No Sanborn love for military installations?

I’m a little frustrated with the historical reconstruction project due new week.  I’d love to recreate the Washington Navy Yard, circa 1890 or 1925.  Why those two time periods?  The Naval Historical Center has some great photographs and paintings from both of those time periods and I’ve never had a chance to work with them.  There were some really interesting building that lined the waterfront when the Navy Yard was actually in the business of ship construction (not to mention that the waterfront itself looked dramatically different, especially in the 19th century.)  So, I’ve got photos and paintings from these two time periods, but no Sanborn maps.  I can get a map for SE DC surrounding the Navy Yard, but none of the maps actually show a layout inside the Yards walls.  I suppose it makes sense though.  Military installations aren’t covered by ordinary fire insurance today, and they probably weren’t two years ago.  The folks are Sanborn would have focused their maps on the surrounding residential areas, but the Navy would have covered the Yard itself.

I could do the reconstruction…most of the historians I work with agree that the central portion of the Yard’s layout hasn’t changed in about 130 years (minus the area immediately around the waterfront) so many of the streets would be easy enough to recreate.  Even if I had the Sanborn footprint, I’d still be taking a guess with the placement of the building I’d be reconstructing as the roads they sit on no longer exist (all destroyed when river was filled in to make the parking lot in front of my museum in the late 30s.)

I could also go the safe route and just do Barrack’s Row 8th St. (not the Marine Corps Barracks though…no Sanborn footprint for its interior either.)  But if allowed, I’d love to do Navy Yard waterfront…



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3 responses to “No Sanborn love for military installations?

  1. Tad

    You might have better luck with the base down at Norfolk… It was privately-owned property for a few years there– 1907-191?… and a bit of a fire trap, too.

    Not really interesting in terms of the stuff you want to look at, but it might be doable…?

  2. Sadly, access is a problem for those of us not wanting to work on Main Street, USA. Of course, the darn things burned down so frequently I am having a difficult time conceiving of insurance companies that survived from then to now. What about any of the buildings that supplied the fleet, i.e. ropemakers, blacksmiths, smokehouses, brothels.

  3. I had kind of the same problem, Karin — most of the part of Tombstone, AZ I was interested in burned down in 1882, *then* Sanborn came in and made a map in 1883. Doesn’t help me for the 1881 gunfight! My comment was that given enough time and primary sources, you could reconstruct the place from descriptions alone. It would be better than nothing — and might literally replace “nothing” in terms of historical record. I’m sure there are Navy historians who would be interested in the architectural layout of the Navy Yard from back in the day!

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