fire insurance maps have received recognition as superb
historical sources. Since the 1870s several companies have
mapped hundreds of Iowa communities, both large and small. A
large mapping scale was used (I inch to 50 feet), as was a
color coding system which distinguished between building
materials and between types of structures. The resulting
collection of maps offers "an invaluable historical
record of urban growth ... over more than a century. Local
historians, genealogists, urban planners, geographers,
economists, and other specialists and scholars consult the
maps today for the wealth of data which they embrace".
In 1981 the Library of Congress published a list of the
approximately 700,000 fire insurance maps in their collection
produced by the Sanborn Map Company. Inspired by this fine
publication, a group of Iowa librarians and archivists
determined to compile a bibliography and union list of
holdings of Iowa fire insurance maps. In order to keep the
project within manageable bounds, only the holdings of the
three largest fire map collections in the state were surveyed.
These collections are located at the Office of the State
Historical Society (represented by the symbol HS in this list
of holdings), the University of Iowa (UI), and the Iowa State
Additionally, the Library of Congress kindly supplied the
compilers with a list of the fire maps in their collection
prepared by the Bennett Map Company. This, combined with their
published bibliography of Sanborn maps, provided enough
information to list Library of Congress (LC) fire insurance
map holdings as well. While there was no attempt to make this
list of holdings a true union list of all Iowa fire insurance
map holdings, the compilers believe this to be a complete list
of all existing state fire maps. If anyone using this list of
holdings discovers a fire map of an Iowa town not listed,
please contact tile Office of the State Historical Society.
Almost every map listed in this list of holdings was
prepared by one of three commercial agencies: the Sanborn
Company (denoted by S), the Bennett Company (B), and the Iowa
Insurance Bureau (1). Maps for which a maker could not be
determined are denoted by U (U). The history of the Sanborn
Company is described in the introduction to Fire Maps in
the Library of Congress. Little information is available
about the Bennett Company, however. The firm was located in
Cedar Rapids, Iowa, throughout its existence. The first
Bennett map the compilers located was dated 1897. By 1915 the
firm was apparently out of business, as they were no longer
listed in the Cedar Rapids city directory. It is probably not
coincidental that the third firm, the Iowa Inspection Bureau,
was founded in Des Moines in 1915. In 1971 this company merged
with several related firms to form the Insurance Service
Dating some of these maps proved to be a major problem.
Over the years, almost all of the Iowa Insurance Bureau maps
were corrected and updated by pencil drawings or pasted-on
additions, In most cases it was impossible to determine when
this updating ended, so these maps are dated in the following
form: 1939- . This indicates the
date the map was originally drawn, and that tile map was
revised at some uncertain later date, Whenever the date of
tile last additions and corrections Could be determined, the
following format Was used: February 1937-june 1954. This means
that the original map was drawn in 1937, but corrected in 1954
to reflect new conditions in the town.
Determining the number of pages for each map was sometimes
difficult. Many of the updated maps have overlays, handwritten
notes and sketches, and unnumbered additional sheets. To
simplify this situation, we used the number on the last
numbered page as the total number of pages for the map. Users
should be aware that many of the maps are actually longer than
the page number suggests. Also, many of the maps for larger
Iowa cities were issued in several volumes. This has been
ignored here; the page figure given includes the total number
of sheets in all the volumes.
Town names likewise presented a challenge to the compilers.
Town names were spelled exactly as they appeared on the maps
with cross-references provided so that readers can find all
the maps for a specific town. The town of Sutherland, for
example, apparently spelled its name "Southerland"
until sometime in the early twentieth century. Thus, it is
listed under both names, with appropriate cross-references.
Name changes can be historically interesting in themselves.
Germania, Iowa is no longer on the map, although early fire
insurance maps show it to be a large and thriving town.
Investigation revealed that the town changed its name to
Lakota in 1918, an event that will not surprise any student of
the World War I era anti-German hysteria in the United States.
Each town listing includes the county it is located in (or
counties, in the case of towns which cross county lines).
These maps tell many stories of growth and change. Not all
are happy. The map of Percy, for example, bears the laconic,
handwritten notation, "rates cancelled, . . . town site
under Red Rock dam." Yet without this map, little would
remain of Percy, save the fading memories of its former