Atlas Maps


"Commercial atlas maps," as used here, refer to the large-scale, highly-detailed commercial maps published by a number of business firms, beginning in 1874. Because of the detail, it took so much paper to portray the city that the map was cut into separate pages and bound as a large atlas. As the city grew, the area portrayed in these atlases took up more and more pages and the atlases had to be published in several volumes. In the nineteenth century, the first such atlas was compiled by D.J. Lake and published by Titus, Simons and Titus, of Philadelphia, in 1874. Other one-time atlas publishers included George F. Cram (1892) and A.H. Mueller (1898), but the two dominate publishers got their starts at this time and published throughout the first half of the twentieth century: The Sanborn Map Company and G.M. Hopkins & Company.

Because these atlases were so detailed, one can use them to find such features as:

  • parcels from the original survey of Cleveland
  • subsequent recorded subdivisions, aka "allotments"
  • building lots, including dimensions and addresses
  • outlines of buildings
  • what buildings were made of
  • names of businesses and office buildings
  • names of owners of large parcels
  • public works infrastructure
    • water and sewer lines
    • street widths
    • streetcar tracks

But, also due to their detail, several problems to their use exist. They are awkward to handle and libraries therefore often forbid their being photocopied. It is hard to locate which page of which volume of which set portrays the area you want. It is difficult to conceptualize how information on different pages is related, which argues for the use of smaller-scale maps as references. As with all creative works, there may be copyright issues limiting their use. And, like all subjective cultural documents, they are open to inaccuracies and biases.

(Although city directory companies -- most recently Commercial Survey Company -- eventually began publishing street guides in book form in the early twentieth century, they are not the high-detail sort of atlases being considered here.)

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June 21, 2003

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