ownership maps provide detailed information on surveys and land ownership for the full county. The Corvallis maps include street maps, city growth and planning maps, maps of public works and the Corvallis water system, and published aerial photography of Corvallis (Folders 4, 5, and 11). Of special note are detailed (scale of 1 inch = 100 feet) maps produced in 1971 by the City Public Works Department and master plans for Corvallis city parks prepared in the 1960s.

Native American Maps Collection, 1875-1972
The Native American Maps Collection consists of maps of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in north central Oregon; an 1875 map of native tribes in Alaska; and United States maps depicting the locations of Indian reservations. The Warm Springs maps include maps of the road system (Folder 1 and Box 5), historical maps of the Reservation and region; and detailed range survey type maps prepared in 1938-1939 and 1956. The Alaskan map depicts with color the approximate areas over which native tribes in Alaska ranged as of the late 19th century.

Oregon Timber Tax Maps, 1950-1996
The Oregon Timber Tax Maps consist of 4033 maps and related documents pertaining to land and timber valuation data collected for forestland taxation purposes. The maps range from 1950 through 1978 and offer a detailed look at private ownership and forest stand data. The bulk of the collection is composed of information for specific counties. For the majority of Oregon counties there are township forest cover maps, which depict often detailed information on ownership and stand boundaries, estimated volume for stands, harvest and planting dates, in addition to information on roads, streams, landmarks, sections, and other key features. These forest cover maps share most of the same background information as the township-range quadrant maps and reduction maps. The quadrant maps offer a more detailed look at sections within each township and through the use of a transparent overlay are able to depict specific changes within the regions. The reduction maps also depict changes to the land base, focusing on timber volume changes resulting from harvest. Series 1 and Series 2 include maps that identify road systems (Folders 2 - 60).

Planimetric Maps of Oregon and Washington, 1947
The Planimetric Maps of Oregon and Washington consist of 60 detailed maps of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers and nearby towns and landscape features immediately following World War II. Coverage of the maps in this collection is centered on Portland and extends on the Willamette River from Oregon City north to the confluence with the Columbia River and on the Columbia River from St. Helens (Oregon) to Camas (Washington). The maps are at 1:9,600 scale. The collection includes sheets with the following names: Camas (6 sheets); Hillsboro (9 sheets); LaCenter (3 sheets); Oregon City (14 sheets); Portland (18 sheets); St. Helens (8 sheets); and Tualatin (2 sheets). An index map (made at a later time) showing the location of all the sheets is also included. The maps depict water features and land cover, including rivers, lakes, sloughs, marshes, wetlands, islands, and forested areas. Streets, roads and highways as well as railroads, bridges, airports, and shipping terminals are shown on the maps (Box 1). Parks and wildlife refuges are included. Structures such as schools and churches; mills and factories; and industrial sites, gravel pits, and oil tanks are also depicted. The extent and claimants for land claims are shown on the maps.

Oregon Central Military Road Map, 1865
The Oregon Central Military Road Map depicts a portion of the Oregon Central Military Road as surveyed in July-September 1865 (Box 01). The hand-drawn manuscript map depicts the daily progress of the survey party, which was accompanied by a U.S. Army cavalry escort. Major geographic and natural features along the route are shown on the map, including the Middle Fork of the Willamette, Deschutes, and Williamson Rivers; Klamath Marsh, Fort Klamath, Klamath Lake, and Lower Klamath Lake; the Lakes Basin including Goose, Summer, and Abert Lakes; and Diamond Peak, Beatys Butte, and Steens Mountain. The route of the wagon road crossed through the Klamath Reservation. The map has an approximate scale of 1 inch = 15 miles or about 1:1,000,000. The map is approximately 17 x 22 inches and is backed with linen. The creator of the map is not identified.

SCARC's holdings include collections comprised entirely of highway, road, and/or street maps - like those listed above - and collections which include those maps as components. You can find additional highway, road, and street maps in SCARC collections by visiting our website, and searching for "highway," "road," or "street."