Rare maps unearthed show Grand Rapids in the 1870s

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Two rare maps discovered in the attic of a Heritage Hill home are giving historians a glimpse of what downtown Grand Rapids looked like nearly 150 years ago.

The Grand Rapids Public Library says Don Smalligan found the maps while cleaning out his Paris Avenue SE home and stored them in his basement for two decades before deciding to donate them to the library.

The Sanborn Fire Insurance maps dated 1874 and 1878 are believed to be the third oldest of their kind in the country, and the only existing copies depicting Grand Rapids from the 1870s.

Fire insurance maps were created to provide detailed information about buildings for insurance agents to draw up fire insurance policy quotes.  D.A. Sanborn started producing such maps in 1866, typically creating fewer than 20 copies of each, according to the library.The GRPL says it tapped Western Michigan University’s W.E. Upjohn Center for the Study of Geographical Change to digitize Smalligan’s maps using the world’s best scanning system. They’re now available for anyone to view on the library’s website, in addition to more recent fire insurance maps from 1888 and the 1950s.

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