This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California. This blog is not supported by advertising, it's supported by the generosity of my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

Using Sanborn maps to time-travel to old-time Phoenix


I just love walking around Phoenix. I do it in real life as often as I can, and also a lot in my imagination. And something that works for me is old maps. I recently discovered Sanborn maps, and although I really don't understand them, they help me to visit old-time Phoenix in my mind.

The Sanborn map at the top of this post is from 1893. Of course, it's just a tiny section - they were huge. Their purpose was to meticulously record detail about buildings for fire insurance purposes. There's a complex code of colors, and numbers, and abbreviations, and a lot of stuff. You can find out more about Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps online, they did a lot of cities.

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Walk with me. It's 1893 and we're at the intersection of Monroe and 1st Street. The old-timers still call it Montezuma, but young people like us insist on using the modern name, which is just a number. That really annoys the old-timers. Of course if we ask directions, we have to know both names. The map, by the way, has North facing left.

Along Adams is the Stevens and Filbright Livery and Feed Stable. Let's go look at the horses. Maybe old man Stevens will let us feed his horses some carrots. Watch your fingers! We can enter here next to the Buggy House. OK, we're in the stable area, and from here we can see the whore houses. My parents don't want me to use that term, it's supposed to be "houses of ill repute" or "red light district" (on the Sanborn map they're labelled as "Female Boarding"). Let's walk over to Monroe. Look! There's a grocery store, maybe they'll have a jar of pickles, and we'll get one for free!

Thank you for walking with me.