02 September 2015

Using Maps to (More Closely) Date the House

A neighbor, who has been in his house since the 1970s, told me that the elderly woman (the Ms Cantlin mentioned in previous post) who owned the house until 2001 may have been the original owner along with her husband. Ms Cantlin also had relayed to my neighbor at some point that her house was one of the first in the neighborhood. One used to be able to see all the way from the house down to the Ardsley train station 1/2 mile away, according to this account, prior to the bulk of the development of the Ardsley neighborhood at large. Boy, to be able to time travel and see what that was like would be quite something. But, in 2015, we can at least attempt to gain a sense of how this development occurred over time by using maps. Looking at different editions of maps of the same area from different years, we can see in what years a house existed on certain properties, and we can track how the neighborhood grows. Doing so, we can try to verify or disprove the anecdote that this was one of the first houses that popped up.

Types of Maps with Residential Information

Throughout the 19th century and early 20th century, a dense network of railroads was developed in Pennsylvania, primarily to transport coal throughout the region. The growth of the Philadelphia suburbs in large part corresponds to the development of these railways. Most of the surviving rail tracks in the area were once under the domain of the Philadelphia and Reading Railway, and some tracks exist today as commuter routes for SEPTA, while most remain in operation for freight lines.

Image courtesy of www.ancestortracks.com
Property atlases were produced by map-making companies, such as A.H. Mueller, during this time and served multiple purposes, including aiding railroad companies to identify ownership of surrounding properties. As these railroad atlases were updated with new editions every 5-10 years, they are very valuable to trace neighborhood development. The most well-known creator of neighborhood maps nationally was the Sanborn Company, which produced detailed maps of cities and towns throughout the United States starting in 1867, to aid fire insurance companies. Some (non-Sanborn) atlases included owner's names, especially if larger land tracts had not yet been subdivided, or if large estates or mansions are shown. If you'd like to read more detailed information about these types of antique maps, see Here, as well as Here For Sanborn Maps.

Locating Historic Maps

One place to try to locate maps of this vintage is through your local historical society-- they may have several editions of these atlases for your area, and they may even have sample images posted on their website. This is exactly the case for the town of Glenside, which is one of the focal areas of the Old York Road Historical Society. I highly suggest visiting your historical society in person as part of your research, as well as supporting them by becoming a member. Other locations, especially for Sanborn maps, might be your local library, or from map companies or dealers themselves. The Library of Congress has a listing of all Sanborn maps and can tell you which repositories have them as part of their collections. Sanborn still operates today, and you can still order copies of their maps from them directly, if you cannot locate a particular map in a repository to which you have access.

I was able to locate the atlas maps for the subject neighborhood for four specific years online via O.Y.R.H.S.: 1897, 1916, 1927,  and 1937. These maps are currently available for use and reproduction through Franklin Maps, the surviving map publisher in the area. Armed with the approximate construction date of 1920 listed with the County, I might expect that the house shows up on the 1927 and 1937 maps, but not on the two earlier maps in 1897 and 1916.

Let's go backwards in time. First, 1937:

*There's the house, highlighted on a portion of the 1937 map. If you click the image at full size, you may be able to tell that even at this point, the house is indeed one of a relative few in existence. The claim that the train station (not shown, off of the bottom of image) would be in view from the house would seem to be plausible.

Next, one step backwards, in 1927:

*The house, highlighted, as well as the house across the street and one a few lots down, are the only in existence on this part of the street. Our subject house is indeed one of the earliest houses built in this subdivision.


*This image shows greater context and is further zoomed out from the 1927 and 1937 maps. NO HOUSE-- The land on which the house exists today has not yet been subdivided and is part of a 194 acre tract owned by an Emma Spear.

And finally, 1897:

*Similar to the 1917 map, however the owner of the 194 acre tract is Dr. John Spear. A reasonable inference, which will need to be verified, is that John Spear passed on this land to his wife Emma upon his death.

All images are portions of maps available via Franklin Maps.

Analysis and Future Steps

From this fairly straightforward exercise, the house exists on a 1927 map, but does not exist on a 1916 map. Therefore, we can not yet confirm nor disprove the 1920 construction date, although we have definitively narrowed it down to a timeframe between 1916-1927.

Further observations can be gleaned from these maps, such as the progression of names/entities listed for the subdivision just to the south (left of image) such as Wm Penn Real Estate, North Glenside, and Remlu Heights. Since the subject property is right at the border of the Spear tract adjacent to this subdivision, researching this subdivision as well may provide additional information. Some of the other names and labels on the 1927 and 1937 maps seemed to provide additional clues (such as "North Glenside (Ferguson) B 732 P 600"). The exact information, although not apparent at first, did become clear to me during future research, which I will share in due time.

I also will continue to look for additional maps to try to pinpoint the likely year of construction. From the Library of Congress, I can tell that Sanborn maps exist for the area for 1909, 1920, and 1925, so I can try to locate them at a repository.

So what about that Spear tract-- when was that subdivided? Although not apparent from these maps, my next post will reveal the answer...

No comments:

Post a Comment