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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


A black and white map of Oregon. With rare exceptions, every map collection in SCARC's holdings documents the state of Oregon or areas within the state of Oregon.

Exceptions are listed below:

William H. Galvani Rare Maps Collection, circa 1570-1909
The William H. Galvani Rare Maps Collection is comprised of maps and atlas pages from the 16th to 20th centuries depicting various cities, countries and continents. There are a significant number of maps related to the French Revolution, Napoleonic Wars, United States Civil War, Crimean War and the Russo-Japanese War.  The collection also contains late 19th century topographical surveys of the Adirondacks, early 20th century military surveys of Cuba, and maps detailing the voyages of Captain James Cook.

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. 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.

Satellite Images and Aerial Photographs of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, 1972-1982
The Satellite Images and Aerial Photographs of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest include a variety of satellite images and aerial photographs depicting Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and California. Most of the images are at a small scale (1:1,000,000) and depict large areas. However, several detailed images are also part of the collection. An aerial photograph of Mt. St. Helens and Spirit Lake taken in 1972, several years before the catastrophic 1980 eruption, and several aerial photographs of the Oregon coast are included. All of the images were made from data captured in the early 1970s. One item was prepared in 1982 using 1974 data.

Maps of Washington (State) and the Pacific Northwest, 1863-1994
The Maps of Washington (State) and the Pacific Northwest consist of historic and superseded maps depicting forest resources, geology, public lands and land use, hydroelectric projects, highways, and railroads in Washington and the Pacific Northwest region. Most of the maps in the collection are of all or part of the State of Washington. Regional maps depict Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and, in some cases, California and Wyoming. The maps were created by various U.S. government agencies, State of Washington departments, and private organizations. Maps of national forests and national parks, primarily in Washington, are included in the collection. These include several maps of Mount Rainier and other Cascade peaks, many of which depict the extent of mountain glaciers. Of special note are maps of hydroelectric projects in the Columbia River Basin. These provide information on dams, reservoirs, irrigation projects, and power transmission. The maps include government publications on projects' status, local newspaper documents, and maps depicting power plant location and the distribution and transmission of electricity.

Reconnaissance of the Western Coast of the United States Nautical Charts, 1853-1864
The Reconnaissance of the Western Coast of the United States Nautical Charts consist of three sheets depicting the Pacific coastline from San Diego to the Canadian border. These engraved nautical charts have relief shown by hachures and soundings in fathoms. The sheets include views and profiles of headlands and other points of interest on the coast as well as general sailing directions and information about tides. The scale for all the sheets is 1:1,200,000. Profile views of Cape Gregory, Cape Blanco, Cape Perpetua, Cape Lookout, and Tillamook Head in Oregon are included.