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Building and House History

A guide to finding architectural and other information about Chicago buildings and houses.

About the Map Collection

Holdings consist of more than 10,000 maps and atlases with a focus on Chicago and Illinois. The collection includes fire insurance maps and maps showing specialized areas, such as parks, transportation, and the world’s fairs.

Search for maps in ARCHIE, our catalog, or ask for the Maps binder at the Reference desk for a chronological and alphabetical list. Use blue call slips to page maps, writing down the category of the map as well as its number.

Many of our maps are cataloged as collections and include itemized lists:

Sanborn and Fire Insurance Maps

Commonly referred to as Sanborn Maps, after the most well-known publisher, these maps were used by insurance companies to evaluate the fire risk of businesses and homes.

The maps depict block-by-block outlines of buildings located on a given street, at a specific time in the city. Information includes property type, building and framing material, wall thickness, window locations, additions or garages, and more. Fire insurance maps convey detailed information through a system of color coding, abbreviations, and symbols. Read more about Sanborn Map Abbreviations and How to Interpret Sanborn Maps for explanations.

Due to the size of Chicago and the amount of detail in the maps, publishers divided the city into sections, identified by volume number. Instead of re-issuing entire volumes yearly to keep up with changes, publishers supplied small paper updates of new constructions or building additions that insurance companies pasted into the volumes over the appropriate location. Frequently, two dates are listed within maps: the date of publication and the last date when corrections were added.

The Chicago History Museum holds approximately 190 fire insurance maps. See our Fire Insurance Map Collection finding aid for a complete list of our holdings.

Fire insurance maps can be requested on-site at the Abakanowicz Research Center (use a blue call slip).

Chicago in Maps provides links to specific volumes available online through the Library of Congress , the University of Illinois, and Northwestern University.

Ward Maps

We have ward maps from 1837 (six wards) to 1970 (fifty wards). For current wards and aldermen, see the City of Chicago's site

The Board of Election Commissioners for the City of Chicago has recent redistricting maps (2012 and 2022)

Maps in the Abakanowicz Research Center

  • J.S. Wright, Survey Map of Chicago, 1834
  • Rees & Rucker, Map of Chicago and Vicinity, 1849
  • James H. Rees, Map of Cook & Adjacent Counties, 1851
  • Map of Chicago Fire, 1871
  • H.R. Page & Co., Map of Chicago, 1879
  • Dobson & Waite, Railway Map of Chicago, 1879
  • Blanchard, Historic Map of Illinois, 1883
  • Rand, McNally & Co., City of Chicago, 1886 (Haymarket Riot)
  • Map of the Union Stockyards of Chicago, 1891
  • Montgomery Ward & Co., Map of Chicago w/ World’s Columbian Expo, 1893
  • Rand McNally & Co., Map of Chicago with New Street Number Guide, 1910
  • Cram’s, Map of Chicago and Suburbs, 1921
  • Ross & Browne, Real Estate Map of Chicago, 1928
  • Chicago Tribune, Map of Chicago with Century of Progress, 1934

Other Map Sources