The Geography of Baltimore City: Sources
Resources for locating maps and understanding the mapping of Baltimore City:
Our Map Collections:
The Baltimore City Archives has an extensive collection of maps, both in facsimile and original. A two-volume typescript index (provided as a text-indexed pdf here) and an index compiled by Rebecca Gunby, Index of Streets and Alleys found in Records, Plats, Atlases and Miscellaneous Drawings at the Baltimore City Archives provides access to the majority of maps in the collection. Search there by street name and to a lesser extent by neighborhood (such as Roland Park). An alternate index provides an index to the originals, many which are now missing.
We also have a map index (this is a large pdf, so it may take some time to view) which is very instructive for finding maps in our collections. The first 3/4th of this document contains a list of our maps, organized chronologically. After that list are two separate A-Z indexes of the map list. The numbers in the indexes correlate with the numbers at the beginning of each entry in the map list (1.-396. are typed and then 397.-890. are handwritten). So in other words, in the first A-Z index, the first entry, Abey Alley, is located on map number 627 in the list previous, which is “1841 “Plat No. 1 of Abey Alley””. This document is searchable, so if you hit Ctrl+F, you can type in a word or phrase to search for.
Street names changed over the years. Please consult with Duvall’s Practical Points for Conveyancers for old/new street names. Street numbers have also changed as well- the most prominent change happening in 1887. Take a look at those changes in the 1887 City Directory.
Where to Begin:
The study of Baltimore City should begin with a good overview understanding of its geographic and demographic growth. The mapping of the City is discussed at length in Sherry Olson’s Baltimore, and in Edward Papenfuse and Joseph M. Coale’s Atlas of Historical Maps of Maryland.
I. Useful base maps and street indexes include:Historical Growth of Baltimore
Historical Growth Map of City of Baltimore (1.127 Mb)
This map was created in 1977 by the Department of Public Works and documents the growth in boundaries of the City. While the copy here is not the best, it is possible to zoom into block numbers and streets as they were in 1977. If anyone comes across a better copy of the map (they used to be distributed free by the Department of Public Works), please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Stieff, 1935 map of Baltimore City (47.588 Mb)
Attached is a large pdf of a map showing the streets and wards of Baltimore in 1935. The map accompanied Frederick Stieff’s The Government of a Great American City (Baltimore: H. G. Roebuck & Son, 1935).
2008 Council Districts (731.648 Kb)
II. Sanborn Insurance maps, Hopkins, Bromley and Thompson Atlases, Baltimore City Block Maps
The Baltimore City Archives has nearly three complete reference sets of the Sanborn maps of Baltimore City available in the search room of the Archives. They are copies that were updated by the Sanborn map company through the 1950s and contain pasted down changes in buildings through the last date of update for each volume.
The Library of Congress Geography and Map Division maintains an excellent, if not complete bibliography of the Sanborn Insurance maps online and has begun to provide excellent images on line as well, although not yet of Baltimore.
The Digital Sanborn Maps provided by the Pratt library is one of the most important mapping resources for the City for the first half of the 20th Century and will be enormously helpful for providing a sense of place for your case study.
The Pratt Library Sanborn Map database is located at:
Note that to access them, you will need a Pratt Library card or one from a county library that has reciprocity with Pratt.
Good images of the maps for use with Google Earth can be found at the Enoch Pratt web site, and from Ed Papenfuse’s draft atlas of the mapping of Maryland which is excerpted below:
Note: What follows is an on-going publication which is intended over time to be a comprehensive on line Atlas of published and unpublished maps relating to Maryland, including the City of Baltimore. I have provided what follows to aid researchers in the history of Baltimore and consider the images in it copyrighted as well as any annotations. Feel free to use the Atlas for educational and personal use free of copyright restrictions, but if you should make reference to any of the plates, or wish to use them in a publication, please use the URL where you found the plate and the date you accessed it as your citation, and write me for directions on obtaining permission to publish plates at email@example.com
1) Baltimore City and County Atlases, 1876-1915 (in black and white unless otherwise indicated)
- 1876, Baltimore City, Hopkins Atlas (JHU copy), images 785/868,
- 1885, Baltimore City, Bromley Atlas, Volume 1, North West Section, images 1/85
- 1886, Baltimore City, Bromley Atlas, Volume 2, North East Section, images 86/158
- 1889, Baltimore City, Thompson Atlas, 21/22 Wards, images 479/565
- 1889, Baltimore City, Thompson Atlas, 21/22 Wards (color plates), images 889/964
- 1896, Baltimore City, Bromley Atlas, images 159/262
- 1898, Baltimore County, Bromley Atlas, images 263/371
- 1906, Baltimore City, Bromley Atlas, images 372/478
- WBA Railroad Route, image 477
- 1914, Baltimore City, Topographical Survey, images 689/729
- 1915, Baltimore County, Bromley Atlas (Isekoff copy), images 730/784
- 1915, Baltimore County, Bromley Atlas (Whitney copy), images 869/888
2) Sanborn Insurance maps for Baltimore City to 1963: Maryland State Archives copies derived from microfilm purchased from the Library of Congress are now on line for personal and educational use only. For an introduction to the Sanborn maps see: intro_sanborn.pdf. For a Baltimore street and street number index to the Sanborn maps as of 1945, see: bc_sanborn_street_index.pdf.
3) Baltimore began recording land transactions by city blocks in 1851. Baltimore Block Books are available through the Maryland Land Records website. The best maps of Baltimore City blocks with their block numbers are to be found in the Bromley Atlases for the City (see above), a 1991 atlas, Baltimore City Block maps, part 1, as of April 2005 (thumbnails), and Baltimore City Block maps, part 2, as of April 2005 (thumbnails). Note that attempting to trace the ownership and occupancy of property in Baltimore City is complicated by ground rents. For a legal explanation of ground rents see Frank A. Kaufman’s article in the Maryland Law Review, Volume 5, issue 1, 1940, The Maryland Ground Rent – Mysterious but Beneficial. For the history of ground rents in Baltimore City, one of the best sources is Parceling Out Land in Baltimore, 1632-1796 by Garrett Power (reprinted from the Maryland Historical Magazine in 1993). Another useful study is Ground Rents in Maryland with an Introduction concerning the Tenure of land under the Proprietary, by Lewis Mayer, 1883. See also Professor Power’s comparative study of Baltimore and Birmingham, England. For an example of the difficulty in tracing ground rents see Documenting Ground Rents in Baltimore City.
III. Johns Hopkins University Maps and Atlases Digitization Project
Jim Gillispie of the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University, is overseeing an excellent program to digitize maps and Aerial Photographs of Maryland with emphasis on the Baltimore region. See the webpage
Gillispie, Jim, Govt. Pubs./Maps/Law Library, Head, Govt. Pubs./Maps/Law Library,
Collections in this community
- Aerial Photography
- Baltimore City Sheet Maps
- Baltimore County Sheet Maps
- Baltimore Development Plans
- GIS Data
- Maryland Atlases
- Maryland Historical Topographic Maps (Scales 1:62,500; 1:31,680; 1:125,000)
- Maryland State Sheet Maps
- Other Maryland County Sheet Maps
Williams, W (New York: W. Williams, 1848)
- Historical Map of Old Baltimore
Tunis, Edwin (Baltimore: Savings Bank of Baltimore, 1954)
- Map of Baltimore: To Give the Visitors Within our Gates a Panorama of our Historic Landmarks and Glorious Scenic Attractions.
Tunis, Edwin (Baltimore: Tourist Bureau Baltimore Association of Commerce, 1946)
- City of Baltimore, Reproduction of the Use District Map as Amended to January 1, 1958 Part of the Zoning Ordinance.
Unknown author (Baltimore: Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals, 1958)
Aaron, Arrorsmith; Lewis, Samuel (Boston: Thomas & Andrews, 1812)
IV. Secondary sources re: the mapping of Baltimore City:
In addition to the Maryland State Archives Atlas of Historical Maps of Maryland (2003) which is available only in print, see:
- Arnold, Joseph L. “Suburban Growth and Municipal Annexation in Baltimore, 1745-1918” Maryland Historical Magazine (June 1978): 109-128.
- Cox, Richard C. “Understanding the Monumental City: A Bibliographical Essay on Baltimore History” Maryland Historical Magazine (March 1982): 70-111.
- Cox, Richard C. “Trouble on the Chain Gang: City Surveying, Maps, and the Absence of Urban Planning in Baltimore, 1730-1823; With a Checklist of Maps of the Period.” Maryland Historical Magazine (Spring 1986): 8-49.
- Lefurgy, William G., “Baltimore’s Wards, 1797-1978: A Guide” Maryland Historical Magazine (June 1980): 145-153.
- Smith, Dawn Beitler. Index to the Map of the City and County of Balitmore, 1850, by J. C. Sidney and P. J. Browne, n. d. (searchable pdf derived from uncopyrighted typescript printed by Family Line Publications, Westminster, Maryland).
V. Placing court cases on the map of Baltimore City-a poor person’s GIS approach
In attempting to find the geographical context today of a case on a modern map, Baltimore City’s map,
should prove helpful, but should be used with caution. Street name changes, renumbering schemes, and block number confusion between City and State over time may make it difficult to locate the site of a case or the residences of the litigants. Also, the map service is not always accurate as to address. When first used to locate Poe’s grave, it placed Westminster Church a few blocks away from its actual location. I suspect this has been corrected by now, but accurate on-line mapping , as anyone who has used the various versions of Mapquest knows, may get you to the wrong place.
To illustrate finding the history of a property involved in a case, one of the more difficult examples was chosen, the location of the property at the heart of Maryland Port Administration v. QC Corp., 310 Md 379, 1987, thought to be once identified on maps as 3800 Hawkins Point Road.
In using imap to locate 3800 Hawkins Point Road, only the street name can be used, being careful to include road in the drop down box and not the address box. Even then, the closest you will come to 3800 is 3500 Hawkins Point Road. Still, the imap provides a current neighborhood view including census tract data, and other useful current information about that location, including 2006 aerial photography.
For any property in Maryland still on the tax rolls, you can also use https://mdlandrec.net (apply for a user name and password–it is free), but first you will need to obtain the block number in which the property of interest is located. For any current address that is on the tax rolls, you should be able to obtain a current block number from the State Department of Assessment and Taxation website, but again caution needs to be exercised. The Court system which records deeds has been known to use block numbers that are different from those used on the tax rolls.
At the SDAT site, with a Hawkins Point Road property inquiry, the closest parcel still on the rolls (2008/11/4) is
3510 Hawkins Point Road, which is Ward – 25 Section – 09 Block – 7005 Lot – 017.
The complicating factor in attempting to locate the property at issue in this case, however, is that the state, meaning the Maryland Port Authority, owned the land and leased it to the QC corporation. That makes finding the real estate records relating to the property difficult. As the Court of Appeals pointed out in the case,
“2 It appears that M[aryland] P[ort] Authority is both the owner of the underlying fee and a sub-sublessee of its own property.” In addition the Court also pointed out that the land was not always in Baltimore City (not until 1919). “1 In 1883, when the area was part of Anne Arundel County, the City of Baltimore established near Hawkins Point a quarantine station against contagious diseases brought toward the City by water. See Baltimore City v. Fairfield Improvement Co., 87 Md. 352, 359, 39 A. 1081, 1082 (1898).” (IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF MARYLAND No. 119 September Term, 1986 , pdf, pp. 1, 3).
There you will find that the whole area involved in the Court case is recorded under block 7016.
With this block number, 7016, you then can turn to the block books and find as complete a record of the ownership of the property in question as was recorded by the Clerk of Court for Baltimore City. Note that leases and sub-leases may not be found among the deeds recorded at the Court. All State Property is supposed to be recorded at the State Archives through files transferred by the Maryland Department of General Services according to the Annotated Code of Maryland. What that means is that leases of the Maryland Port Authority ultimately should be recorded at the Archives.
While using mdlandrec.net to access the block books is much simpler and more efficient than going to the courthouse, patience is required. Downloading time is slow because of the size of the images necessary to provide legibility. For example, just to access and download the block book pages for 7016 for 1918-1925 over a DSL line requires about a 10 minute wait. (BALTIMORE CITY SUPERIOR COURT (Block Book, New Annex) 6979-7065, 1918-1925 [MSA CE 10-36] beginning at: f. 0096). Note that once you have a block number you can determine what block books to search by using the block search feature in mdlandrec.net, which will return the following:
The following block books contain Block No. 7016:
The effort to trace the history of the property in question may indeed prove worthwhile. As an example, the pages of the block book for 1967-1976 related to block 7016 are attached to this html in a pdf derived from the online images. Clearly this is a block of public and private land owners who would be affected by toxic wastes dumped anywhere in the vicinity.
Md Port Admin v. QC Corp
1.1 waste dumping; site at 3800 Hawkins Point Rd, Baltimore; 6th district, 25th ward
Mangum v. State’s Attorney
2.1 Deep Throat case; North Cinema at 7 E. North Ave., Baltimore; 3rd district, 12th ward
Murray v. Curlett (1962)
school prayer case
3.1 William J. Murray III attended Woodbourne Junior High School, 900 Woodbourne Ave. (now Chinquapin Middle School) 3rd district, 27th ward
3.2 Madalyn E. Murray lived at 1526 Winford Rd. (1961 directory) 3rd district, 27th ward
Braverman v. Bar Association (1956)
4.1 Maurice L. Braverman’s home address during trial (c. 1952-1956): 3817 Lewin Ave (1956 directory) 5th district, 28th ward
4.2 Office Mercantile Bank Building, 201-207 E. Baltimore (1956 directory) 1st district, 4th ward
Ghinger v. Pearson
6.1 Craven P. Pearson: home West Augustine Ave., Elkridge (1930 Census)
6.2 Horace E. Wennagle: home 24 Mallowhill Ave (1929 directory) 5th district, 28th ward
6.3 John J. Ghingher, Bank Commissioner of Maryland: MD Bank Comm in Union Trust Building (1933 Md Manual) Baltimore and St. Paul (1930 directory) 1st district, 4th ward
Taylor v. M & CC
Back River sewage plant
7.1 Nettie (Taylor) Mitchell owned property called Mitchell’s Back River Park at Eastern Ave. and Back River; see 1915 BA Bromley, pl. 43
Part of 12th and 15th Districts - Plate 43
1930 census lists her living on River Neck Rd.
Legal description of property in BA land recs.
Hotel: WPC 378, p. 488
Store: WPC 413, p. 368
House: WPC 388, p. 165
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