The Map Collection is a multidisciplinary collection of cartographic materials, housing over 130,000 current and historical maps. As part of the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Special Collections division, the collection covers every area of the world, with a focus on Philadelphia and adjacent regions. It supports the teaching and learning of history, earth sciences, social studies, art, and literature, as well as research in the areas of genealogy, historic preservation, and land use. The Collection offers hundreds of reference books in the fields of: cartography, cartobibliography, geography, and place names.
To view items from the collection, please make an appointment via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 215.686.5397. Please note that this collection is non-circulating.
Hexamer & Son Insurance Maps of the City of Philadelphia
This is an exceptional series of insurance maps of Philadelphia, and the predecessor to the Sanborn sets. They date from the 1870s through the 1920s. Within the volumes are detailed maps of neighborhoods that indicate: businesses, schools, organizations, industrial factories, and houses. They also indicate details like: building materials, street elevation, lot perimeters, and street widths. To find which volume of Hexamer maps you need, refer to this index map.
The Sanborn Map Company absorbed the Hexamer & Son Company in 1915 and continued their fire insurance map legacy in Philadelphia. We have an extensive collection of Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of Philadelphia available in multiple formats from 1916 to 2007. Like the Hexamer & Son maps, they provide detailed snapshots of neighborhoods, indicating: businesses, schools, organizations, industrial factories, and individual houses. They also indicate details like: building materials, street elevation, lot perimeters, and street widths. To identify the relevant volume of Philadelphia Sanborn maps, refer to this index map.
Beginning in the early 1860s, mapmakers produced highly detailed maps of Philadelphia neighborhoods using ward boundaries to define the scope of their atlases. To determine the ward number of a particular area of the city, refer to one of the index maps (organized chronologically) here.
If utilizing the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network website, click on the “Resource Browser” button and then on the “Industrial Site Surveys” link in the left-hand column. From there you can “browse” the surveys or “search” for them by name, product and neighborhood.
Other Types of Maps Available in the Map Collection
Aerial Photographs (Delaware Valley region)
Fantasy and Literary
Tactical Pilotage Charts
World War II
Digital Map Collections
Philadelphia and Region
The Digital Map Collection at the Free Library of Philadelphia contains 5,000 digitized maps of Philadelphia, including: road maps, railroad maps, land use maps, aerial photos, fire insurance maps, industrial site surveys, and ward atlases.
The Free Library of Philadelphia’s Map Overlay Tool is designed to bring history to the present! Historic maps from the Map Collection can be layered on top of a current road map, terrain map, or hybrid (satellite/road) map. Compare the similarities and differences between the old and new maps by adjusting the “visibility” bar, and see how Philadelphia has changed over time!
The Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network contains thousands of old maps, property atlases, aerial photos, city directories, industrial site surveys, and other items documenting the history and development of Philadelphia from the 1600s through today. Through a consortium of regional institutions, including the Free Library, thousands of materials are available through this site.
Street name changes: Following the consolidation of Philadelphia in 1854, many street names were changed, mostly owing to various ordinances passed by the City Council(s). The Philadelphia Historic Streets Index is a helpful tool to determine old and new street names, as well as the book, Philadelphia Street Name Changes, by Jefferson Moak.
Here is a guide to the genealogical resources available at the Free Library of Philadelphia and archives throughout the Philadelphia area. This series of guides, web links, and book lists can help you discover your family history, family trees, genealogy records, and more!
Those interested in researching historical maps may also find the resources available within the Print and Picture Collection useful. The collection is home to extensive research collections of Philadelphia images, both historical and modern, as well as diverse collections of fine art prints, photographs, drawings, and artists’ books.
Click here to learn more about the Free Library’s other special collections and resources.
Subject Department Collections at Parkway Central Library
The Social Science and History Department holds local history books and maintains file collections pertaining to Philadelphia history, local biographies, Philadelphia neighborhoods, and Pennsylvania counties and government.
The Newspaper and Microfilm Center contains over 400 newspapers dating back to 1720, as well as city and telephone directories dating back to 1785 on microfilm. Many indexes and frequently asked questions can be found here. Those interested in the newspaper holdings should begin their research process by inquiring with the Social Science and History Department.
Government Publications at the Social Science and History Department houses the early Philadelphia censuses, including indexes to family names. It is a major resource for census, economic, and marketing data; political and election information; legislative histories, and statistics, and has extensive holdings of publications from the Federal government, the State of Pennsylvania, and the City of Philadelphia.
The Art Department holds an extensive selection of files on architects and designers, as well as the architecture of Philadelphia.